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Halloween and All souls day in Francophone countries: traditions and vocabulary list

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

We are one day from Halloween, this famous day that most of the kids are waiting for in the US in order to wear their scary costumes, play creepy games and go door to door for Trick-or-Treat.

Is Halloween an American celebration? Is it celebrated the same way around the world? What about All saints day and All souls day? How would you speak about it in French?

I thought it would be a great idea to get to know more about Halloween’s origins, the way it’s celebrated in France and other French-speaking countries and why not learn some vocabulary.

Halloween all saints day all souls day and vocabulary list

1. Origins of Halloween

A lot of people believe that Halloween is originated from America but the truth is that it's originated from Europe from the Celtic ancient festival Samhain This festival was celebrating the end of harvest and the beginning of the dark and cold winter period starting from 1st November.

Celts believed that ghosts of dead people would return to earth. In order to help the good souls find their way back home, families would carve faces into turnips or potatoes, with lights placed inside to illuminate them. They would also light up bonfires and wear costumes made of animal skins and heads to keep the bad spirits away.

In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III established All Saints Day, la fête de Toussaint in French. Some people think that it was a way to Christianize the Samhain celebration which was pagan. After came All souls day.

Halloween is just the contraction of All Hallow Eve, the all saints eve, so the day before Toussaint.

2. Halloween, All Saints, and All souls' day in the Francophone world

Halloween is a way of celebrating death in a festive way. Similar celebrations exist in other countries of the world, even if they are not celebrated on the 31st of October. Let’s travel through some francophone countries to see how they celebrate Halloween or All Souls' day.

Halloween and all saints day in France

Halloween has been brought to France in the year 1990. Leading American companies like Coca-Cola, Disneyland strongly contributed to its development in France. It then became one of the most famous celebrations after Christmas and Easter, but it quickly lost its popularity as it was seen more like a commercial celebration, than a familial one.

In France, it’s not common to see kids going door-to-door and doing trick-or-treat.

On the contrary, All Saints Day is more popular. Dead people are celebrated on the 1st of November on All Saints Day. Families gather to the cemeteries and display flowers to the grave of their loved ones.

Halloween in Canada

Canada is divided into two parts: the English and the French part. But no matter which part, Halloween is strongly celebrated. No need to remind that Halloween was first imported to North America through Irish immigrants who left their country due to the potato famine.

Halloween In Quebec is marked by decorations, costumes, and the famous trick-or-treat. A lot of activities are organized during the month of October around the topic of Halloween. The city hall is decorated with pumpkins, zombies, monsters, spiders,…

Children will wear costumes and go door to door and Adults will give them candies to avoid being tricked.

All Souls Day in Haïti

Dead people are honored on the 2nd of November in Haïti, through the festival of Guedes. During this celebration, the vaudou priests will lead the ceremony. All the adepts are dressed in black and purple color and they dance all around a sacred grave while spitting, smoking, drinking, and hoping to be possessed by a dead spirit.

Halloween celebration in Haiti fete des guedes

Image credit: CNews

The Famadihana festival in Madagascar

To honor dead people in Madagascar, their bodies are excavated and put inside a cloth. Family members will then gather to celebrate, dance, while carrying the dead body in the cloth. Once finished, they put back the body in the grave and it will stay there for a while before they exhume it again about 7 years later. This tradition is however getting less and less popular regarding the rise of Christianity and its expensive costs.

All saints day in French Polynesia

On All Saints day, Cemeteries are decorated with hundred thousand white flowers. In the evening, candles are lightened up forming a kind of luminous halo and families will all together sing the religious song the Himene. It is very nice to see.

All souls day in Île Maurice

Family members gather on the 2nd of November to celebrate their beloved ones. The celebration is marked by the decorations, prayers, and blessing of graves. Some people will even cook the dead person’s favorite dish accompanied by a glass of rum in order to put it on top of the grave. The ambiance is very festive. In Guadeloupe and Martinique, the celebrations are very similar, with a lot of music.

Halloween in Francophone Africa

Halloween is not a popular celebration in Africa, in western countries especially. It is seen as an imported event and to say the truth, people have other more vital concerns.

What is popular in West Africa, is the masquerade festival that happens in several countries like Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. Depending on the region, people will wear a costume made up of trees leaves, cloth, and wear masks representing spirits or animals and go dancing in the streets. But actually, this is not directly related to Halloween and all souls day.

3. Halloween French vocabulary list

For the French learners that you are, you might be left disappointed if we don't go through the key French vocabulary related to death and Halloween.

Below is the alphabetical words list to boost your French and enable you to participate in a discussion about Halloween.

Halloween Vocabulary list in French

  • Une araignée = a spider

  • Un balai = a broom

  • Un bonbon = a candy

  • Une bougie = a candle

  • Un cercueil = a coffin

  • Un chat noir = a black cat

  • Un chapeau de sorcière = a witch hat

  • Un chaudron = a cauldron

  • Une chauve-souris = a bat

  • Un clair de lune = a moonlight

  • Un cimetière = a cemetery

  • Une citrouille= a pumpkin

  • Un corps = a dead body

  • Un déguisement = a disguise

  • Un diable, un démon = a devil

  • Un épouvantail = a sacarecrow

  • Enterrer = to bury

  • Exhumer = to exhume

  • Un enterrement = a burial

  • Un fantôme = a ghost

  • Des funérailles (f) = funerals

  • Une friandise = a treat

  • Un hibou = an owl

  • Joyeuse Halloween = Happy Halloween

  • Une maison hantée = a haunted house

  • Un manoir = a manor

  • Un masque = a mask

  • Une momie = a mummy

  • Un monstre = a monster

  • Une sorcière = a witch

  • Un squelette = a skeleton

  • Une toile d’araignée = a spider web

  • Une tombe = a grave

  • Un vampire = a vampire

  • Un zombie = a zombie

  • Un sort ou un bonbon = a trick or treat.

Now that you know more about ways of celebrating Halloween, All Saints day and All souls day as well as the related vocabulary, you can look for your French buddies to start the discussion with them. Joyeuse halloween à tous !

I am also interested in knowing how you celebrate Halloween in your country. Tell us in the comment section. And remember to like, and share this post with your friends. This would be your way to support us.


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