Christmas, Easter and summer holidays are good times to visit France, but where do you plan to celebrate Halloween? Well, why not try France? While the idea of dressing up in spooky couture seems strange, you'll definitely enjoy celebrating Halloween the French way.
This age-old folklore celebration made its way to France in the early 1990's and is becoming increasingly popular among the French masses due to the influence of American pop-culture and commercialism.
Halloween originated in Ireland, Britain and Northern France among the Celts tribe as a pagan Celtic harvest celebration of Samhain. October 31st marked Hallows Eve - which later evolved into Halloween - and was considered the night when dead spirits rose to float among the living.
The Celts frightened off evil spirits by wearing masks and lured in good spirits by preparing harvest (fruits, breads etc.). Since the 17th century, the Romans embraced these traditions and established November 1st as All Saints Day (also known as La Toussaint), mainly marking the end of the harvest and in honour of the holy saints.
Halloween celebrations have evolved since the Irish immigration of the 1840s, and finally made its way to American soil as a commercial holiday. While Halloween remains a solemn occasion for some, most of the French population entertains this spooky affair.
Halloween comes to France
Gradually, select venues in Paris, such as The American Dream Bar, began to embrace Halloween festivities. The Cesar group later launched the Mask Museum in Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Florent in 1992 and encouraged the celebration of Halloween across France. Locals were encouraged to get involved in festivities when on October 24, 1996, a full-day Halloween carnival was held in St. Germain-en Laye.
Philippe Cahen, head of the innovative creative company Optos Opus, had challenged 25 artists to create Halloween-themed artworks which were then exhibited at the Victor Hugo Clinic near Arc de Triomphe. Cahen annually creates new artwork and campaigns to celebrate what he calls a culture rather than just a commercial holiday. He later created Le Samain cake in 1997 and registered the word 'Halloween' as a world trademark.
How does France get into the Halloween spirit?
France prepares for the haunting hour by lining local confectionaries, narrow streets and alleys with cobwebs, dim lighting, and jack-o-lanterns. Pastry chefs and chocolatiers ice their treats and chocolate masks with a spooky accent, and retailers design their windows with ghoulish décor.
Keep your eyes peeled for a bargain as shopping centres and restaurants offer Halloween specials to their customers. Cafes, bars and clubs host Halloween parties where guests dress as mummies, vampires, witches and ghosts rather than the typically American superheroes and princesses. Lately however, children prefer dressing up as American animated characters. Although trick-o-treating is becoming a popular tradition, most French children visit stores rather than going from house-to-house. The pumpkin also comes into play as the French now enjoy carving and even baking specialty cakes and tarts.
Celebrate Halloween French-style
You can kick off the Halloween celebrations in France by visiting cities like Nice or even Paris, and joining the biggest Halloween party in Paris at Le 1515.
You can pick up a plump pumpkin at La Ferme de Gally (Gally Farm) in Gally Bailly, a pumpkin patch about 40 minutes west of Paris that provides carving tools and manuals so you can create your very own jack-o-lanterns. It's located on Route de Bailly à Saint-Cyr-l'Ecole 78210, is open daily and costs no more than 4 Euros.
You can drive to Disneyland Paris with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle to catch the Halloween fireworks and light show. Kids can enjoy the ambience of Main Street USA as it transforms into 'Spook Street'. Throughout the Halloween season there's a daily Villain Parade where the spotlight is on Disney villains. Another spine-tingling attraction is the Phantom Manor where you can hop onto the doom buggies.
If you're into chasing spirits, you can visit the eerie Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris or hang out with skeletons and ancient tombstones by driving down to the Catacombs, an ossuary holding bones of six million Parisians created at the end of the 18th century. Other ghost-hunting spots include Montparnasse Cemetery and Montmartre Cemetery. While in the Normandy region, ghost sightings have been reported at Mont Saint-Michel.
Only a 50-minute drive outside Paris, you'll find ghosts, vampires and urban legends at the 17th century Le Château De La Roche Guyon. For more scary adventures you can go on the Mysteries of Paris Vampire and Ghost Tour.
Paris is a 3-hour drive from the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle Calais terminal following the A26 and A1.
There's nothing more enchanting than going to the Witch Festival (Fête des Sorcières) in Chalindrey (a 4 hour and 40-minute drive from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle's Calais terminal, following the A26) to see the exhibitions of 16th century witchery. Other activities include face painting, scary movies, and a haunting dance party that lasts until dawn. Head to the nearby Fort du Cognelot, also called Devil's Point, where you'll be spooked by local ghost stories.
Finally, the city of Limoges attracts over 30,000 visitors to its Halloween street shows, storytelling and ghostly events. It's been the most Halloween-friendly city in France since 1996, when the town merchants put on a Halloween parade on October 31. After the parade, you can tour the local bars, cafes and restaurants for some tasty French food and Halloween treats.
Limoges is 6 hours' drive from the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal along the A20.