November 2, 2009

Celebrating Halloween in France

Halloween in France
Halloween in France
Photo by FranceTravelGuide

It’s time you start to be thinking about your costumes, pumpkin carving, and house decorations and, of course, where you are going to be on Halloween this year. And you do have some options – you can opt to walk the same neighborhood, alone or with your “little” ones – kids and siblings, or you can go to France, Germany or Italy and experience “American culture” on a foreign soil.

Celebrating Halloween in France

It might be a cliché to think that French don’t like anyone, especially Americans. Well, this is not true, and celebrating a very American holiday – Halloween, is a living proof that French do take notice of foreign traditions.

Halloween in France is not just happening at a few suburban neighborhoods, some of central streets in metro cities, like Paris, are blocked to allow for decorations and flow of people in costumes. The main event usually happens at the place du marché - in the centre of the town.
The idea apparently is to give the local residents an idea of what Halloween is all about. Except for the patrons of the café and a number of policemen. The residents of the neighborhoods where Halloween parades and parties happen usually wait at home for the afternoon opening of the shops, and rarely you would see kids and adults dressed in “French characters” – most of the costumes resemble traditional American characters from American movies, cartoons, history, culture and fairytales, such as - Batmans and Spidermans.

Meanwhile, French kids usually divide into small groups and are given plastic sacks, which they fill with candy donated by local merchants. Some of towns’ streets, being perfectly narrow in France, are decorated with spider-webs from wall to wall- which makes it an exciting, scary labyrinth not only for kids but also for adults in France. Fireworks usually also play part in Halloween celebrations in France.

Halloween originated among the Celts in Ireland, Britain and France – to your possible surprise - as a pagan Celtic harvest festival. Although other nations continued to observe Halloween throughout the centuries, the original pagan traditions of the Brittany region in France faded into obscurity long ago. Until recently, the mention of Halloween in Paris was quite rare. Parisian children may have heard of the holiday through foreign visitors or expatriates, but for the most part, they never carved pumpkins, dressed up in ghoulish costumes or went 'trick or treating'.

This has changed. Today, partly due to commercialism and the spread of American pop culture, the delightfully spooky holiday has seen resurgence in French popularity. More and more cafes and bars are celebrating it American-style. Teens swarm McDonald's, which by the way is opening (despite the French’s strike) in the underground mall beneath The Louvre, on Hallow's Eve, and Disneyland Paris is also a cool place to be come on October 31.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, costumed people of all ages slowly began to attend Halloween parties at friends' homes, bars, restaurants or clubs. There has been even set up a pumpkin patch at a farm outside of Paris where people can pick their own – just as Americans do at home. Pastry chefs and chocolatiers have hopped on the bandwagon, decorating their shop windows with fiendishly tempting sweets and chocolate masks. For the first time in French culture, candies are being sold in bags of individually wrapped pieces, presumably to encourage trick-or-treating.

On the Halloween day in France, among some of the most popular activities is to visit cemeteries where tombs are lavishly decorated with flowers and personal items. However, some French resist American celebrations, and in some areas they even engage in boycotts, but rarely you’ll see hostility.

See three Halloween commercials played on Disney Channel in France (who says French don't prepare for Halloween?)

And last, but not the least - if you intend to experience Halloween in France, it is best to visit the larger cities like Paris and Nice. Be sure to make your hotel arrangements well in advance, remembering that the day after Halloween (November 1st, All Saints' Day) is a major French holiday. Most shops and public monuments will be closed in observation. All Saints' Day is the day in which the French honor their dead, bringing flowers to cemeteries in remembrance. It is also a day for honoring saints and attending religious ceremonies.

Visit Louvre here.

Stay tuned to learn about Halloween celebrations in Germany and Italy.

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