On the interesting aspects of living in France for four years was learning about their distinct holidays, most of which were religious in origin. Every October, schools in France close for two weeks for the “Toussiant” holiday break, and many French families travel across the country to visit relatives and loved ones.
“toussaint” is the French phrase for “All Saint’s” and is celebrated as All Saints Day. It is a deeply historic religious festival celebrated on the of 1st November each year in France. In other traditions and customs it is also known as “All Hallows” Day, with the preceding evening called “All Hallows Eve” (a.k.a Halloween by us Americans).
This tradition has been honored and held in high esteem here throughout Europe since around 609. The feast of All Saints, on its current date of November 1, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III and is the day when all the Saints recognized by the Roman Catholic church are honored.
Today, La Toussaint is marked by the lighting of numerous candles in cemeteries and the decorating of graves with chrysanthemums, the flowers associated with death. Stone lanterns of the dead, which are lit during the festival, can also be found in many cemeteries, especially in the Massif Central region in central France, and in Brittany. Family reunions are held to honor the dead, church bells are rung, and churches are decorated with chrysanthemums, candles and banners.
On the eve of Le Jour des Morts churches are draped in black, funeral songs are sung and prayers for the dead are recited. People visit cemeteries to pray at their family graves, and then there are festivities involving singing and telling stories about their deceased relatives.
This day becomes a day of honoring and remembering loves ones and Christians who have gone before us. This “great cloud of witnesses”, as the author of Hebrews states, can and should serve as examples of inspiration and perseverance. It can serve us well to acknowledge these men and women of God and pay tribute to their lives and legacies.
Many Americans, like myself, still visit the graves of loved ones on special occasions (birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries).
So as Autumn descends upon us, the leaves fall from their perches above and pumpkins are on great display on front porches throughout our communities, may we remember the origins of the old “Halloween” tradition.
In keeping to the true spirit and history of this day, let us pay tribute to those “saints” who let their light shine in the darkness long before us. Old Testament heroes, the Apostles from the New Testament, the early church fathers and mothers , “saints” from the early century Churches, Protestant Reformers, and personal examples such as grandparents and other relatives are all part of our legacy of faith.
These people are, and should be, included in the “cloud of witnesses” that serve as an example to believers now.
I will conclude with a wonderful quote about the inspiration and example of “saints” and what I personally come to appreciate the blessing in setting aside time to honor them.
“ … In addition to the sun, which is the image of Christ, there is the moon, which has no light of its own but shines with a brightness that comes from the sun. This is a sign to us that we men are in constant need of a “little” light, whose hidden light helps us to know and love the light of the Creator, God one and triune. … One might say that the saints are, so to speak, new Christian constellations, in which the richness of God’s goodness is reflected. Their light, coming from God, enables us to know better the interior richness of God’s great light, which we cannot comprehend in the refulgence of its glory.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, as quoted in “Benedictus”
….to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.