All Saints Day Brings French Families Together
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Americans spent the Halloween weekend dressing up and dishing out candy. In France and in other Catholic countries in Europe, there's a different tradition. On All Saints Day, they gather at family graves in a gesture of remembrance. The occasion is usually far from somber because it's viewed as a celebration of family ties.
Eleanor Beardsley sends this postcard from a famous cemetery in Paris.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: A carpet of yellow fall leaves covers the cobbled walkways of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, and a soft drizzle is falling. But in spite of the weather, thousands of people pour into the cemetery for the annual rite of Toussaint, or All Saints Day, when the French visit the graves of their departed ones.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: People clean wet leaves from the tombs and lay flowers. There are many children here.
Lamia Scortte(ph) brought her eight-year-old son out to join his great-grandfather.
Ms. LAMIA SCORTTE: It's a special day for me because I am here with my son and his grand-grandfather to visit his grand-grandmother that died when he was two years old, trying to keep her alive in his mind.
(Soundbite of bird cawing)
BEARDSLEY: As groups of people huddle under black umbrellas and make their way between the tombstones and mausoleums, some are holding flowers. Others are clutching guidebooks. That's because Pere Lachaise is the final resting place of hundreds of famous people, from Moliere to actor Yves Montand to rock star Jim Morrison.
Some two million people a year come to visit their graves and admire the cemetery's stonework and sculptures while they stroll its magnificent three-lined lanes.
Ms. DARIA KOVALSKA(ph): We are looking for Jim Morrison and Chopin, because we are Polish, and (unintelligible) because we are bankers(ph).
(Soundbite of laughter)
BEARDSLEY: That's Daria Kovalska and her friends. She says they have the same tradition in Poland on All Saints Day.
Despite the fact that it's a cemetery, 200 years of French history seem to come alive in Pere Lachaise. In 1871, the last of the Paris Commune insurgents fought an all-night battle with government soldiers here among the tombstones.
London natives James Kingston(ph) and Roman Darcy(ph) say they have come to visit the final resting place of their countryman, Oscar Wilde.
Mr. JAMES KINGSTON: We've got Oscar Wilde, here. He (unintelligible) his activities and�
Mr. ROMAN DARCY: And London.
Mr. JAMES KINGSTON: �back in our hometown.
Mr. DARCY: Exiled, yeah.
Unidentified Man #1: Exiled from our hometown, exiled to Paris.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: An exuberant tour guide has brought his group to singer Edith Piaf's grave. Septuagenarians Michelle(ph) and Martine D'angelo(ph) are also there. D'angelo says the couple always pays tribute to their favorite singers after she visits her brother's grave. She reels off a list of names.
Ms. MARTINE D'ANGELO: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: They were all part of our youth, says D'angelo. Toussaint isn't a sad occasion. It's just a time to reflect on life gone by.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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