Halloween à la française

Hallowe’en is coming! Let’s find out about what freakish fun they have in France. Did you know that Hallowe'en as we know it wasn't really celebrated in France until quite recently? There was no dressing up. No visiting neighbours to get treats or do tricks. No decorations, and no pumpkins! However, in this article we'll see that nowadays people enjoy Hallowe'en house parties, and in restaurants and clubs too.

You may have heard the expression La Toussaint. This means "All Saints", and it refers specifically to the public holiday on 1st November, All Saints Day. However, La Toussaint is used to refer to the period of the year at the end of October and the beginning of November, so it's fair to say that most French speakers will think of La Toussaint and Halloween (which is pronounced without the H- in French), as almost the same thing.

Let's find out more about how Hallowe'en is celebrated.

Halloween, or le trente et un octobre, 31st October, is becoming more of a celebration in France than it used to be. In years gone by, it was more about marking la Toussaint, which is le premier novembre.  It is a sombre occasion, when families remember relatives who have died and lay flowers on their graves. Le premier novembre is still marked in the same way nowadays, all over France. Hallowe’en as we know it, just as the name suggests, is All Hallows' Eve, 31st October.

Nowadays, children in some areas of France enjoy dressing up (se déguiser) and going around their neighbourhood (passer de maison en maison) asking "trick or treat” (farce ou friandise), just as in many other countries. It is also sometimes referred to as la soirée des tours. French children are beginning to follow other customs similar to Hallowe’en traditions elsewhere.  In some regions they carve pumpkins (les citrouilles) with scary faces and leave them outside their house to ward off evil spirits, les esprits malins. Decorations and celebrations are not as extensive as can be seen in the USA, but Hallowe'en is slowly becoming more of a spooky spectacle in France.

The city of Limoges in France celebrates Hallowe’en in style. A parade takes place on 31st October. Many inhabitants of the city take part in a parade of ghosts (des fantômes), goblins and ghouls and carry candlelit pumpkins. Lots of people dress up in costumes and go to the local bars, cafés and restaurants where special Hallowe'en parties are held.

   minihfflogoHallowe’en High Five

Here are our top five words and phrases to help you get ready for a frightening French Hallowe'en!

je me déguise en sorcière - I am dressing up as a witch
une citrouille - a pumpkin
sculpter une citrouille - to carve a pumpkin
farce ou friandise / des bonbons ou un sort - trick or treat
un déguisement / un costume - a disguise / costume

Eerie extras

If your pupils want to talk about what they are dressing up as, they can use the expression we've learned above: je me déguise en ... Remember you don't use the un or une in this expression.

Example: je me déguise en fée - I'm dressing up as a fairy

une fée - a fairy
un fantôme - a ghost
un vampire - a vampire
une princesse - a princess
un squelette - a skeleton
une momie - a mummy (egyptian)
un monstre - a monster
une chauve-souris - a bat
une araignée - a spider
une toile d’araignée - a spider’s web
un chat noir - a black cat
un sorcier - a wizard

The legend of the Jack o’Lantern.

The first symbol of Hallowe’en was not a pumpkin (une citrouille) but a turnip, un navet. These were common in Ireland and Scotland and were used to tell the story of Stingy Jack. The story says that Stingy Jack invited the Devil (le diable) to have a drink with him. As his name suggests, Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink and so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to pay for their drinks. Jack kept the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross that meant the devil couldn’t turn back into himself. After a while Jack freed the Devil, but the next year, Jack again tricked the Devil. He asked the devil to pick fruit from a tree for him and Jack carved the sign of a cross on the tree so that the Devil could not come down. Jack made the devil promise not to bother him for ten years.

Soon afterwards,  Stingy Jack died. As the legend goes, such a bad character was not allowed into heaven (le ciel). However, the devil would not allow Jack into hell either. The devil sent Stingy Jack into the night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack placed the coal in a carved-out turnip and has wandered the Earth (la terre) ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern”. When the Irish and Scots emigrated and settled in the USA they took this custom (la coutume) with them and it became known as a Jack o’Lantern. Pumpkins were more common there and they were used instead of turnips.

You try!

Can you tell us what you're dressing up as in French? Je me déguise en..... Are you making decorations for your classroom this month? Can you label them in French? Les chauve-souris, les fantômes, etc. Have you found out how they celebrate Hallowe'en in any other French-speaking countries? Why not  post a comment on our blog to let us know how you plan to celebrate La Halloween!

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