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French Culture

How do we Celebrate Halloween in France? Learn French Vocabulary and Traditions

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on October 29, 2018
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 РHalloween 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:

  • “des bonbons ou un sort” (candies or a spell),
  • “b√™tises ou friandises” (mischiefs or sweets).

4 – No Tricks on Halloween in France

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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.

The other costumes must be for Mardi Gras.

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

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 city hall sometimes organizes a parade 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, I went to look for them in my neighborhood. 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 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: French kids see Halloween just as an excuse to dress up, and the costumes are not necessarily scary: lots of princesses and clowns for Halloween in France!

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This is our daughter Leyla dressed as Little Red Riding Hood (creole style!). And she is pretending to scared of the wolf!

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 :-)

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Pa-pi-la (for papillon, butterfly in French) was the first word Leyla said after Papa and Maman.

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, bring colorful mums (“des chrysanth√®mes” 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 cimeti√®re).

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.

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9 – 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 Рtreat or trick
  5. Un déguisement, un costume Рa costume
  6. Un fant√īme – a ghost
  7. Un vampire – a vampire
  8. Une sorcière Рa witch
  9. Une princesse – a princess
  10. Un squelette – skeleton
  11. Un épouvantail Рa 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 Рa spider
  17. Une toile d’araign√©e – 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 Рa haunted house
  23. Un cimetière Рa cemetery
  24. une fée Рa fairy
  25. un pirate – a pirate
  26. un homme des cavernes – a caveman
  27. un démon Рa 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
  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) Рto wear a costume, to dress-up as
  40. Je me déguise en sorcière РI am wearing a witch costume, I am dressing-up as a witch
  41. Sculpter une citrouille – to cave a pumpkin
  42. Frapper à la porte Рto knock on the door
  43. Sonner à la sonnette Рto ring the bell
  44. Aller de maison en maison – to go from house to house
  45. Faire peur √† 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 sympathies in French – French Vocabulary about death

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