Hallowe’en and Toussaint in Essoyes

November 4, 2017 at 5:20 pm 2 comments


The season is entering one of its most beautiful moments, as the leaves turn color and the low-slanting light of autumn works its magic.


The real holiday here this week was Toussaint (All Saints’ Day), November 1, and it is a big and important one. It is also solemn and serious, all about remembering the dead, honoring their memories. It is a family holiday, a time for cleaning and decorating graves with flowers, then sharing a special meal together.

It is such an important holiday, in fact, that French schoolchildren are given a two-week vacation surrounding the time of Toussaint, I suppose to allow families who live far from the graves of their ancestors to be able to go there to honor them if they want to.

Hallowe’en as it is celebrated in the United States–meaning with costumes, candy, trick-or-treating–is NOT really a French thing, though over the past 20 years or so it has gained some popularity in some places, including in Essoyes. On Tuesday afternoon, October 31, there was a simple little Halloween parade through the village, starting at the Maison pour Tous, a community center that arranges all kinds of activities for both children and adults. I went to see the beginning of the parade: I didn’t see any princesses or superheroes, but I saw a lot of devils, pretty little witches, and various kinds of goblins and ghouls. Accompanied by adult volunteers, the parade of mostly children posed for a picture before starting their walk through the streets of the village with their little plastic pumpkins ready to receive treats, some of which were showered upon them by bystanders as they began their walk.



I couldn’t stay for the whole thing so I’m not sure where they ended up but my best guess is at the Place de la Mairie, where I am pretty sure they were given more treats.

The next day I took a walk to the cemetery to pay homage to two good friends who are buried there. Although a variety of flowers are brought to the cemetery at Toussaint, the traditional flower to place on the graves is chrysanthemums, because they tend to hold their blossoms longer. (This is also the reason you should never bring chrysanthemums to a dinner party in France: because they are associated strictly with honoring the dead.)

I think it’s nice that in France some people are now enjoying the fun of kids dressing up for Hallowe’en, thus preceding the solemn celebration of Toussaint with something fun. I think it would also be wonderful if more people in the United States knew of the connection between Hallowe’en (which after all, means “hallowed eve”) and Toussaint. That too would be more balanced, wouldn’t it?

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer, in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY.


Entry filed under: About Essoyes. Tags: , , .

A Wonderful Day in Troyes-in-Champagne November in Essoyes (2017 Version)

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jude L Sales  |  November 5, 2017 at 2:02 am

    Janet I very much enjoyed this look at the French celebration of Halloween and ‘Dia de los Muertos’ as here in California we most certainly understand the significance of All Soul’s Day. The Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead is part of our lives too. It was a rather quiet year for costumes and trick or treating as so many of us are still reeling from the wildfires that destroyed so many homes of our friends and loved ones. Still, it is good to find a reason to celebrate that life does go on, and like the phoenix we rise again.

    • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  November 5, 2017 at 8:17 am

      Thank you, Jude. I have certainly been thinking of you and of all the people in your part of California who have suffered such loss recently. Millions of us are! I hope that knowing that helps at least a little bit as you pick up the pieces and try to return to normalcy…Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, and to respond..


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