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Why are chrysanthemums the flower of Toussaint in France?

These flowers can be seen all across France at this time of year

Chrysanthemums are laid on graves during this Catholic holiday Pic: NeydtStock/Shutterstock

With the festival of Toussaint tomorrow, you may have seen a lot of chrysanthemum flowers on sale - but why is this flower a symbol of the dead in France?

Apart from having the day off work due to a jour férié (bank holiday), people in France (whether religious or not) go to decorate the graves of their loved ones with flowers over the Toussaint weekend (All Saints’ Day in English).

The most common flowers for this are chrysanthemums, with millions heading to buy them every year.

Why chrysanthemums?

The tradition of laying chrysanthemums is relatively modern – until the 19th century instead it was common practice to light a candle on the graves to watch over the deceased. 

It was not until the first anniversary of Armistice Day on November 11, 1919 that the then President of the Republic, Raymond Poincaré, called for flowers to be placed on the graves of soldiers who had died serving. 

Originally, they were decorated with white chrysanthemums, a colour that represents sadness and mourning.

With time, the presence of chrysanthemums in cemeteries moved from November 11 to the  Fête des Morts (Day of the Dead) on November 2. The chrysanthemum thus replaced the traditional candle.

A flower resistant to frost 

The chrysanthemum was chosen because it flowers late in the year, in autumn, after being planted in May.

It can also resist moderate frost.

Will there be enough flowers this year?

The notably warm weather at the beginning of the month has inevitably had an impact on the production of chrysanthemums this year.

Farmers in France have said they are around a week behind usual.

The excessive heat and dry conditions have not helped with France having had one of the hottest summers to date in 2023.

Farmers have had to be more selective in their choice of chrysanthemum, opting for those more resistant to the current climate. 

The meaning of Toussaint

November 1 is one of the 11 bank holidays in France.

However Toussaint is more than just a holiday, with a religious meaning for many.

As the name suggests, the Catholic holiday of Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) is a religious festival on which all Christians are invited to celebrate ‘all saints’, known and unknown.

The festival of Toussaint celebrates ‘all saints’ on November 1 – followed by the festival to honour all ‘faithful dead’, on November 2 – with the first of the month always a national holiday.

Read also

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When are the school holidays in your part of France next year?

Replace religious holidays with secular ones, suggests French mayor

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