Sunday, October 25, 2009

Alowine

There’s an interesting piece in the N Y Times today by Peter Mayle. You remember Peter Mayle – “A Year in Provence”?

He’s writing about the strange custom we have called “Halloween,” something that, up until a couple of decades ago, the French had never heard of. But they have it now; they call it “l’alowine.”

I remember that years ago we had French au pairs over to help take care of the children. Toward the end of October each au pair would be mystified by all that was going on at that time of year: folks with ghoulish costumes, wearing masks, a strange emphasis on pumpkins, etc.

I would try to explain. You have the same holiday we do, All-Saints Day, also known as All-Hallows Day. In France you call it Toussaint. Well, the evening before a big holy day it’s sort of normal to have some fun; you weren’t supposed to have fun on a big holy day. So we have this celebration that is known as All-Hallows Eve, now known as Halloween.

When I mentioned pumpkins, they would say: I see, soup. No, I explained, you cut up the pumpkin and place it in the window. That wasn’t much help for them to understand the holiday.
I didn’t tell them of my belief that three-quarters of the children over here taking part in these shenanigans have no idea why or what the holiday means.

But gradually this custom of ours has drifted across the Atlantic. Mayle mentions the first time, years ago, a French friend of his heard someone at the door toward the end of October and when he opened it he was astonished to see bloodstained ghouls and vampires, witches, a variety of evil spirits and even one tiny kid dressed as a pumpkin, all calling for bonbons.

Today, evidently, the celebration has firmly caught on in France. Mayle recently saw a sign in a store window: “N’oubliez pas l’alowine!” “Don’t forget Halloween!”

17 comments:

Dedene said...

In the bigger cities, Halloween is very popular, especially with young adults. However, in the countryside, this "english" holiday has fallen out of favor, being seen as too expensive, too commercial, and too American.
Now there'll be small halloween parties in some school classes but rarely do we see trick or treaters on the streets.

Jess said...

I had a friend who was in America from France for most of last year, and she was really thrown off by all the pumpkin decor. And even more thrown off by pumpkin pie. She was very reluctant to try it, but when she did she enjoyed it :)

Little Ms Blogger said...

Hmmm... I didn't realize, I guess I didn't really think Halloween was only a U.S. tradition.

I figured with All Saints Day, other Catholic countries celebrated All Hallows Eve.

Berowne said...

>>I figured with All Saints Day, other Catholic countries celebrated All Hallows Eve.<<

You raise an interesting question. Perhaps someone in any of the Catholic countries can tell us here on the internet how they celebrate, if they do, All Hallows Eve. Witches, goblins, pumpkins, trick or treat, the whole nine yards?

Berowne said...

>>...thrown off by pumpkin pie. She was very reluctant to try it, but when she did she enjoyed it :) <<

It would seem that's almost an explanation of how the French now celebrate Halloween. Reluctant to try it, but now they enjoy it.

(At least some of them...)

Berowne said...

Dedene: I remember, years ago when we were living in Manhattan, there was a fine, authentic French bakery in town. Top-quality French pastries, etc.

The owners, like all French people then, were puzzled by Halloween, but they wanted to take part and show they could turn out great Halloween stuff. They tried making a pumpkin pie. It was, er, unusual -- got written up in the N Y Times. I went over to see it: it was black -- a solid, unrelieved, rather sooty black. The salesperson assured me it was delicious, but I didn't see anyone buying it.

I think that bakery just skipped Halloween the next year. :-)

lakeviewer said...

Interesting cultural diversion. I don't remember Halloween when I was a child in Italy, either. We dressed up on Fat Tuesday, for a fun activity both children and adults participated in.

Madame DeFarge said...

Never really made that much of Halloween to be honest, always thought it was too American. Good excuse for some rampant commercialism.

Berowne said...

>>We dressed up on Fat Tuesday, for a fun activity both children and adults participated in.<<

Yes, Fat Tuesday is certainly widely celebrated.

Berowne said...

>>Good excuse for some rampant commercialism.<<

Halloween is commercial, all right. Prices for some of the more elaborate costumes, especially out Hollywood way, are way up there.

Oh My Goddess said...

I blamed Martha Stewart in a recent post of mine.

But I still like Halloween. C'est la vie, ;~)

tattytiara said...

I wonder if they'll also import the rampant urban legends that are responsible for the decline of trick or treating here.

Berowne said...

>>But I still like Halloween. C'est la vie, ;~)<<

Yes, it can be fun. Especially when you have a couple of little kids, going out trick-or-treating for the first time.

French Fancy said...

Our bit of France, unlike Dedene's, does have quite a few kids on Halloween going round trick and treating. I used to open the door to them and offer sweets but I can't be bothered any more - anyway the barking bichons sound so savage from the other side of the door that the children usually flee by the time I open it.

Berowne said...

>>Our bit of France, unlike Dedene's, does have quite a few kids on Halloween going round trick and treating. <<

Interesting. Do they use that English phrase or is there a French equivalent?

Stacie said...

Halloween is my most favorite holiday. I am/was Catholic (one never truly leaves the Catholic Church). I have always known what Halloween meant and from where it came (I am also Irish). I also knew it meant that a holy day was right around the corner and we would be going to Confession and Mass... Small price to pay for costumes and candy in my opinion!

Berowne said...

Glad to have you visit my blog, Stacie. Thanks for your comment.

 
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