Why chrysanthemums are the French ‘flower of the dead’

As the festival of Toussaint and honouring the dead approaches, the chrysanthemum flower spikes in popularity. But why is this flower the French symbol of the dead?

30 October 2018
Chrysanthemums are known as the flower of the dead in France, so it is not advised to take them as a gift
By Connexion journalist

Over 25 million pots of chrysanthemums are sold in France every year, many of them around Toussaint (November 1) - with florists estimating that the variety makes up 15-20% of business at this time of year.

A reminder: the Catholic festival of Toussaint celebrates “all saints” on November 1 - followed by the festival to honour all “faithful dead”, on November 2 - with the first of the month always a national holiday.

Chrysanthemums are likely to be seen on gravestones and as decorations on both days, as well as later in the month for the First World War Armistice remembrance day, on November 11.

The flowers’ association with graves is the main reason why it is not advised to buy a bouquet of the blooms when visiting a new friend or someone’s house in France.

Yet, the association is not as old as one may think.

It began in France in 1919, during the first ever celebration of the 1918 armistice.

Then-President Raymond Poincaré and Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau ordered that all graves in France be decorated with flowers, replacing the older tradition of decorating them with candles (which used to symbolise “life after death”).

Not many flowers are still in bloom at this time of year, but chrysanthemums are still flowering in autumn, and come in several varieties.

As a result, they were used to honour the First World War dead on November 11. Since then, the tradition has spread, and now begins with Toussaint on November 1.

The flowers have become a symbol of immortality and longevity, with horticulturalists ensuring their autumnal blooms by beginning their crops in early spring.

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