Halloween in France – Vocabulary & Traditions & Video 🎃

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

We don’t typically celebrate Halloween in France. In the 1990s, young French hipsters started to have costume parties for Halloween, and some bars and restaurants took up the trend as well.

1 – Halloween in France – a Good Commercial Opportunity

So Halloween is not a typical French holiday but stores try to take advantage of it, and it’s not unusual to find a “carve your Halloween pumpkin (“une citrouille” or “un potiron”) display at your local grocery store.

Well, pumpkins don’t sell like hotcakes in France, so I guess everything is good to try to sell them… But I don’t know that French people are massively carving pumpkins or doing anything special for Halloween…

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This is the Halloween display at our local Carrefour supermarket

2 – Halloween is a fun way to Motivate French Kids to Practice English

With English being studied in elementary school, kids usually know about Halloween. There are many fun activities that can be done on the Halloween theme, and candies are sufficient motivation for any kid in the world!

Unfortunately, Halloween is usually during mid-season school break (“les vacances de la Toussaint”), so schools don’t usually organize a trick-or-treating outing.

Although some neighborhoods are more responsive than others, trick-or-treating is not yet part of the French tradition, and people have mixed reactions to being “disturbed’ at nightfall for candies by kids in costumes.

3 – How do you say “Trick or Treat” in French?

Well… you don’t!

The whole point being to have French kids use a few English words… But a good translation would be in French:

  • “des bonbons ou un sort” (candies or a spell),
  • “bêtises ou friandises” (mischiefs or sweets).

4 – No Tricks on Halloween in France

Note however the “trick” part is out of the question in France… That part of the tradition didn’t make it (yet ?) and French folks have not had the pleasure to receive eggs or toilets paper over their fences, trees, house…

5 – Only Scary Costumes for Halloween in France

French kids don’t seem to be aware that you don’t have to necessarily dress scary for Halloween. No lovely princesses or fairies on Halloween in France. Only ghosts zombies and vampires. Maybe that’s why some French people don’t like it.

The other costumes must be saved for Mardi Gras (which is not really a celebrated anymore in France…)

French people typically love costume parties, they are very popular for New Year’s Eve or birthdays, even among grown-ups.

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6 – Halloween is Still a Foreign Holiday in France

If Halloween is a big hit in larger cities which often organise parades etc… It’s still a “foreign” holiday in smaller countryside villages. Most French people won’t have candies handy, and houses are not usually decorated for Halloween.

We live in a small 8000 inhabitant town called “Paimpol”, in a very quiet residential street. No trick or treaters for us, although Paimpol’s shopkeeper usually organizes soemthing for kids in the town center in the afternoon of Halloween, and local businesses give away candies.

Since kids didn’t come to my house, in 2019, I went to look for them in my neighbourhood. I crossed path with 2 groups of 4 kids. I asked them why they were wearing costumes and, they answer “because of the candies”. When I asked “do you know what day is today”, I got one ” because it’s Halloween” out of the 8 kids…

When I asked them if they knew how to say “trick or treat” in English or French… they didn’t know nor the words, nor the tradition… Just that they were likely to get candies today!

The 2019 parade in the middle of town was a big hit though. It was held from 4 to 5 PM, and many kids and parents showed up. The shops were not particularly decorated… And the costumes were more or less creative: sometimes just a mask, hat or wig thrown over regular clothings.

7 – Halloween is Getting mix Reactions From French Folks

In the small countryside village where my parents live, the school teacher is serious about teaching English, and loves the opportunity Halloween provides to motivate kids.

All the kids meet up at the school and then go trick-or treating, and guess what? My parent’s house is right in front of the school. It’s the one house all the kids are sure to hit!!!

My Mom (75 years old) hates it. My Dad (80 years young) loves it :-)

8 – Halloween has the Same Ideas as the French Catholic Holiday “La Toussaint”

It’s too bad though, because on November 1st is the Catholic Holiday of “la Toussaint” (All Saints Day), when French people traditionally visit cemeteries, freshen up the tomb displays, bringing colourful mums (“des chrysanthèmes” chrysanthemums, aka mums)… symbol of death, never to be given as a bouquet/present… that would be a big faux-pas !!) and pray to their dead and their favorite saints.

La Toussaint, November 1st is a holiday in France: everything is closed. It’s in the middle of the school vacation “les vacances de la Toussaint” so kids are around. Families often gather together for a meal, and bring flowers to the cemetery (le cimetière).

If you know French people who suffered the loss of a love one, this is a good time to send your sympathy in French.

These are the same ideas that are at the very heart of Halloween. I feel Halloween could be a great way to get younger people to carry on ancient French traditions that are getting forgotten, while also integrating a fun American celebration.

9 – French Halloween Video

In 2019, I went in the streets of Paimpol to so you could see a bit the “ambiance” of Halloween in my small countryside town of Brittany.

It was raining that day, pretty hard. And the shopkeepers organisation had decided to celebrate Halloween on October 30th? Why??? I’m not sure: probably because it was on a Wednesday when kids have no school (but the shopkeepers had forgotten that it was during the French school holidays anyway… Typical French LOL).

You may turn on/off French/English subtitles by playing with the CC option located to the bottom right of the video.

10 – French Halloween Vocabulary

  1. La Toussaint – All Saint Day
  2. Le trente et un octobre – 31st of October
  3. Halloween – halloween (say it the French way “a lo ween”)
  4. Friandises ou bêtises/ Des bonbons ou un sort – treat or trick
  5. Un déguisement, un costume – a costume
  6. Un fantôme – a ghost
  7. Un vampire – a vampire
  8. Une sorcière – a witch
  9. Une princesse – a princess
  10. Un squelette – skeleton
  11. Un épouvantail – a scarecrow
  12. Un diable – a devil
  13. Une momie – a mummy
  14. Un monstre – a monster
  15. Une chauve-souris – a bat
  16. Une araignée – a spider
  17. Une toile d’araignée – spider web
  18. Un chat noir – a black cat
  19. Un potiron, une citrouille – a pumpkin
  20. Une bougie – a candle
  21. Des bonbons – candies
  22. Une maison hantée – a haunted house
  23. Un cimetière – a cemetery
  24. une fée – a fairy
  25. un pirate – a pirate
  26. un homme des cavernes – a caveman
  27. un démon – a demon
  28. une goule – a goul
  29. un zombie – a zombie
  30. un extraterrestre – an alien
  31. Un loup-garou – a werewolf
  32. le sang – the blood
  33. se maquiller – to wear makeup – see my article about French reflexive verbs
  34. le maquillage – the makeup
  35. une perruque – a wig
  36. un masque – a mask
  37. une cicatrice – a scar
  38. les canines de vampire – the vampire fangs
  39. Se déguiser (en) – to wear a costume, to dress-up as
  40. Je me déguise en sorcière – I am wearing a witch costume, I am dressing-up as a witch
  41. Sculpter une citrouille – to carve a pumpkin
  42. Frapper à la porte – to knock on the door
  43. Sonner à la sonnette – to ring the bell
  44. Aller de maison en maison – to go from house to house
  45. Faire peur à quelqu’un – to scare someone
  46. Avoir peur – to be scared
  47. Donner des bonbons – to give candies

For people interested, I have recorded the French Catholic Mass.

You may also be interested on how to express your sympathy in French – French Vocabulary about death.

Learn French in context: check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided pronunciation. 

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 23+ years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Most of my audiobooks are recorded at several speeds to help you conquer the modern French language. Good luck with your studies and remember, repetition is the key!

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