The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
This weekend has been all about Toussaint, a Catholic holiday honoring all Saints. It is a time when French pay respect to their deceased relatives. All Saints' Day, the 1st of November, sees families gathering to visit cemeteries to clean and decorate tombs. And they decorate them mainly with chrysanthemums.
The tradition of using chrysanthemums is a relatively recent one, dating from 1919 when the then President, Raymond Poincaré, declared that all war memorials should be decorated with floral tributes. As one of the rare flowers still in bloom in November it became the flower of choice for cemeteries, with hundreds of thousands of widows laying blooms at their fallen husbands' memorials. The chrysanthemum is now known as the widow's flower and is forever associated with Toussaint and death. With such connotations, chrysanthemums are not usually given at other occasions and should be avoided as a gift - many's the time an innocent foreigner has unwittingly caused offence (or at least surprise) by offering a hostess these colourful flowers!
The chrysanthemum is the most sold flower in the world and each year around 25 million pots are placed on French graves on the 1st of November, jollying up cemeteries all over the country. Particularly when placed together in great bunches I think they look lovely and happily the chrysanthemum isn't associated with death all over the world. In fact, in direct contrast in Asia where it originates from, it is the flower of joy, elegance and eternity.
Do you have any traditions surrounding a particular flower where you are from? I'd love to hear from you.
Why not PIN this for later!
Image of flower shop courtesy of The French Village Diaries
very informative post, thank you. We are always with the family on this day, it's an important holiday
Lovely flowers, though very much associated with cemeteries now. And that beautiful, haunting Jacques Brel song, J'arrive...
Great to know how the tradition started. I must think to pop down to a cemetery one year just after the flowers are laid. They're so colourful in the shops, but in a pretty cemetery it must be spectacular.
I used to work at a florist in Montreal and we rarely sold chrysanthemums. It's a shame because there are so many interesting varieties. The only time we did sell them is oddly enough to asian costumers that would ask us to buy in especially the very large mums which they always wanted for funeral arrangements. For the few chinese costumers they also symbolized death and mourning. Perhaps it's always best to stay away from these as a gift just in case! I didn't know that in France it was a faux pas! Good to know!
The florists here definitely promote these days to maximum effect, my local supermarket also sells c'mums for Toussaint and had more flower pots than vegetables out front this year. I also like the French tradition of giving muguet on 01 May.
I was amazed at the stalls set up selling chrysanthemums outside the cemeteries that literally filled the pavement with colour - quite stunning. It always seems a shame that such a bright flower should be so associated with death though
In Texas, mums are the flower of choice for homecoming. In fact, they are getting so large and ornate that sometimes girls need a harness to carry the weight.
But they use this flowers for All Saint's elsewhere too, not just in France. I didn't know that the French president started that tradition, thanks for sharing such interesting info!
Wattle/mimosa is one of the national flowers of Australia and wattle is the flower for spring, 1st September. I love the smell of chrysanths. We have some in the house at the moment.
I had no idea about the chrysanthemums! My mom has always grown them in her many gardens (many houses moved to...) and loved them for their colors as much as their crazy name! I can't wait to share this post with her. Great fun fact for Toussaint, shedding more light on such an interesting tradition.
Their variety of colours is the thing I like best about them. Good thing she doesn't live in France!
What a lovely tradition! Such glorious colours with the flowers too.
Yes I really like the colours too.
I love these flowers and wouldn't be offended if someone give me a pot. Even if I'm French... Here in Germany, they have them in their gardens.
Oh, and your pictures are beautiful.
I'm sure there are plenty of Frenchies like you Eolia (which is why I also said "surprised") but there are certainly many, especially older, people who would be shocked. Particularly people who haven't lived outside France/travelled.
Thanks for the history lesson about Toussaint. In the US, I can't really think of any flower traditions other than red roses for Valentines day and the poinsetta for Christmas. In France, of course, we also have muget (lily of the valley) for the first of May. I rather like associating flowers with holidays - and I'm sure the florists do to. :-)
Yes I'm sure the florists do. Roses and poinsettia's are both given here at the same dates, they seem to be fairly universal.
What was the biggest disappointment for La Toussaint this year, is the lack of being able to "faire le pont"... No extra day off this year!!!
oh I know it's so frustrating when jours feriés fall on weekends!
So interesting - I didn't know that chrysanthemums originate in Asia! Now that I'm back in the US, I'm reminded that here those flowers aren't associated with death either. Because they are in bloom into autumn, they are the standard flower people decorate their front porches / stoops with, along with some pumpkins to brighten up the house.
That's the thing, they're great autumn flowers and I rather like them, especially in groups of lots of different colours
We also have the same tradition in the Philippines but the only difference is, we don't have an official flower for it. All I know is that all flower shops raise their prices during these days.
Interesting to hear you clean an decorate tombs at Toussaint in the Philippines, and how naughty of the florists to increase prices!
It's so good to read about these traditions. Keep them coming please!
Thanks, I will (I've already written about plenty, just do a search if you're looking for something in particular).
Thank you for this explanation. We had a really interesting discussion recently about the links and contrasts between Hallowe'en and All Saints, and this has really helped.
There are many links, so I'm glad you found this useful Emily.
I didn't know of the tradition, but it certainly has made sales bloom!
Very witty Fiona!!
Thanks for sharing this tradition. At the very least, I will be able to avoid the gaff of giving someone chrysanthemums. It's always interesting to explore the meanings that different things have in different cultures.
Luckily I never gaffed with mums even before I knew about the tradition, but it's easy to do as they're everywhere at the moment.
The cynic in me does wonder if Raymond Poincaré did not have a family member who owned a nursery LOL. I actually don't like chrysanthemums so luckily have never given them as a gift to a French friend but I do know others who have.
So cynical Rosie! Though quite possible too.
Great to get an update from Australia. I like the idea of mum too. Thanks for that
These mums are gorgeous! Thanks for showing such awesome pictures!!!
Thanks Lisa, I love it how they get called "mums". That doesn't happen in France!
No Mags they don't. I've heard mention of the blue cornflower being worn for Rememberance Sunday but I've never seen it in action (so to speak!)
There's the poppy of course for Rememberance. Do French use the poppy too?
We have a Tulip Festival in Ottawa every year but I haven't been yet. I've seen lots of wonderful pictures with fields of red, purple, white, or yellow tulips. Must be wonderful to see live. Thanks for sharing this tradition, Phoebe!
Sounds lovely Delia, you should try and get there next year.
65 years ago white chrysanthemums in Australia were given to celebrate Mother's Day. I don't know if they are still- maybe someone could update me.
let's hope an Aussie reader will let us know Catherine!
Hi Catherine and Phoebe, I'm an Aussie. chrysanthemums are still used for Mother's day here. Not necessarily white, mixed colours or yellow are also popular. I have no idea where this trend came from. It is a flower alot of people grow easily but apparently it flowers in spring. I always thought it was because it ends in mums, wikipedia couldn't say why either. I shall do some searching/ asking and see if anyone has a firm answer
Hi Lorelle, thanks for letting us know. It's funny that chrysanthemums flower in spring in Australia and autumn in Europe (though that is the same time of year!!) I like the idea that it might be because of the "mum" ending; that's a good enough reason for me. Thanks for offering to find out.