Toussaint, neither Halloween nor Thanksgiving
Toussaint, a French holiday, is often translated as either Halloween or Thanksgiving but although it has elements of both, it is neither.
There is a public holiday on 1 November every year, hence the association with Halloween on 31 October. While Halloween is starting to become more popular in France, it is a long way from being a main celebration or holiday in itself. Toussaint is a day for honouring the departed.
The reason Toussaint is often translated as Thanksgiving is possibly because it is an important time for a family. However, it is a time to remember the members of the family who are no longer alive rather than the living.
The photos of chrysanthemums are my own
History of Toussaint
For a long time All Saints' Day was celebrated at various dates, after Easter or after Pentecost. Pope Boniface IV in the 7th century ordained that the day should be celebrated on 13 May and it probably wasn't until the 8th century that it was moved to 1 November, when Pope Gregory IV decreed that it should be celebrated around the world.
The day chosen, 1 November, was Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), a Celtic festival marking the time of darkness and the beginning of the year. The first day of November may have been picked for All Saints' Day deliberately to compete with the Celtic rituals.
This festival of All Saints reminds all the faithful of the universal call to holiness.
The Public Holiday
In France, 1 November is the public holiday of Toussaint, or All Saints' Day. The following day is All Souls' Day, the day to honour the departed. Because 2 November is not a public holiday, French people use 1 November to visit their family graves. Traditionally, people light candles in the cemetery and decorate graves with chrysanthemums to symbolise a happy life after death.
Some cemeteries have stone lanterns, lanternes des morts, which are lit at this time. They are more often found in Brittany and the central regions of France.
In France, chrysanthemums are firmly associated with death and for this reason should never be offered as a gift. It is thought, though nobody really knows, that this dates back to the period after World War I, when the French President of the time asked people to decorate the graves of soldiers. Chrysanthemums were chosen because they were readily available at that time.
All schools are shut around this date and, often, so too are restaurants and hotels. This was news to us during our first year in France, so we were caught out and had difficulty finding anywhere to stay on an impromptu holiday.
Two Traditional Foods for Toussaint
Both of these are sweet cakes or pastries to be eaten accompanied by a steaming cup of hot chocolate with a pinch of cinnamon, after returning from the cold of the cemetery. They are so simple to make I decided to include the recipes here.
Use Online Cooking Converter to convert to your own units.
The first, panallets, are very traditional in parts of Spain as well as in France and probably developed from Arabic pastries. Some would say they come from northern Europe because the high energy food is ideal for enduring the long cold night of 31 October but because of the almonds and nuts in the recipe, they are more likely to be Arabic in origin.
They date back to the 18th century or maybe even earlier.
They consist mainly of marzipan moulded into various shapes and sizes, though the traditional panallet is round and coated in pine nuts.
- 250 g ground almonds
- 250 g sugar
- 250 g sweet potato (cooked and mashed)
- 1 egg
- zest of a lemon
- 100 g pine nuts or chopped hazelnuts
- Mix the mashed potato with the sugar, almonds and lemon zest.
- When it is well mixed allow it to rest in the fridge, overnight if you like.
- Shape the paste into small balls about the size of a large walnut.
- Variation Divide the mxture into three and add 50 g cocoa powder to one portion, 100 g desiccated coconut to another, leaving the third plain.
- Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.
- Beat the egg white in a bowl.
- Place pine nuts or chopped nuts in a dish.
- Coat each panellets in egg white then pine nuts.
- Place on a baking tray covered in baking parchment.
- Cook in the oven for 10 minutes.
- There is a lot of leeway in this recipe to do your own thing, so you can alter the proportions of almonds, sugar and sweet potato to taste. You can also flavour the panallets in a number of ways (coffee, chocolate), put a whole almond or cherry on top.
The second pastries are called niflettes. There are two similar stories about how the name came about. The first is that they were made by a baker to console a little girl who was crying at her grandmother's tomb. The second is that they were made by monks to console orphans. Either way, the name niflette is said to be derived from the Latin "ne flete", don't weep.
They are traditional in the Ile de France area, particularly the medieval town of Provins. They have been eaten in the area since the Middle Ages.
- 2 packs of pre-prepared puff pastry
- 25 cl milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 70 g sugar
- 1 tablespoon flour
- a drop of vanilla essence
- An extra egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon icing sugar
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
- Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, then add the flour, and then gradually mix in the milk.
- Pour the mixture into a saucepan and put over a low heat, stirring continuously.
- When it has the consistency of custard, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Cut the rolled pastry into rounds using a cutter the size of a drinking glass.
- Place half these rounds on baking parchment on a baking tray.
- Using a smaller cutter, remove the centres of the other half of the rounds to make rings.
- Place one ring on top of each whole round.
- Brush with beaten egg yolk.
- Place a spoonful of custard on each pastry case.
- Place in the oven for 15 minutes, watching carefully.
- Remove from oven and dust with icing sugar.
There are a number of sayings associated with Toussaint, the main one being, "It's real Toussaint weather", (Un vrai temps de Toussaint) meaning that it's cold and gloomy like typical November weather.
"From St Michael's Day to Toussaint, work hard" (De Saint Michel à la Toussaint, laboure grand train)
"Sow your seeds at Toussaint" (À la Toussaint, sème ton grain)
"If it snows at Toussaint, the winter will be cold" (S’il neige à la Toussaint, l’hiver sera froid) but "If it's sunny at Toussaint, winter will be early" (S'il fait soleil à la Toussaint, l’hiver sera précoce)
"At Toussaint it becomes cold and starts off winter. (À la Toussaint, le froid revient et met l'hiver en train)
"As many hours of sun at Toussaint, as many the weeks you'll blow on your hands" (Autant d’heures de soleil à la Toussaint, autant de semaines à souffler dans ses mains)
"An Indian summer starts at Toussaint" (À la Toussaint, commence l’été de la Saint-Martin)
"Frost at Toussaint makes for an unhealthy Christmas" (Givre à la Toussaint, Noël malsain)
If it's hot on All Saints' Day, there will be snow the next day. (S'il fait chaud le jour de la Toussaint, il tombe toujours de la neige le lendemain)
As it is at Toussaint, so it is at Christmas. (Tel Toussaint, tel Noël)
At Toussaint, abandon your plough. (La Toussaint venue, laisse ta charrue)
The wind will blow for three quarters of the year like it does on the eve of Toussaint (Le vent souffle les trois quarts de l’année comme il souffle la veille de la Toussaint)
The wind of Toussaint is the dread of the seaman. (Vent de Toussaint, terreur du marin)
The Potato Holiday
In days gone by, this would have been the time to harvest potatoes in the country areas. Entire families would be involved and children kept away from school. So many children missed school, that autumn holidays were introduced which became known as the "potato holidays". In certain areas, Toussaint is still known as the potato holiday.