Chrysanthemums and All Souls’ Day

As noted in another post, Halloween is barely noticeable in France. The same cannot be said of All Saints’ Day, La Toussaint (November 1st) and All Souls’ Day, the Day of the Dead, the Jour des Morts (November 2.) La Toussaint is a national holiday.

This is a time for families to bring fresh flowers, mostly chrysanthemums, to the tombs of their departed loved ones, much as in the 19th century painting below. Cheerful mum blossoms are everywhere in Paris now.

I remember how surprised I was when I moved to California to note that these flowers have no funeral connotation in the United States. They grew to amazing masses of pink, red and gold in my Los Angeles garden (indeed chrysanthemum means “gold blossom” in Greek). But in France they are the flowers of the dead.

Toussaint Emile Friant

Painting: La Toussaint, by Emile Friant, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy.

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13 Comments to “Chrysanthemums and All Souls’ Day”

  1. Catherine Delors says:

    Thanks, Karen Eileen! So happy to see blog readers love this picture.

  2. Catherine Delors says:

    Very interesting, Cecilia! No differences at all?

  3. Cecilia says:

    The same in Italy.

  4. Catherine Delors says:

    Exactly, Carol!

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    Yes, Carol, you should visit Trianon. It was just restored! As for this book, I am still at the stage where I am admiring the pictures and reading snippets of text, just to tease myself…

  6. PS – so that’s why the Musée Cognacq-Jay
    said they would be closed today…

  7. a book on Marie-Antoinette’s garden at Trianon – should I visit Trianon?
    Did I miss it at Versailles?
    I am lost in castles in France…

  8. karen hoida says:

    I am a HUGE fan of historical fiction. This is gong to be next on my list.
    Beautiful picture!!

    Karen Eileen

  9. Felio Vasa says:

    That Marie Antoinette Trianon garden book looks fantastic doesn’t it!!!!
    A book I really enjoyed was A Scented Palace about Marie Antoinette’s perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon & how it shows the development of cosmetics & perfume which obviously botanicals, spices etc are used in the process.
    Oh so sad that you’re losing your garden especially when you feel so connected to the beauty & purpose of it’s being.
    Also love that botanical print you have up too showing the assorted chrysanthemums from china to spiders.
    Is it true that the rose was the flower of the Austrian Haspburgs?
    ps, once on the topic Felio (trianadafilia) means 30 petal rose in Greek.

  10. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Elena! You are most welcome to the picture.

  11. Fantastic picture! I’m stealing it! I have always admired the French custom of bringing chrysanthemums to the graves of the faithful departed. Lovely post!

  12. Catherine Delors says:

    Wow, Felio, you’re a florist! I just bought a book on Marie-Antoinette’s garden at Trianon (I will post on it shortly, it looks wonderful.) And while I was at it I almost bought another beautiful book on 18th century botanical designs too, but unfortunately my book budget is not illimited. And I am (or was, because sadly I no longer have a yard) a passionate gardener.

    So no, in France, you don’t give mums as a gift, with the exception of the Tokyo variety. But bringing one to the tomb of Marie-Antoinette was just the right thing to do.

  13. Felio Vasa says:

    Hey Catherine- this painting La Toussaint is wonderful. I love the juxtaposition of black with the soft pink mums.
    Being a florist by trade I enjoy any history on flowers. Though I did know about not taking mums to people’s homes when visiting when in France. And I did leave one mum at Marie Antoinette’s statue at St. Denis on her birthday last year.

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