You may have heard people refer to the Toussaint holidays as the vacances patates (potato holidays) - we explain why.
Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) was a time traditionally for commemorating the dead. However it also used to be at the same time as the potato harvest in France, which took place at the end of October, beginning of November.
Family members, old and young, were needed to head to the field and pick potatoes by hand. Subsequently many children were missing from school during the time.
As a result this period was extended into a holiday, les vacances patates, which lasted two weeks.
The holiday continues to this day – taking place from October 21 to November 6 in 2023 – although children now are much more likely to spend it relaxing than working.
Potato harvesting in France
For those whose families do still pick potatoes, nowadays the harvest does not align any more with Toussaint.
For many farmers the potato harvest has moved forward from October to August or even earlier as a result of climate changes over the years.
Changes in weather have also meant the type of potato chosen to grow now varies, for example, producing sweet potatoes is now possible in some departments.
We also know that warmer summers have an impact on potato yields, with the heatwaves of 2022 seeing a considerably low production.
This year is looking to be an average harvest despite the last four months’ weather with a harvest back to the same level as 2021, according to the North-West European Potato Growers Group.