I’ve just found the blog post I wrote at our very first Hallowe’en season in France, back in 2007. This particular celebration seems to have become more and more Americanised here in the UK, and now in France too. In fact, I understand that the Fête de la Citrouille in Belesta is no more. Exhibiting pumpkins has been exchanged for ‘trick or treating': 0r as the French so snappily put it ‘Donnez-nous des bonbons ou nous vous jetons un mauvais sort’.
I thought I’d like to reminisce. Here’s that blog post from a day in our very first autumn in France.
‘In Harrogate, Hallowe’en seems to mean spending the evening of 31st October greeting a steady stream of cheerful young witches, wizards, ghosts and ghouls to the door threatening tricks if they don’t get their treats. Here in nearby Belesta, it’s something rather different, since the period round Hallowe’en is for them La Fête de la Citrouille – the Feast of the Pumpkin.
Well, just look at those pictures. If you could grow pumpkins like that, wouldn’t you want to celebrate? Yesterday, we had real fun looking round on the first day, which was also their Vide-Grenier day (Empty Your Attics). Pretty much like an English car boot sale really, except the stalls spread through the streets of the town. French attics and barns can turn out some splendidly puzzling tools and equipment, and as for the light fittings…… We enjoyed rooting around, and got ourselves quite a hoard of books at knock-down prices.
Of course the highlight of the day was yet another walk, a long ramble from Lesparrou, where we had dumped the car, along the wooded banks of l’Hers and through fairly isolated hamlets with picturesquely dilapidated (but still functional) barns, and productive potagers. Every day, the snow on the Pyrenees creeps just a little lower down the slopes, and we enjoy watching its progress. We ourselves celebrate the fact that the steeply wooded slopes which form part of nearly every walk become less strenuous as our fitness increases.’
It seems all such a distant memory now. Back in England, we don’t enjoy the huge variety of pumpkins, squash and gourds which are part of every autumn and winter market in France. Back in England, All Saints’ Day on November 1st goes unremarked. Our cemetries are not suddenly overwhelmed with pots – hundreds and hundreds of pots – of chrysanthemums, as the entire population make this annual pilgrimage to the graves of their relatives during the period of ‘la Toussaint’. Even though it’s half-term here too, our roads are not suddenly nose-to-tail with holiday makers as French families take this last opportunity to get away together before Christmas. In England, as shopkeepers clear away the pumpkins and Hallowee’en paraphernalia, they’ll fill their shelves with Christmas goods. That won’t happen in France, not until early December. Hallowe’en and Toussaint have a particular feel in France which is quite absent from the same period in England. I miss the pumpkins. But not the chrysanthemums.