La Toussaint or The Day of the Dead

Yesterday I wrote about my American Halloween experiences and how my first one was so foreign that I could have been E.T. for all I know.

On the other hand, if there is something foreign to the American people it is La Toussaint or the Day of All Saints. Also called Le Jour des Morts or The Day of the Dead, this day, celebrated on November 1 all over France, honors all dead people.

Traditionally families visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and leave a pot of chrysanthemum on the graves.

I still remember carrying pots of chrysanthemum in my mittened hands to a small Normandy cemetery where all of my mother’s relatives are buried. I had only known my grandmother and great grandmother, but my mom took us on a lengthy tour and made sure that each and every grave was flowered with chrysanthemums. Later that day we would also visit my father’s relatives’ cemetery and proceed with the same small ceremony. French children and even university students are on break for this celebration.

In my novel Chronicles From Château Moines, Scott’s father takes advantage of the Vacances de la Toussaint to work with his son and daughter on the opening of Hollywood Follies, his clothing store.

As a cultural anecdote, when the first time my mom saw my potted mums on my patio, she was shocked.

“It’s morbid,” she said. “Chrysanthemums are for cemeteries.”

“Here, we call them ‘mums,’” I explained, but based on the frown of my mother’s face I could see that the plants that stay in bloom in California as long as you live above freezing temperatures weren’t a symbol of fall for my mother.

She would even be more shocked when a friend of mine, invited for dinner, showed up with a pot of chrysanthemum.

Ça ne se fait pas,” she whispers.

“Here,” I insisted, “it’s perfectly okay to offer chrysanthemums.”

My mother didn’t comment, however I knew that my friend’s well-intended gift would not work for my maman.

 

Today she and my sister will visit the cemetery where my father is now buried, too. They will bring chrysanthemums on his grave.

Here in the States they are bleeding red, orange and gold.

mum

 

From her great blog Mona has posted an interesting post about Dia de la Muertos, a Mexican celebration of the dead, starting on November 1.

Few books have been written on the topic and even fewer for children. My favorite happens to be also one that Mona likes. Just a Minute by Mexican-American author Yuyi Morales is an unusual picture book that is both a pleasure for the eyes and tells in a unique way of the tradition of The Day of the Dead in Mexico.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Hi Evelyne. That was charming and interesting. I felt i was beside your childhood self, decorating the graves.
    Wishing you well. Hugs.

    • Isn’t it a strange custom? There is something a little too much sometimes with catholic traditions, but at the same time they stick with you, want it or not. I like that you walked with me along these Normandy cemeteries. See you soon, Teagan.

  2. cardamone5 says:

    Huh! I just finished this part in your book!

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

  3. I remember visiting and tending the graves but usually on Memorial Day and right after Labor Day. Many cemeteries around here require the graves to be clean by November 1. We sometimes sneak something out there for Christmas.

    I love reading about the small differences across cultures. Thanks for sharing yours.

    • I just read your post a few hours after posting mine. La Toussaint is a Catholic tradition, and France being traditionally a catholic country the custom lasts. I also like reading about different cultures and also about people’s own rituals. That’s why I liked yours too.

  4. Behind the Story says:

    Even in the United States, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are celebrated to some extent … by Catholics. The Catholic cemeteries have a All Saints’ Day services in their chapels, and they welcome flowers on the graves. Every year my parish has a special dinner for widows and widowers. At the Mass before dinner, the priest prays for each of our deceased spouses by name.

  5. Thanks for sharing these memories Evelyne, it must be a wonderful occasion to see so many families honouring their family members and I imagine the cemeteries must look so bright on that day. Interesting to see the cultural difference when your mother couldn’t accept the chrysanthemums as a gift.

    • I like to read about other people’s culture, Andrea. That’s why I like to share my own little things too. The chrysanthemums will remain a plant that symbolizes death for my mom while my move to the US changed that. Isn’t it funny that I would probably think like her had I stayed in France? See you soon on your blog.

  6. The Day of the Dead is becoming more popular every year here in Central California. It is amazing to visit the cemeteries and see families having picnics on the graves. Bright marigolds are the flowers of choice.

    • Because of the large Latino community in Central California it makes sense. What remains unique in France is the fact that it is a holiday and nobody (in the public sector at least) works. The marigolds are so lovely! It’s a great choice. See you soon, Claire.

  7. It’s so interesting to read about other cultures! Here in Australia, pots of chyrsanthemums are a common gift on mother’s day, which we celebrate in May (our autumn). Lilies symbolise death here. Guess we need to be aware of all these differences!

    • I agree with you, Stella. How a simple flower can symbolize so many different events! Lillies here are a common gift for Mother’s Day and also for a birth. This is why new immigrants make so many mistakes, although never on purpose. Thank you for this comment which shows how we celebrate the same events but in our own way. See you, Stella.

  8. A touching and beautiful way to honor loved ones. We live by a cemetery and see ceremonies each day, but also the lovely flowers that grace nearly every stone (changed for the season) and some even have solar lights.

    • I like the solar lights, actually. Some cemeteries can be a little eerie and lights are a nice touch to leave on loved ones’ graves. As for flowers, each culture has its own and what matters is the tradition. See you soon, Mary.

  9. Chrysatheumums are traditional valued flowers (along with peonies, cherry blossoms, plum blossoms and orchids) in China. It’s the association with “gold” in terms of the colour.

  10. I loved reading about this tradition Evelyne, I didn’t know anything about it. I can well imagine how difficult it would be for your mum to see ‘mums’ in any other way. Quite a shock for her to see them used as decoration in a house. It is a beautiful and touching celebration. Traditionally here in the church calendar, November 1st is All Saints Day after All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) which honours the dead. I have heard something of the Mexican celebration, but I will take a look at Mona’s blog and read more. Thank you for sharing this touching art of your life with us Evelyne 🙂

    • When I read the comments above, I found fascinating that flowers can have so many different meanings, depending of the culture. What makes La Toussaint quite unique is the fact that is a holiday in France, unlike in the US where Catholics also honor their dead loved ones. Mona is telling so many great stories based on the Mexican culture from her blog. Thank you, Sherri, for another kind visit. See you soon.

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