All Saints and the chrysanthemum (La Toussaint et le chrysantheme)

The cemeteries have been very busy places for the last few days, and are now looking splendid with the graves cleaned and decorated with masses and masses of chrysanthemums.

In a custom that goes back through time families have decorated the graves of their departed loved ones; previously this was done with candles: the flowers, and in particular chrysanthemums replacing these since the middle of the 19th century.

The chrysanthemum (from the Greek “khrousos anthemon” – flower of gold) is a symbol of pleasure and well-being in Japan – in France a symbol of immortality, as it resists the frosts and takes little looking after.

It is said that the chrysanthemum never flowers before the autumnul equinox (21st September); their petals are seen as a light of hope in the midst of the autumnal mists and fogs.

In 1789 a French sea-captain brought the first variety of chrysanthemum from China; 50 years later another sea-captain, aided by a gardener, worked to begin the production of the vast range of chrysanthemums available today. Every cemetery, every garden, every market is resplendent with the colours of these plants this weekend.

Some confusion there – 1st November is All Saints day, and the colour should be white; violet and other colours should only come in from the 2nd November – All Souls Day, the day set apart by the Church for remembrance of those who have died. But then as with all pagan festivals taken over by Christianity, the older elements and celebrations have a habit of creeping back in.

France as a secular state shows this same ambivalence in taking as a jour ferie the “Christian” festival of Toussaint.

Best wishes for your celebration of this season – Hallowe’en, Samhain, All Saints/All Souls, Day of the Dead.

Bob and Marjory.

2 responses to “All Saints and the chrysanthemum (La Toussaint et le chrysantheme)

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