Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chyrsanthemums.. flowers of remembrance

One of the important things to remember, when living in France, is not to give as a gift to anyone, chrysanthemums.

As summer takes its leave and bids farewell to France, the trees turn to stunning shades of gold, red and yellow. Autumn takes hold, and chrysanthemums are often seen growing in local fields. These flowers, which are available in many warm shades, have been linked since the 19th century as the flower for La Toussaint, a two-day French festival, which dates back approximately to the 8th century. Families travel to spend time with each other, throughout France and to place a pot of chrysanthemums, a symbol of immortality, and often a candle, on the graves of the departed.

All Saints’ Day, yet another Bank Holiday in France, on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. is a time for French families to remember people who have passed away, whom they loved and admired. All Saints Day remembers all the Catholic Saints, whilst All Souls’ Day is for praying for the souls of those deceased.

I remember, as a child, at a French Catholic boarding school in England having a ‘day off’ on 1st November, when we could do as we wished, within limits!! whilst all other schools continued as normal.

In France, during the last week in October, every shop and local farmer seem to be selling chrysanthemums in pots of varying sizes. These aromatic autumn flowers, in stunning colours, are the subject of much discussion between family members who seem to spend ages discussing which pot of flowers for which relative; cars are then loaded with the plants whose musky scent fills the air, conjuring images of calm and peace.

I do not know what percentage of French families undertake this ritual, but from the numbers I have seen during the last few days carefully choosing their tributes, I am sure it is high, as family values and respect for elders is a way of life in most communes.

There is a local stall which is well known in this area. A British man (see pic above) arrived in this region about 30 years ago, and was probably the only Brit here at the time. He has built a successful market gardening business and at varying times of the year, he, along with his French wife and bi~lingual children will be found at the disused railway station, selling their produce

We went today, to buy a small pot of chrysanthemums for our much missed dog Harry, who died last December. M. Darling watched from afar, knowing I would pick a purple shade, the colour I associated with Harry, a beautiful Black Flat Coated Retriever, who always wore a purple collar. We will place this on his grave in our garden near the flowing Dordogne River, which he loved, on November 1st and light a candle in a storm lantern in the evening, which will burn through to November 2nd, as we did on the night of his burial.

The flower of remembrance and respect in France is a living flower, which will survive the frosts which creep through the night at this time of year. I have discussed with many French people the British symbol of remembrance, the poppy. They are interested in the message behind the red poppy, the essential funds their sale raises, and the association with the French fields of battle, they respect our tradition as we should respect theirs.

So, although it is acceptable to give chrysanthemums as a gift to someone in the UK, beware doing the same in France as not quite the done thing!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Diana. A lovely, reflective post. Here's to Harry! X

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. I will be thinking of your Harry too x

chompermom said...

I'm from the Southern US, and I associate mums with funerals. The smell makes me think of old people, death and sickness. I have never really liked them, and I would not want them as a gift. We have an annual "decoration", usually in Spring around Mother's Day, depending on the graveyard or church. It used to be a big deal with fresh flowers and big family reunions. There are many who still do it, but they're getting older. And the fresh flower arrangements have morphed into mass-produced fake flower wreaths, sold at Wal-mart at discount prices. The fake flowers last longer, but I think it's kind of sad.

Our VFWs (Veterans of Foreign Wars) sell poppies for remembrance around Veteran's Day, but WWII always seemed far away in the past. Vietnam is even seeming dusty. (We haven't have war within our own country in so long, it doesn't have the same feeling).
However, with the Iraq and Afghan wars, I know people who have gone to war, and likely some of my classmates have fallen in war, which gives the term "veteran" a whole new meaning for me.

My husband is from Germany, and his grandfather associated pansies with funerals! He's never seen pansies on a grave, but that's just want his grandpa thought.