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La Toussaint In The Morvan

We don’t do Hallowe’en here in the Morvan. In 10 years at Maré le Bas I have never opened the door to a troupe of trick-or-treaters. The shops are full of pumpkins, but we cook with them rather than hollowing them out to make lanterns. French pumpkin soup is one of the glories of autumn cookery. Enjoy.

Look up Hallowe’en in the big Harraps dictionary and you will find La Veille de la Toussaint, together with an explanation in French, as if Hallowe’en were an esoteric Polynesian custom chronicled in National Geographic.When I was at school in the West Riding, nobody went trick-or-treating, but we always sang For All the Saints in Assembly on November 1, All Saints’ Day. A rousing tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams and inspiring words – listen on YouTube.

In France La Toussaint is a jour férié (a public holiday – see below) and the schoolchildren are on half term holiday. French people commemorate their dead on November 1. Strictly speaking, Roman Catholic tradition makes a distinction between La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day, November 1) and the Commémoration des fidèles défunts (All Souls’ day, November 2). Dead relatives are supposed to be commemorated on All Souls’ Day, but since La Toussaint is a public holiday, French people honour their dead then. Members of a family usually gather to go to the cemetery together. They put chrysanthemum flowers on the grave and may light candles to symbolise happiness in the afterlife. They may also attend special church services.

Digression: Chrysanthemums are so closely linked to La Toussaint that the French never give them as a gift, as I found to my embarrassment soon after our arrival in the Morvan when my gift of a splendid chrysanthemum plant was not enthusiastically received. Here are some pictures of floral tributes.

My picture at the end of this piece shows chrysanthemums on sale in Corbigny. That particular store has an inexhaustible supply of yellow posters to advertise everything from oysters to bedroom slippers. Big families may load their trolleys with a dozen or more chrysanthemums. Once the chrysanthemums on the graves are past their prime, they end up on the big compost heap outside the cemetery. Keen gardeners rescue particularly fine specimens and nurse them back to health.

I have already mentioned that La Toussaint is a public holiday. French people enjoy more public holidays – jours fériés – than we Brits do, 11 by my reckoning There is a list and explanation on here.

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On jours fériés, public servants and many public sector employees have the day off from work. In addition, when a jour férié falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the French tend to faire le pont. Un pont is of course a bridge, and faire le pont is to take a day’s annual leave on the Monday or Friday between the weekend and the jour férié. This results in several four-day weekends over the course of the year.

Well, on November 11 (the actual date, not Remembrance Sunday as in the UK) we congregate in the village square. Babette, the local fundraiser, sells paper bleuets in aid of the Red Cross. In Flanders field the poppies grow, but for the French it is the cornflowers that symbolise the fallen, and there is a poem about them.

The Mayor in his tricolore sash reads a Loyal Address. A schoolchild reads another address and we all sing the first verse of the Marseillaise, a stirring tune which knocks spots off God Save the Queen. You can see and hear Mireille Mathieu belting it out on YouTube and another version with a somewhat lame English translation of the very belliocose lyrics.

Digression: We 'did' the French Revolution in A Level History and I am well aware that, far from being a spontaneous uprising of the downtrodden peasantry, it was orchestrated by the professional classes, chiefly lawyers and intellectuals. How I wish we had had access to the many videos on the web!

Then, having vowed that the impure blood of the oppressors will water our furrows, we all process to the Salle des Fêtes for kir and nibbles

Digression: I love eponyms: the biros, hoovers, chauvinists and guillotines which enrich our language. Kir was originally known as blanc-cassis and is an apéritif invented by Canon Félix Kir, mayor of Dijon. It combines white Burgundy wine – traditionally Aligoté – and crème de cassis (think alcoholic Ribena). Both are local products. Canon Kir habitually served this drink to delegations, thus promoting local products and supporting local producers. Use one of the many local sparkling wines and you have kir royal.

Kind thoughts to all expats, everywhere.

Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas. Rosy runs Charity Cottage in aid of Combat Stress. The cottage has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk , which has links to Combat Stress.

The Rabsons are now taking bookings for December 2015 and beyond.

Rosemary Border Rabson

In 2005 Rosemary Border Rabson and husband John Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy, where few other Brits have ventured. Their chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas which they run in aid of Combat Stress (money donations) and Help for Heroes (free accommodation). Since 2012, when Charity Cottage won the Daily Telegraph’s Best British Charity award, the total amount raised for Combat Stress, comprising UK royalties and donations from visitors to Charity Cottage, is nudging £10,000.

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