Halloween in France is not traditionally celebrated, though in some locations you’d be forgiven for thinking the opposite. The area and the age of the population can make a great deal of difference. Children love it, the older generation doesn’t and those in the middle fall somewhere in between! The more international the area, particularly the more Americans there are, the more the date is celebrated.
I arrived in France in 1997 just as Halloween was taking off. It was effectively imported into the country by large US corporations particularly Disney, using pumpkins, bats, witches etc in their marketing. Disneyland Paris opened in 1992 and by 1995 Halloween was starting to become something of a success in France.
I remember being amazed at the way the French seemed to have espoused such an Anglo-Saxon (the traditional “enemy”) festival – shops were decorated to the nines with spooky stuff and kids started Trick or Treating. (Well, a variation on Trick or Treating as the Trick bit didn’t seem to have been assimilated. It was just a knock on the door followed by a bag in your face and a small voice demanding “bonbons”, there was no question of saying no!)
Pâtisseries especially seemed to get in on the act, producing plenty of themed chocolates and cakes, displayed on pumpkins under cobwebs, next to spiders, you get my drift…
The French love to party and love fancy dress so when bars and nightclubs got in on the Halloween act too they were eagerly supported by party-going adults keen to have another excuse to have fun. Unlike in the States where any fancy dress goes, here it’s all about scary, spooky, creepy costumes. Skeletons, vampires, witches, ghosts and zombies rule.
But by the mid-noughties Halloween was losing favour. It has been in decline in the last few years as more and more people see it as too American and purely a commercial marketing ploy rather than a real French holiday. It’s certainly true that confectionery manufacturers benefit enormously as sales of sweets go up by 30% in October, in a month that’s otherwise fairly quiet.
The whole issue of Halloween borders on controversial here. In general the older generation and traditionalists don’t really understand its point and find it tasteless. They think it is disrespectful to the real French holiday celebrated on the 1st of November, Toussaint, All Saints Day. This is a time when families gather to remember their dead by cleaning and freshening up family tombstones.
But Halloween is in fact in some way related to All Saints as the word itself comes from the original mass held on the 1st of November which was called Allhallowmass. All Hallow’s Eve (which became shortened to Hallowe’en) was therefore the evening before All Saints…but this isn’t what I set out to write about, it’s for another time!
So back to France. Over the years I’ve seen Halloween get bigger and bigger and then all but disappear. In the last couple of years, I’ve noticed it again in the south. I can’t speak of the whole of France obviously, though my research in the media has backed me up that it has lost favour overall.
Around me on the Côte d’Azur, a very international area, quite a few shops are decorated, as ever it’s the boulangeries and chocolate makers who really go to town. Pumpkins, which aren’t a particularly popular vegetable here and therefore not usually around, are available to carve and costumes are on sale.
The nearby village of Valbonne always gets into the spirit with all the shopkeepers participating in a big Trick or Treat (without the Trick of course!) It’s a small medieval village built on a grid system with narrow cobbled alleyways, almost fully pedestrian-only. The regular straight streets make it easy to navigate and not get lost so it’s a perfect place for kids to wander around unaccompanied getting their haul of bonbons. The atmosphere is usually very festive.
Many adults dress up too and the central square, decorated with cobwebs, reverberates to the sound of witches and ghouls drinking merrily in the bars.
I think the Valbonne example is fairly unique and it certainly doesn’t reflect the way France in general celebrates Halloween. I never came across anything like this in all the years I lived in the Paris area, even at the height of its popularity and this year in Paris there’s almost no sign at all that Halloween is about to take place.
Apart from the decorated shops, Halloween is really only celebrated on the night of the 31st and very few, if any, houses will be decorated in the run-up to it. In fact, very few houses will do anything at all unless they are hosting a party and only then might they display a Jack-o-lantern outside.
Halloween is always during the school holidays in France so it doesn’t matter what night in the week it falls, children never have to go to school the next day (1st of November is a public holiday too).
To sum up, Halloween isn’t a simple festival in France, it leaves people with conflicting opinions. Children are taught about it in English classes across the country and want to join in. Adults are divided.
I wonder whether isolated villages in la France profonde mark the 31st of October in any way? I doubt it. The Côte d’Azur isn’t representative of France as a whole and neither is Paris.
I’d love to hear from anyone who lives in a less international area. Is Halloween celebrated where you are?
***UPDATE 2022*** 8 years after I originally posted this, it seems Halloween in France continues to rise and fall in popularity. This year in my area I’ve noticed fewer bakeries getting in on the act but more themed activities for children throughout the 2 week period of the school holidays. These include pumpkin carving workshops, fancy dress competitions in softplay areas, spooky puppet shows etc, A list of most of these can be found here.
