Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween in France

I love Halloween.  It's my favorite holiday, probably because there's nothing overtly religious or patriotic about it.  It's just all about dressing up and eating lots of candy - both of which I love.

Unfortunately, I now live in a country that doesn't really celebrate this wonderful night.  Apparently some marketing folks thought they could make some serious cash by promoting Halloween in France a few years back, but after a lot of initial interest it turned out to be just a passing fad.  Nowadays there are celebrations in clubs and a few parties with a Halloween theme, but few trick-or-treaters going door-to-door.  And your average French person doesn't even know when Halloween is exactly, in part because there isn't any outward indication anywhere to remind you - in sharp contrast to the massive media blitz in the US.

My students tell me the lack of interest here is partly related to the fact that it just seems completely over-commercialized, and many French people resist the notion of celebrating what they see as a purely American holiday.  And there's also the fact that it's around the same time as the Catholic Toussaint ('tous saints', or all saints), on November 1st.  It's the day when the French honor loved ones who have passed away by decorating their graves, and I've been told it's the best time to visit a cemetery since they are overflowing with flowers.  It's also the busiest travel day of the year, and the most deadly - sadly ironic given the nature of most of the car trips.

Because the significance of Toussaint in France, some of my students were explaining that it also seems a bit indecent to dress up and have parties that revel in the dark side when so many people are commemorating their dearly departed.  That makes sense to me, but since I grew up with more American traditions than French, I still can't help loving Halloween and wanting to play dress up.  Kevin and I threw a party last year that was so much fun we decided to make it a yearly tradition, and last night's fest didn't disappoint.  

Here are this year's costumes: 

When I told my students I was dressing as a flapper, they protested, "but that's not scary!"  The image of Halloween in France is definitely that of 'fright night,' with costumes that are necessarily of witches and vampires and such.  In fact, at last year's party almost all of the French partygoers were dressed as something traditionally frightening - I think there were even 4 zombies!

So I explained that while scary costumes are still the norm, Americans will dress up as just about anything they like, and the more creative the better.  And at this year's party there was much more variety in the costumes - a few skeletons and  ghosts, of course, but also pirates, men in drag, and even a tree! 

But while my costumes usually let me explore my feminine side (and so are more surprising than frightening, since I rarely wear skirts or makeup), I stick pretty close to tradition when it comes to the food and decoration.   One of my favorite parts of the day was making a horrific buffet of all sorts of things that either look inedible, or play off the ghoulish theme.  Here are a couple of pics of my Halloween spread:

It took me all day to put the buffet together, and luckily Kevin's sister was around to help.  But it was so much fun that it was worth it, and my guests seemed really impressed!

With all the dancing, games, and frightful food, not to mention the creative costumes, it was a wonderful night among friends, and a really nice multicultural mix.  And it's also a great way for me to keep in touch with my American traditions now that I live so far from home.


JenLF said...

I love your costumes! You could also mention to your students that scary costumes are more the realm of older kids. My little kids (and me, when I was younger!) dressed in cute costumes - definitely not scary! :)

Elizabeth said...

I loved your costume, too. I thought you were Amelia Earhart-LOL

steph Peronnet said...

I've just read your post about the party, it's a great momory for Xavier and I, thank you so much for the invit !
see you soon