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What is Toussaint day, when is it and why does France celebrate?

The Toussaint bank holiday is taking place today, meaning a break from school and work for many people in France 

People often lay chrysanthemums on the graves of loved ones Pic: encierro / Shutterstock

On November 1 every year France marks Toussaint day with a jour férié (bank holiday). 

It is one of 11 in the French calendar and will see many shops, restaurants and schools close their doors to celebrate. 

What is Toussaint? 

Toussaint - an abbreviation of ‘tous les saints’ - is a Catholic holiday known as All Saints’ Day in English in which all Christians are invited to remember and honour saints.

According to the website of the Catholic church of France: “Every November 1, the Church honours the countless numbers of those who have been living and shining witnesses of Christ.”

When is Toussaint celebrated this year? 

As always, Toussaint lands on November 1 which is a Tuesday this year. 

Most schools will already be off on holiday for this week, which is often referred to as the All Saints holidays. 

Read more: French restaurant schools offer fine dining at reduced rate 

What are the origins of Toussaint? 

Despite Toussaint not being referred to in the Bible, it is thought that it was introduced by the church in the year 610 when Pope Boniface IV decided to introduce a regular commemoration of saints on May 13. 

One century later, the date for Toussaint was changed by Pope Gregory III to November 1.

In around 835, Pope Gregory VI decreed the holiday should be celebrated around the world, and it is to this day still observed in many Christian countries. 

Fast forward almost 1,000 years and All Saints’ Day became an official part of the Christian calendar under Pope Pius X as well as a national holiday, granting workers the day off. 

Despite a brief suspension during the French Revolution, it was reinstated by Napoleon in 1802. 

How do people celebrate Toussaint?

Many religious people will attend church services on Toussaint and then dine with friends and family to make the most of the day off.

The following day marks Commémoration des fidèles défunts (All Soul’s Day) during which people commemorate the dead by decorating their graves with flowers. 

Graves are most commonly decorated with heather, chrysanthemums or wreaths.

Why are chrysanthemums sold?

There is no definite answer as to why chrysanthemums are often the flower chosen to lay by graves in France.

Read more: Why chrysanthemums are the French ‘flower of the dead’

There are a few theories…One is that they are long flowering and not limited to a certain time of year. 

It is thought that when the French government asked citizens to commemorate those lost on the first anniversary of WW1, they may have picked chrysanthemums for this very reason, and the tradition has lived on. 

Meanwhile, others think it could be related to the fact that chrysanthemums signify love and long life in the language of flowers.

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