In about 5 minutes our girls will be home from school and starting their first school break. Needless to say their excitement is running pretty high today!
This first break is called Toussaint or All Saints Day (November 1) and for our girls it means a two week break from school.
School holidays in France are assigned by zones and for the winter (February) and spring holidays (April), the holiday dates vary by zone. The holiday dates are announced well in advance and, until recently, Toussaint was only 10 days with the kids having to return on a Thursday (there is no school for our girls on Wednesdays). But, early in the school year I noticed the dates had been changed so that Toussaint is now a full two week break. However the kids have to “make up” the two extra days in April and May (on my birthday!) by attending school on two Wednesdays.
This break was a huge carrot for our girls when we arrived. While the challenge of attending a french village school now seems more manageable week by week, the prospect of having four 2-week long breaks certainly helps our girls keep their fatigue and frustrations in check.
For the first part of our break we’re headed to London via TGV and Eurostar. Then when we get back we’ve put the girls in horseback riding camp. This will be their second time at riding camp in France. Since we’re essentially living in the countryside we’re trying to take advantage of activities that aren’t so easy to access in Canada’s largest city.
November 1st is a holiday here in France and for Toussaint families bring flowers, Chrysanthemums traditionally, to the graves and tombs of their deceased family members. It’s funny, a few days ago at our local grocery store I noticed many large pots of mums and wondered why they were there, now, all of a sudden. For non-Catholics, in Paris I’m told, Toussaint is a busy time at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise to visit the graves of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Chopin. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir share a grave at Montparnasse.
Not being Catholic, I decided to engage in a little hagiography (Ha! Since reading Robertson Davie’s Fifth Business in grade 7 I’ve never had a legitimate opportunity to use that word.). I really had no idea there were so many patron saints for so many things! One of my favourites is Madonna del Ghisallo – the patroness of cyclists. Given our expat status in France I should also pay heed to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (immigrants). In honour of my slow-to-take-hold french language skills, Jude the Apostle (lost and desperate causes) should receive 2 pots of mums from me. And, in an effort to keep up with modern times, as a sometimes blogger, Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 4 April 636), the patron saint of the Internet receives a nod. This list of peculiar patron saints contains some goodies and I will refrain from suggesting whom, among my readers, might need to give thanks to St. Monica. I was disappointed to find that while architects, civil engineers and urologists all have their OWN patron saints, we urban planners do not. You can all keep your “cold place in hell” comments to yourselves svp.
The day after Toussaint is the Jour des Morts. While I am only just beginning to read about the early history of our region, part of me wishes we were staying here next week so that we could experience these important days in French culture. After reading Ysabel I suspect that in our region the celebrations will extend beyond Catholicism to include practices with Celtic roots as well.
Before moving here we were told by many people that Halloween isn’t celebrated in France. “Bummer” as my kids would say. Halloween at home in Toronto is a big deal and our girls were certainly unhappy to hear that it was not also celebrated here. Yet in our big grocery store there is a huge mountain of Halloween candy. There are costumes in stores. And there are even some jack-o-lantern pumpkins for sale. It would appear that Halloween is catching on in France.
Happy Halloween to our friends at home – rain or shine. For our Roncesvalles friends in Toronto, think of us on November 1st when you are at the Pumpkin Parade in Sorauren Park. We’ll post pictures from our London jaunt soon.