October in the South of France
Transhumance, Autumn and a Hill-Top Village
All Saints Day – Flowers and French Traditions
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This was originally published in 2014 and has been updated for 2022
Interesting how its popularity comes and goes, Halloween seems to wax and wane in England too. This year there isn’t much going on in my village but previously we’ve had a lot of trick or treaters.
That is interesting indeed. I wonder if it’s true across the country or just where you are.
It really depends where you live in the UAE. The last few years we lived in a gated compound and it was the one day of the year we actually saw all our neighbours. People knew only to knock on your door if you had decorations out, and Emirati’s, westerners alike all join in (some with less manners and grace than others – for us we see it as the perfect opportunity to teach manners!) Now we’re on a new estate I’m not sure if there will be the same festivities but I hope there’s something, it just brought a sense of community about (forgetting all its history and traditions else where!)
Sounds like that was a great way to meet the neighbours, I hope it happens again for you this year in your new place.
I love celebrating Halloween abroad! Two years ago I celebrated in Madrid and this year I will be dressing up in Costa Rica! Very interesting to learn how they spend Halloween in France.
Jealous of the Costa Rica trip! How wonderful.
Great post Phoebe! Interesting how a holiday can rise and fall in popularity so much! Halloween does sound like lots of fun where you are! Halloween is not something traditionally celebrated here, however expat influence is starting to cause an increase in popularity! For the last couple of years now the PTA at the international school does a huge Halloween fair (huge for hear I mean of course!) and most of the island come!!
Thanks for linking with #myexpaatfamily
That sounds like fun Chantelle, though I must say I can’t imagine witches and ghouls in the Seychelles paradise
We didn’t really do anything major for Halloween in the UK to be honest, then we moved to the US and it is so ridiculously huge here, you cannot avoid it 🙂 Houses are decorated, parties held, lots of trick or treating… It’s a bit mad really!! #myexpatfamily
I’d like to experience an American Halloween at least once, as it certainly sounds mega!
I love Halloween but not in the very Americanised Trick or Treat way. I just love making spooky food and decorating the house which I suppose started in a way to appease young boys who might otherwise have asked to go out trick or treating when we lived in the UK. Up here in Normandy you might be forgiven for thinking Halloween does not exist. A couple of years ago I needed a witch’s hat but could not find one anywhere and another year I fancied carving a round pumpkin as all the ones I grew were the wrong shape. Did I find one? Nope. I have noticed that the local cinema does run a spooky film night and when I have been in town in the afternoon or very early evening there have been a few costumed children collecting sweets but overall it is very low key. Mind you, the French families we have invited to our Halloween suppers have always loved the event but as you say, they do love to party! #AllAboutFrance
I like the idea of your celebrations Rosie, with spooky food, that sounds fun. Interesting to hear your area doesn’t even sell pumpkins to carve. I spent Halloween last year, just near you in Normandy in a spooky old barn with plenty of spiders, the kids (there were plenty) all loved it!
I’m not really a fan of Hallowe’en. My birthday is near to it, but not that near, and once, when I was about 9 a friend bought me a jack o lantern for my birthday. I hated it! It’s my birthday not hallowe’en! Haha, anyway, I like October to be about autumn and my birthday, half term school holidays and not hallowe’en. But that’s personal. All around me it seems it’s becoming a bigger ‘festival’ but it’s so commercial and full of tat!
I can fully sympathise with that Helena, no kid should be given Halloween merchandise for their birthday! I also agree that it’s completely full of tat. I’d happily participate in USA but glad it isn’t huge in France. Different countries need different traditions.
Very interesting. I knew Halloween wasn’t much celebrated in France. In the US, it is now the second largest retail holiday behind Christmas. Even within the US it is celebrated differently.
I find it crazy that it’s the second retail event as surely it’s just about candy and costumes but no presents; people must spend soooo much!
Halloween is something that has never particularly been on our radar. It was not big in the part of the Uk where Mr EE grew up and it was not part of many of the cultures I grew up in. We go to parties with the children if a friend organises them (and they are fun) but tend not to organise anything ourselves. It is divided here in Malaysia. The Malay (Muslim) community do not celebrate it but the Chinese community seem to have adopted it with gusto and costumes and nick nacks are available in stores. The other day I noticed that our local theme park is running Halloween themed events all month.
Interesting that there’s a divide between the Malay and Chinese attitudes towards Halloween. Is there anything the Chinese don’t espouse?
It’s not a huge celebration where we are in the Tarn-et-Garonne. Our village is small so we usually get one family (made up of about 6 kids!) that knock on the door but that’s it. There is a nearby village where villagers can sign up to take part in Halloween and then a group leads the kids around to collect sweets. Last year we went to a Halloween party hosted by an English family, but there were French present and everyone made a big effort dressing up. We usually do a Halloween themed dinner with family…though I still haven’t convinced the kids that snails are edible, or that witch’s slime soup (pea soup!) is any good!
