Sunday, October 31, 2010


Halloween doesn’t exist in France. I can’t remember any holiday that requires dress up, except for Le Jour des Rois, the feast of Kings, a one-time pre-Christian celebration during which a common man would be picked at random to become king for a day. Eventually this became the feast of the epiphany, and in France it is still celebrated with a special flat almond-flavored cake called a galette. Baked within the pastry is a fève, a tiny, hard-candy baby Jesus. If you’re lucky enough to find the fève without breaking a molar, you get to be king and wear a gold paper crown. Then you select a queen, and everyone drinks too much wine and gets tipsy. In recent times, if a woman finds the fève, she selects a king. France, after all, is a modern country.

The only holiday where a trick might be played is April Fool’s. Hardly seen here anymore, it is taken seriously in France and, for inexplicable reasons, is called Poisson d’Avril, April fish. It’s a day of practical jokes, the most hilarious of which is to pin a paper carp to the back of someone’s jacket. Why this is funny has always eluded me.

In my years here, I have seen Halloween virtually disappear, which is sad. Very few people come to the door nowadays, and if they do they’re small children accompanied by adults. There have been too many milk-carton stories of kids disappearing and understandably moms and dads are concerned, so that what once was a slightly scary time for adolescents haunting the darkened streets of their neighborhoods has morphed into an accompanied trip to the mall where kids go from store to store begging for candy. Or maybe it’s simply that the anti-sugar and pro-dentist forces have finally won.

I’m always tempted to give out radishes. They’re my favorite snack food, low-calorie, high-fiber, and satisfyingly crunchy, but like the rest of the population I buy bags of nutritious candy bars instead since I don’t want my home toilet-papered.

Halloween is the first of the dreaded fall and winter quintet that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s day. All, in one way or another, are celebrations of excess: specifically food, credit, inebriation and pink things from Victoria’s Secret.

Is this a great country or what?

No comments:

Post a Comment