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Why is November 1st a holiday in France?

The Local France
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Why is November 1st a holiday in France?
Disguised revellers take part in the Halloween celebrations in Nice. Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP

The French might not make as much of a big deal of Halloween as Americans do, but France does have one thing that the US doesn't - a day off work. Here's why.

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If you're used to Halloween being a big deal with carved pumpkins everywhere, trick-or-treaters on the streets and lots of parties, you might be a bit disappointed by the festival in France.

But if you're having a Halloween party, you can hold it on October 31st, safe in the knowledge that you will have November 1st off work to recover.

But why is November 1st a holiday?

It marks the Catholic festival of All Saints Day, and is one of several Catholic festivals that are marked with a public holiday in France (including Ascension, Assumption and Christmas).

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And it's not just France - quite a few European countries have a public holiday on November 1st including Spain, Italy, Austria and some regions of Germany and Switzerland.

In France it has been a public holiday for centuries, although it was briefly scrapped under Napoleon, and All Saints - Toussaint - also gives its name to the two-week school holiday that tales place in late October/early November.

Technically the holiday has nothing to do with Halloween traditions such as trick-or-treating or dressing up in scary costumes - but the history of this is another example of the early Christian church trying to match its calendar of festivals onto pagan traditions that marked the beginning of winter and a time when people were believed to return from the dead.

In France you won't see anything like the Mexican 'day of the dead' celebrations, but many people lay flowers at the graves of loved ones on November 1st. 

But why does the famously secular France have religious public holidays at all, you ask?

Well it seems that the answer is a prosaic one - by the time state secularism (laïcité) was coded into law in 1905 there was already an established calendar of public holidays and people were not keen on the idea of giving up their precious extra days off work.

READ ALSO Why does secular France have Catholic public holidays?

All Saints falls on a Wednesday this year, which breaks up the week nicely and also allows a chance the faire le viaduc. The next holiday is November 11th - marking the end of World War I - but this that falls on a Saturday, so there is no extra day off work.

Then we have to wait until Christmas for the next public holiday - and only December 25th (a Monday this year) is a designated public holiday, unless you live in Alsace.

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