Often considered synonymous with the first of November, “la Toussaint” is in fact a two-day celebration of two related holidays. The name is an abbreviation of la fête de Toussaint (Toussaint’s holiday). The word Toussaint is a contraction of tous (all) and saint.
The first of November is All Saints’ Day. This Catholic holiday is a public holiday in France. Families come together and usually go to the cemetery to honor their deceased relatives and put chrysanthemums on their graves. In France, this is pretty much the only time of year that you see this flower, because it’s associated with death here – people never give them as gifts.
The next day is All Souls’ Day. In many countries, this is the day that people are supposed to go to the cemetery. But since November 2 isn’t a public holiday, the French tend to go the day before.
Far away from its previous religious meaning, la Toussaint marks the mid-term 10-day-break in France in schools and colleges. Most families take advantage of this break to travel around and visit relatives. As with other religious holidays such as Easter or Christmas, it has become mainly commercialized and it has turned into another occasion to make money.
Finally, many sayings are associated with la Toussaint and they all announce the beginning of the winter season:
S’il fait chaud le jour de la Toussaint, il tombe toujours de la neige le lendemain.
If it is hot on All Saints’ Day, snow will always fall on the next day.
À la Toussaint, les fruits sont rentrés et les blés sont semés.
On All Saint’s Day, the fruits are stocked and wheat are sown.
La Toussaint venue, laisse là ta charrue.
All Saints’ Day came, leave there thy plow.
Vent de Toussaint, terreur de marin.
Windy All Saints’ Day, terror of the sailor.
À la Toussaint, le froid revient, et met l’hiver en train.
On All Saints’ Day, the cold comes and puts winter on train.
Quand la Toussaint aura fleurs nouvelles, morte saison sera cruelle.
When there are new flowers on All Saints’ Day, winter will be cruel.
De la Toussaint à la fin de l’Avent, jamais trop de pluie ou de vent.
From All Saint’s Day to the end of the Advent, never too much rain or wind