Today is Toussaint, All Saints Day, a national holiday in France, when just about everything really is closed. For the past week, every flower shop and supermarket has had a huge stand of potted chrysanthemums, with a dedicated sales person, ready to wrap them in lovely paper. They have been selling fast.
This is the day when all Catholic saints are honoured and tomorrow, Commémoration des morts, All Souls Day, when the dead are remembered. Churches and cemeteries are full of chrysanthemums, bright in the autumn sunlight. In larger communities masses will be said on both days; in smaller ones, a simple mass will be held today, in the cemetery.
People have been travelling across the country to be with their parents and grandparents. Together, they will visit the cemeteries and clean the family graves, remove broken vases, prune roses, and place the newly bought pots of chrysanthemums. Around the graves of the forgotten, dried pots of dead plants can be seen. It is a solemn time -- one does not say "Bonne fête" at Toussaint -- but one of family closeness.
Usually, after the mass and the placing of flowers, everyone in the family gathers for a meal, often in a brasserie where the older members may be warmed by the sun through the wide windows. Conversation tends toward reminiscence. Older people recall the past, children get restive and adolescents text their friends.
If you have living family in France and the whopping cousinades are not for you, then Toussaint may be a better time to visit and to learn your family's history.
©2013 Anne Morddel