« Trick or treat »? How the Halloween party traveled from Gaul to France

This Tuesday, millions of French people will go to pray at the graves of their loved ones. For them, « the maintenance of remembrance is, in fact, increasingly displayed as a fundamental act, with a progression of rites and the appointment of All Saints’ Day ». Christian, even if it colors the cemeteries with a multitude of chrysanthemums and often gives the opportunity to get together with family for meals sometimes washed down, All Saints’ Day remains a sad celebration based on memory and meditation.

With Halloween, the All Saints’ Day period cultivates a much more cheerful register. An American-Celtic pagan holiday, Halloween has invaded France for almost 30 years now, restoring the image of pumpkins, those pumpkins that excite children and commercial appetites.

An American fashion… since 1911

Because Halloween is above all a great commercial celebration. It’s not a fairy tale. Pumpkins are everywhere, in the windows of department stores, on posters, in schools where some teachers take advantage of fashion to teach biology lessons, and even on the menu of fancy restaurants, where for a long time the consumption of this gourd remained associated with crisis foods. What finally give work to marketing agencies of all kinds, but also to Provençal farmers who quickly understood that interest in pumpkin could bring them new outlets.

So, you said Halloween, but what is it exactly? This Anglo-Saxon fashion comes to us from the United States where every October 31st we have had a pumpkin party since… 1911. A party which, like a kind of carnival, sees masked balls, sambas of skeletons and colorful processions multiply, where disguised and made-up children express their mischief by asking for sweets. « Trick or treat », they say, in other words « a joke or a treat ».

The Celtic God of Death, Samhain

Originally, Halloween was a Celtic religious holiday. Because in the Gallic calendar, October 31 marked the end of the year, the time to bring in the harvest and put the animals under cover. For the occasion, the druids organized ceremonies to celebrate the Celtic god of death, Samhain. The Celts then dressed in animal skins and carried bones to ward off the spells of ghosts. Fires were also lit on the hills to deter harvest stealing, and to ward off evil spirits and witches, candles and lanterns were placed everywhere.

These lanterns were a way of recalling the Irish legend of Jack’O Lantern, a grinning pumpkin lit by a candle. In fact, the ghost of a certain Jack who was refused entry to heaven because he was miserly. Also forbidden to stay in hell, because he had played tricks on the devil, Jack was condemned to wander on Earth with his lantern until the last judgment.

By emigrating to the United States in the last century, the Irish imported their legend and therefore this Halloween party so named because of the deformation of the formula « all hallows eve », which literally means « eve of all saints », or eve of All Saints, in other words on October 31…

Since then, in the United States, the party has become that of naughty children, costume makers, prank and trick sellers. And after having crossed the Atlantic as quickly as McDonald’s, Halloween has also reached France, where the praise of pumpkins boosts commerce, amuses children and puts a little joy in the atmosphere of All Saints’ Day.


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