That’s pretty much what I’d expect of a small rural French location. Funny that you can actually sign up though, I’ve never heard of that before.
Halloween was A Very Big Thing where I grew up in rural east coast Canada, so I noticed a big difference when I moved to the UK and it was hardly celebrated. I can understand the reluctance of embracing the American overzealousness with the whole thing, but I do miss a proper Halloween! 🙂
I can imagine that you miss it but personally I’m glad different countries have different traditions, the world is easily becoming too homogenous.
With you on that one, Richard! But then I’m just an old grump 🙂
haha Curtis, it seems you’d get on with Richard!!
I’ve lived in France for 5 years now, and although we don’t get any children coming around trick or treating (we live in the Correze, in the Millevache National Park, the hamlet is small with very few children) I have noticed that more decorations have become available in the supermarkets over the years and local florists and patisseries do create a bit of a Halloween display. That said, my husband and I do our ‘bit ‘ on Halloween and always carve pumpkins & put them on the window cills – it is his birthday too though, so we love Halloween!
Interesting to hear your area has some displays, I think it changes from year to year all over France.
When I moved to France 8 years ago I bought loads of bon bons and not one trick or treater knocked on our door! the next year we had a trickle of neighbourhood kids stop by but still it is not as popular as it is in New Zealand (where I’m from originally). I do agree that the chocolatiers and pâtissiers go to town here with themed goodies! My son’s school has a dress-up day each year which is fun for the kids and I have noticed many bars are getting into the spirit (pun intended!) with Halloween nights.
You seem to have a similar experience to me noticing the patisseries and bars…I wonder what this year will be like?
When we arrived in 2004 our village was unusual in that there were quite a high number of small children and an afternoon fancy dress walk was arranged so the little ones could collect bonbons from the old people, who enjoyed seeing the happy faces of children having fun. It was innocent, non scary and a regular event in the village calendar. However, as the kids have grown up, even with new young ones taking their place, it has fizzled out almost entirely. Many people don’t now like the idea of celebrating Halloween, no one wants to organize it and I can’t help feeling it is the old people who have missed out on an afternoon of smiling visitors!
That’s an interesting observation Jacqui, I’ve never really thought of it like that.
This is so interesting – I’d never thought about Halloween in France, it just doesn’t strike me as remotely French! Even in the UK it goes up and down in popularity I think. Beyond pumpkin carving, I certainly never went trick or treating as a child and don’t think anyone knocked on the door last year; for now my daughter’s too young to be involved…
Interesting to hear that in the UK it goes up and down in popularity too.
I love the fall and even though France’s Halloween obsession is nowhere near where it is in the USA, France is coming around little by little. I even got a few trick-or-treaters last year! I love the fall harvest themed decor and always stock up on gourds and pumpkins. We bring the Halloween to us and do jack-o-lanterns and Halloween cupcakes. 😉
spoken like a true American Diane! I’m glad you get to enjoy your holiday.
I’ve always loved Halloween: free candy for dressing up? YES. In France, we always felt like it was a bit of a downer. However, we did have adult friends who would always throw a birthday party around the same time with some kind of costume theme…I think it was their sneaky way of still getting in on the action without acknowledging Halloween itself! I’m interested to see what it’s like here in Bavaria this year…
Put like that “free candy for dressing up” it does sound fun! Let us know how it is in Bavaria won’t you.
Halloween is my favorite holiday…caveat, I’m an American 😉 It’s really interesting to see how the holiday is treated abroad. Thanks for sharing this #AllAboutFrance
It seems Americans really do love this holiday! I hope you get to celebrate it this year.
I’m in Australia, and I got into Halloween because of a trip to Paris (and the Disney encroachment into the main part of town – Pumpkin headed ghouls were handing out flyers) and so I took home with me, the idea of a party rather than the trick’o’treat thing…
What an interesting twist Lydia, I wonder how long ago your trip to Paris was?
Lucky old Frenchies if they’re losing this tedious faux-festival.
Bah humbug Richard! I gather you don’t like it!
We have 6 children in our very small town and if it is not raining they come round for a treat . There are no decorations at all and our one shop does not sell anything special for Halloween.
That’s not a lot of children! Did they pop around this time Catherine?
I’ve just visited Paris and didn’t see any Halloween things which was a stark contrast to my last visit about 12 years ago when, like you say, there were decorations in every shop and blck and orange in every bakery! Interesting!
Thanks for your input Steve, I’m glad I’m not imagining it!