Halloween Traditions in France

From La Toussaint (All Saints Day) to Un Chat Noir (a Black Cat)

Two Jack-o-lanterns, a common Halloween decoration.
Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

Halloween is a relatively new thing in France. Some people will tell you that it's a Celtic celebration, which has been celebrated in parts of France (Brittany) for centuries. OK, it may have been something important for some people, but nothing that reached the general public of France.

All Saint Day: La Toussaint in France

Traditionally in France, we celebrate the Catholic holiday of "la Toussaint", which is on November 1.

It's a rather sad celebration when family mourn their dead and go to the cemetery to clean up the tombs, bring flowers and pray. There is often a family meal, but no special tradition about the food. We bring "des chrysanthèmes" (a type of flower usually called mums, from the Latin chrysanthemum) because they still bloom at this time of the year.

Celebrating Halloween is now "in" in France

However, things are changing. If I remember well, it started in the early 90s. Celebrating Halloween became fashionable among young adults, especially among people who liked to travel. I remember going to a Halloween party at a very trendy friend when I was 20, and I fell I was in the "it" crowd!! 

Nowadays, shops and trademarks use the images of Halloween, pumpkins, skeletons etc… in their ads, so now, French people know it well, and some even start to celebrate Halloween with their kids. Why not? The French traditionally love to get in costumes, and it's quite common to have a costumed New Year party or a costumed birthday, even more so among kids.

French Teacher Love Halloween

Additionally, Halloween is a great opportunity to teach some English words to kids. French kids start to learn English in elementary school. It's merely an introduction to the English language (don't expect a fluent conversation out of a 10-year-old), but since kids would do pretty much anything for candies, elementary school teachers jump at the opportunity and often organize a costume parade, and some trick or treating.

Note, however, it never gets to tricks!! Most French homes will not have candies, and would be furious if their house got toilet papered!!

French Halloween Vocabulary

  • La Toussaint – All Saint Day
  • Le trente et un octobre – 31st of October
  • Halloween – halloween (say it the French way “a lo ween”)
  • Friandises ou bêtises/ Des bonbons ou un sort – treat or trick
  • Se déguiser (en) – to wear a costume, to dress-up as
  • Je me déguise en sorcière – I am wearing a witch costume, I am dressing-up as a witch
  • Sculpter une citrouille – to carve a pumpkin
  • Frapper à la porte – to knock on the door
  • Sonner à la sonnette – to ring the bell
  • Faire peur à quelqu’un – to scare someone
  • Avoir peur – to be scared
  • Donner des bonbons – to give candies
  • Un déguisement, un costume – a costume
  • Un fantôme – a ghost
  • Un vampire – a vampire
  • Une sorcière – a witch
  • Une princesse – a princess
  • Un squelette – a skeleton
  • Un épouvantail – a scarecrow
  • Un diable – a devil
  • Une momie – a mummy
  • Un monstre – a monster
  • Une chauve-souris – a bat
  • Une araignée – a spider
  • Une toile d’araignée – a spider web
  • Un chat noir – a black cat
  • Un potiron, une citrouille – a pumpkin
  • Une bougie – a candle
  • Des bonbons – candies