La Toussaint, or All Saint’s Day, is celebrated across France on November 1 each year. The holiday is to honor all the Saints recognized by the Catholic Church. It is a jour férié, or public holiday and is quite a big deal. Not like Halloween, which is not really celebrated much at all. Everything is closed on this day except florists, churches and cemeteries. In France public holidays are taken very seriously and it is not like in the US where all stores are open and even special sales are common. Here when things are closed, they are really shut down for the day. La Toussaint is celebrated by decorating the graves of loves ones with flowers. The flowers of choice are chrysanthemums.
For a few weeks before November 1, you see these beautiful blooms in every size and color imaginable lining the sidewalks of florists, garden centers and supermarkets everywhere. The weekly markets have new stall holders selling flowers and everyone is carrying bouquets and plants. On the day itself, several cemeteries have special services of remembrance, including our tiny local one. We passed by the next day and could not help but stop by and take photographs and wander around the graves. All cemeteries are alive with magnificent displays of color. It truly is a beautiful sight and a wonderful tradition. Especially at this time of year when most trees have lost their leaves and things are beginning to look a bit drab and bleak, this injection of beauty and color is a welcome surprize. Something to remember is that chrysanthemums are traditionally flowers placed in cemeteries and therefore you should never bring them to a hostess as a gift. You might wonder why chrysanthemums as opposed to another flower. The consensus amongst my French friends seems to be that President Raymond Poincaré asked all French citizens to put flowers in cemeteries in memory of the soldiers killed during WWI and chrysanthemums were the best choice as they are one of the few flowering plants at that time of year and they are quite hardy and resistant to frost which is common at this time of year.