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…
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:
- “des bonbons ou un sort” (candies or a spell),
- “bêtises 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!
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, bring colorful 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).
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 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
- Un déguisement, un costume – a costume
- Un fantôme – a ghost
- Un vampire – a vampire
- Une sorcière – a witch
- Une princesse – a princess
- Un squelette – 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 – spider web
- Un chat noir – a black cat
- Un potiron, une citrouille – a pumpkin
- Une bougie – a candle
- Des bonbons – candies
- Une maison hantée – a haunted house
- Un cimetière – a cemetery
- une fée – a fairy
- un pirate – a pirate
- un homme des cavernes – a caveman
- un démon – a demon
- une goule – a goul
- un zombie – a zombie
- un extraterrestre – an alien
- Un loup-garou – a werewolf
- le sang – the blood
- se maquiller – to wear makeup
- le maquillage – the makeup
- une perruque – a wig
- un masque – a mask
- une cicatrice – a scar
- les canines de vampire – the vampire fangs
- 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 cave a pumpkin
- Frapper à la porte – to knock on the door
- Sonner à la sonnette – to ring the bell
- Aller de maison en maison – to go from house to house
- Faire peur à quelqu’un – to scare someone
- Avoir peur – to be scared
- 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
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.