Chrysanthemums, family gatherings, and a time of remembrance – here’s what you need to know about “La Toussaint” or All Saints Day in France
What is La Toussaint or All Saints Day in France?
La Toussaint is an abbreviation of “Tous les saints” or “All Saints” Day, and it’s both a Catholic festival to honour all the Saints and an important day of remembrance for families around France. Dating from around the fourth century, La Toussaint takes place each year on November 1st.
What happens on November 1st?
La Toussaint on November 1st is always an official public holiday or jour férié in France. On the day, Catholic church services are held in honour of the Saints, both known and unknown, dating back to Pope Gregory III. At midnight, tradition dictates a special supper for those who have passed.
November 2nd – All Souls Day
The following day, November 2nd, is also an important day. The “Jour des Morts” or All Souls Day is when, traditionally, people pray for the souls of loved ones who have died. This is a time of remembrance for families in France, and flowers – traditionally chrysanthemums and cyclamens – are often placed on the graves and tombs of family members.
The Jour des Morts is not a public holiday, but this time of year typically coincides with the two-week fall school holidays, so many families do choose to take holidays at this time of year.
The Toussaint tradition of Chrysanthemums
It’s an important cultural difference to note that chrysanthemums are very much a plant associated with death and immortality in France (as they can often survive the winter frosts). Families make special orders in advance, and thousands of bouquets are sold around France – Madame Bris from our local garden centre in Aizet has the most incredible display of chrysanthemums in all shapes and sizes available at this time of year.
In the UK, chrysanthemums were one of my favourite plants, and I had many in my garden and would often buy them as cut flowers – not here in France, I’m afraid. I would not want to cause offence or upset to my friends and neighbours. Conversely, I seem to have lots of lilies in my garden, which are often used as funeral flowers in the UK!
Typical Toussaint foods
Some regions have their own specialities at this time of year. In Seine-et-Marne, there are Les Niflettes de Provin, which are little sweet tarts; in Corsica there is an “S” shaped cake called a Salviata, which has pastis in it, and in Normandy, pear paste is used in the patisserie at this time because it coincides with the harvests from the orchards.
As you would expect, ingredients for family meals are seasonal. So, here in the Charente, there may be cepesmushrooms which have been gathered and preserved, potimarron squash, potatoes, sweet chestnuts and maybe a sauté de veau with pineau des Charentes on the menu. Each family has its own traditions, and the media offer plenty of suggestions for that special family meal.
The important thing is that families are together (and that you don’t make a ‘faux-pas’ with your chrysanthemums!)
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