Halloween is not the most celebrated holiday in Paris, to say the least. My roommate and I found this out during a regular trip to the grocery store.
Our initial intention was to dress up the interior of our apartment, which is usually bright and cheery thanks to the French doors that dominate one wall of the common area. But the season of fall came with gray skies and showers, so the apartment was beginning to darken more and more.
We thought a festive way to spiffy up the tables would be to add some small-scale pumpkins, like the pumpkins one might find inside a Trader Joe’s back home. So, we set out for the nearest Carrefour. And the Leader Price across the street. And the Monoprix down the street. All to no avail. Where were the pumpkins in Paris?
Our mistake was likely that we went on the hunt for pumpkins too early. The French do not go all out for Halloween, but there are Halloween displays up in the major store chains to lure in customers. However, this does not occur until closer to mid-October.
The Halloween decor is mostly for the benefit of the stores and, surprisingly, education. Since Halloween is not a French holiday, educators use the holiday to teach their students English. The majority of the vocabulary English speakers might use around Halloween does not directly translate to French. This makes Halloween a unique learning experience for young French children rounding out their English skills.
The kids usually are not against the hands-on learning that comes with practicing a tradition that includes receiving candy after simply saying “trick or treat.”
The closest French phrases that embody the same meaning as trick of treat are “des bonbons ou un sort,” meaning candies or a spell, and “bêtises ou friandises,” meaning mischiefs or sweets.
French children learn only the spooky side of Halloween, so many are convinced you must dress up as something scary.
The fact that Halloween is not very popular in France is interesting since French adults often love to throw costume parties for holidays like New Years or birthdays. Hipsters in the ‘90s seem to be the only ones to take advantage of Halloween as an excuse to throw parties.
My roommates and I have done our best to embrace French culture, but we also do not want to lose sight of home over these three short months away. We settled for some squash that resemble pumpkins to tide us over.
As the month of October wore on, we fortunately found real-deal pumpkins in a Monoprix. Naturally, we had a Halloween movie marathon to celebrate, complete with jack-o-lantern carving and baked pumpkin seeds.