Bastille Day or Fête de la Fédération in 1792

Storming of the Bastille. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bastille Day or Fête de la Fédération was first celebrated in 1790. It was a day set aside to commemorate the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille that occurred on 14 July 1789. That event ushered in the French Revolution and each year thereafter people celebrated their patriotism for their new republic with a fete.

The second Fête de la Fédération happened in 1791 and was nothing like the first as it was said to have passed without hardly a notice. That was because that year, a few weeks prior to the celebration, the King and the royal family made their ill-fated escape attempt. Unfortunately for them, they were captured at Varennes and brought back to Paris. Continue reading

French New Year’s Etiquette Visits in the Late 1800s

French New Year's etiquette visits
Courtesy of Clipartix.

The French loved etiquette and etiquette was applied to such things as courtship, marriage, and death. The French also had etiquette rules when it came to the New Year. It was observed with calls and visits that were made to relatives and certain officials. In fact, according to one twentieth-century etiquette expert, “Not to receive a New Year’s call, or, if distance prevents, a visiting card, is the indisputable, the recognized indication that sender and addresses are henceforth to be strangers.”[1]

In general, visits occurred over the month of January. People called on their grandparents and superiors on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, they visited their parents and immediate family members. The first week of the New Year was devoted to visiting other family members, the second week to visiting intimate friends, and the remainder of the month was used to call on acquaintances. Continue reading

Christmas Tree Folktales and Legends

Christmas Tree. Free from Clipart Panda.

Many countries have claimed that the Christmas tree originated in their country. Among those are France, the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden), and Germany. Accompanying these claims are many legends, and the first of these legends related to the Christmas tree has its roots in the thirteenth century. It comes from a romantic folktale told in France.

“[T]he hero finds a gigantic tree whose branches are covered with burning candles, some standing erect, the others upside down, and on the top the vision of a child, with a halo around his curly head. The knight asked the Pope for an explanation, who declared that the tree undoubtedly represented mankind, the child the Saviour, and the candles, good and bad human beings.”[1]

Continue reading

Stories of the Christmas Tree in France

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Christmas tree in France did not gain popularity until the late 1800s. It probably wouldn’t have been popular at all if it had not been for royalty. It is claimed that in the late 1830s the Duchess Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (wife to the eldest son of Louis Philippe I, Ferdinand Philippe of Orléans who after her marriage became a French Crown Princess) was the first in France to celebrate with a Christmas tree. She did so at the Palace of Tuileries, and despite the Duchess introducing the Christmas tree in Paris, thirty years later it was still difficult to find one. Continue reading

Fete de la Toussaint or All Saints’ Day

“All Saints’ Day” by Fra Angelico, also called “All Hallows Day, Solemnity/Feast of All Saints.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fete de la Toussaint or All Saints’ Day is one of the most important holidays in France and overshadows Halloween (something that only in the last 20 years has been celebrated). La Toussaint falls in autumn on 1 November and is a Catholic holy day. It is a day when Frenchmen pay their respects and honor their deceased relatives by cleaning and decorating their graves and tombs. The celebration of La Toussaint, which is a contraction of Tous les Saints, was for a long time celebrated after Easter or after Pentecost. However, a decree by Louis the Pious forced Pope Gregory IV to declare that the celebration was to occur on 1 November. Continue reading

Origins of April Fools’ Day or France’s April Fish

April Fools' Day or Poisson d'Avril, from Crunch Hearts
Postcard Celebrating Poisson d’avril, from Crunchy Hearts

The first mention of 1 April and foolishness reputedly began with Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales published in 1392. However, his brief mention did not result in April Fools’ Day, and despite the origins of the holiday remaining somewhat obscure, one of the most popular versions of how the holiday originated is attributed to France.

What is known is that the holiday appears to have been mentioned in 1508 by French poet Eloy d’Amerval who referred to “poisson d’avril.” Poisson d’avril literally translates to “April Fish.” However, poisson d’avril actually means April fool and is “explained by the fact that the sun in April crosses the zodiacal sign of the fish” and because, in France, the mackerel (known as poisson d’avril) was “easily caught [in April] by deception, singly, as well as in great shoals.” Continue reading

A Frenchman’s Opinion of Christmas

Jean François Victor Aicard, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Jean François Victor Aicard, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Before I begin my Christmas holiday, I wanted to leave you with some thoughts of Frenchman Jean François Victor Aicard. He was born in 1848 and became a poet, dramatist and novelist. When asked his opinion of Christmas, this was his reply:

What do I think of Christmas, I, lost child of Provence? Ah, my friend, I regard it as the feast of feasts, because it is the feast of love. Down there we gather round the hearth. Firelight sings the song of the sun vanished or pale beneath the clouds of winter. Verdure breaking freshly out upon the furrowed earth the scared grass blades that give us bread, in the midst of death announce the immortality of life, and across the valleys and hillsides the absent ones set out for home greetings. Walks beneath the stars begin. Bereft households are brightened by homecomings. All things at this time are in league with the heart against the obscure forces of saddening winter, in the favour and honour of tenderness and gratitude….What is the réveillon of the town, at its worst even, but the conquering and tenacious remembrance of the need of hope, of true love? And many a poor creature, in her street bravery, feasting in the private room of a fashionable restaurant, on Christmas night, pauses a while to dream of the humble hot soup of the réveillon of her village.”

Thank you for your continued patronage of my blog this past year. I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday, a happy new year, and dreams of “humble hot soup.”  See you next year.

References:

  • The Academy and Literature, Vol. 51, 1897

Halloween in the 1800s

Painting by William Sidney Mount from 1838 of a Tea Leaf Reading at a Halloween Party, Public Domain
Painting by William Sidney Mount from 1838 of a Tea Leaf Reading at a Halloween Party, Public Domain

The name “Halloween” evolved over time. It was shortened from All Hallows’ Even and All Hallows Day — the evening of All Hallows’ Day and another name for All Saints’ Day, respectively. Eventually, it was contracted to “Halloween.”

Just as the name Halloween evolved, the holiday evolved too. It was initially influenced by Celtic-speaking countries with traditions such as Samhain, the ancient Celtic New Year celebrated near the end of October. Another influence was All Hallows’ Even. It was a day commemorated in May by Catholics for saints. Despite uneasiness by the church, the day became associated with supernatural ideas, particularly after repeated outbreaks of the bubonic plague occurred. All Souls’ Day also influenced Halloween. It was celebrated to honor the dead, and, similar to All Hallows’ Even, there was increased interest in death and the supernatural. Continue reading