Ont un Halloween Heureux! That’s what I’d like to say, since heureux co-mingles nicely with horreur in the ear, but Joyeux Halloween! is probably correct. I love Halloween, and in honor of the holiday, I’ve done a new page for my website about the catacombs. Click on one of les catacombes image in this post to visit it. Meanwhile, you can learn a little here about Halloween in the French style. I hope I’ve given you sufficient vocabulary. Vous serez surpris de voir à quel point beaucoup français vous savez déjà.
Par exemple, ici, c’est un tombeau au cimetière du Père Lachaise. Halloween is not a French holiday, but they’ve adopted it so les petits enfants can put on classic déguisements and get some bonbons. But the French have their own Day of the Dead, though it is far more somberly celebrated than in Mexico. November 1st is La Toussaint, or All Saint’s Day. Les cimetières are visited and chrysanthèmes left on the graves in magnificent displays praised as worthy of tourist visits.
I’ve read that if you are ever invited to an automne dinner by a French family, you should not horrify your hostess by presenting her with a bouquet of chrysanthemums. Since one can find images of this lovely autumnal flower looking cheerful in vases, I can’t attest to the accuracy of this warning. More research is needed.
Bougie? I searched and found that this “wax candle” comes from Bugia, a town in Algeria with an ancient wax trade. Odd that bougie conjures Boogey(man), though not, in this case, boogie. According to Wikimedia: “The French equivalent of the Bogeyman is le croque-mitaine (“the mitten-biter” or rather “the hand-cruncher”, mitaine means mitt in an informal way).” Isn’t it very Russian to have a diminutive longer than the word? Apparently the Bogeyman is usually a deliberately vague and faceless personification of terror, and the same goes for the French version. There were no illustrations of a demonic figure crunching or munching gloved hands. I went in search of an image from one of those old Hollywood movies with crawling hand searching out a victim to throttle. No luck. I did find a lady in black leather “bondage mittens.” A bit kinky for this post? Then I found this “crime scene” photo. Rather too perfect to be real, and no mittens, but it’s quite striking.
So if French bougies come from Bugia, wence cometh candles? According to the online Etymology Dictionary: “Old English candel “lamp, lantern, candle,” an early ecclesiastical borrowing from Latin candela “a light, torch, candle made of tallow or wax,” from candere “to shine,” from PIE root *kand- “to glow, to shine, to shoot out light” (cf. Sanskrit cand- “to give light, shine,” candra- “shining, glowing, moon;” Greek kandaros “coal;” Welsh cann “white;” Middle Irish condud “fuel”).”
And not only that! “Candles were unknown in ancient Greece (where oil lamps sufficed), but common from early times among Romans and Etruscans. Candles on birthday cakes seems to have been originally a German custom. To hold a candle to originally meant “to help in a subordinate capacity,” from the notion of an assistant or apprentice holding a candle for light while the master works. To burn the candle at both ends is recorded from 1730.”