As far as I can tell, Paris has never celebrated Halloween as much as it is doing so right now.
Massive pumpkins are cropping up in unlikely places, like bookshops. Supermarkets have rubber bats flying above the checkouts. French cafes have trick-or-treat baskets by their counters. And I saw a real-estate agency with cobwebs in the window, but that might be more of a reflection on the housing market.
Me, I’ve been in Paris since 2015 and I can’t remember ever really noticing Halloween like this on the streets before. The only thing that sprang to mind was the annual Halloween costume competition and spooky donuts from Boneshaker in the second arrondissement.
I called the owner, American Amanda Bankert, to see if my eyes were deceiving me about all this extra Halloween.
“Oh I’ve definitely noticed it this year,” she said. “There’s a mass abundance of pumpkins on sale, which is a huge change from previous years. I used to have to order them before, or track them down from specific grocers. Now they’re even in the big supermarkets like Carrefour!”
Besides decorations, Amanda uses the pumpkins for making seasonal donuts with pumpkin creme-brulé flavour, pumpkin spice lattes, and even cocktails.
So why is everyone going mad for this American tradition?
Amanda suspects the pandemic may have played a part.
“People are keen on community events after not being able to have them for two years,” she said. “Especially something like this that involves the kids. You get costumes, candy, family, and fun. After two years without it, there’s definitely a big appeal to participate.”
Boneshaker, on rue d’Aboukir, has been hosting Halloween events for five years, but won’t be doing it in 2021 after the pandemic forced a change in plans. But Amanda notes that the local Parisians have come a long way in taking part.
“When we started, there was a bemused amusement, a curiosity from the Parisians. We had to explain trick or treating to people. They thought Halloween had to be scary, but it doesn’t of course. I mean, when I was a kid I once dressed up as a cow. Anything goes!”
Skeletons in Paris?
If you have any doubt that there’s a certain spookiness in the air, look no further than Place Dauphine in the centre of Paris. Life-sized skeletons are apparently climbing the facade of one building from 1610, which now contains remodelled apartments from Paris Perfect.
Madelyn Byrne, the company’s co-founder, says she brought the bones over from the US and that they’ve proven to be a show stopper.
“The reaction has been amazing,” she said. “If you sit and have a coffee, you can’t believe the number of people who stop and take selfies in front. It’s in the hundreds!!”
“My secret skeleton is one of those on the top, with the tunic and red cross. That’s the ghost of Jacques de Molay, the last Templar Knight. De Molay was burned at the stake literally outside on the Place Dauphine in the 1300s – so I wanted to pay tribute to him.
“The story goes that as he was burning, he cursed King Phillip and the Pope for wrongly accusing him of heresy and crimes against the Church. Both died within a year. He also cursed the King and the throne for 13 generations… and that would have been Louis XVI who was beheaded during the Revolution.”
The Huge Haunted House
If you wanted the conclusive proof that Halloween is a much bigger deal in 2021, look no further than the enormous Manoir Halloween Festival at La Villette in the 19th arrondissement. The festival, which is taking place for the first time, is the brainchild of the team at the haunted house Le Manoir.
After 11 years of spooking Parisians at their immersive horror show in the 10th arrondissement, Le Manoir decided this was the year to take Halloween to the next level. And spread over 4,000m2 at the Grande Halle de la Villette, the festival offers haunted houses, scream zones, and 200 actors whose sole mission is to scare your socks off.
After an extended closure during the Paris lockdowns, general manager Laura Philip said the team had time to focus on putting on a much bigger show.
“We used the opportunity to focus on something that’s always been a dream, a festival type show. We’re huge fans of the Haunted House in Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios Parks in Orlando and LA.”
The show runs until October 31st and Laura says it’s the next level up from their haunted house, which typically has just 30 actors.
She adds that the event has proved popular so far, but that Parisians may still be getting used to the idea of a Halloween festival.
“This isn’t a ‘one-and-done’ kind of show. You can stick around, go through several times, take photos with the actors. We have good lighting so people can get photos with the actors too,” she said.
She added there was no need to speak French to participate.
“Even if you don’t understand what the actors are saying, they’ll still scare you. And after all, no matter what language you speak, everyone’s afraid of a chainsaw.”
What do you think?
So, what do you make of it all? Have you noticed more Halloween in Paris, or in France? And if you’re not in town, what do you make of it all as an outsider? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Happy Halloween from The Earful Tower… or should that be The Fearful Tower? I’ll leave you with a link to this week’s podcast episode, where I descended into the illegal catacombs beneath Paris. See my pics and listen to the show here.