Never Give a French Person Chrysanthemums

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When you say Chrysanthemum in France, people think of graves.

A friend recently mentioned that she went to a party at a French person’s house and brought chrysanthemums. When she handed them to the hostess, everyone’s jaw dropped. It turns out that chrysanthemums are only used to put on graves in France…

Chrysanthemums are put on the graves of loved ones in November for Toussaint (All Saints Day on November 1st). The tradition dates back nearly 100 years to the first official Armistice Day on November 11th, 1919. It marked the one year anniversary of the end of WWI. At the time, Raymond Poincaré, the president of France, ordered that flowers be put on all the War Memorials. Since chrysanthemums were the main flower in bloom at the time, they were put on all the 30,000+ war monuments in France.

Widows dressed all in black, carrying chrysanthemums for the graves of their husbands is a prominent image of that first Armistice Day. That’s how they became known at the widow’s flower.

Monique wrote from France, “You won’t find chrysanthemums in spring or summer because they’re almost exclusively used on November 1st. They’re the only ones that blossom naturally that late in the year. People bring them to their family members’ graves then. It’s why we never bring a bunch of chrysanthemums as a gift when we’re invited.”

It turns out that you should never give someone in Italy chrysanthemums either. They’re put on graves for Il Giorno dei Morti (The Day of the Dead) on November 2nd.

More about Funeral Traditions in France.

Monique Palomares works with us on the French and Spanish versions of Mama Lisa’s World.

This article was posted on Friday, January 15th, 2016 at 2:37 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Customs and Traditions, France, Funeral Traditions, Italy, Mexico, Symbolism of Chrysanthemums, Symbolism of Flowers, Symbols. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “Never Give a French Person Chrysanthemums”

  1. Lisa Says:

    In Mexico, Chrysanthemums are used for the Day of the Dead and for funerals.

  2. Monique Says:

    You can give the Tokyo (or “spider”) variety of mums (the ones that look like disheveled hair), mixed with other flowers or with unusual colors in France.

    You’ll want to avoid the big, round ones and the ones that look the most like daisies like in the photo above (they’re from the same family), all shades of yellow, brownish/orange and pink; white ones are usually put on children’s graves.

  3. Lisa Says:

    Purabi Khisa Tandra wrote, “Interesting! In Korea white chrysanthemums are used in funerals, I have seen it in many Korean drama series. It seems chrysanthemums are meant for sorrow.”

  4. Lisa Says:

    Ernestine Shargool Montgomerie wrote, “It’s the same in Italy…. I know it’s true in Naples and Rome, I would guess it is in the rest of Italy too – but I could be wrong.

  5. Marina Says:

    ouph..what sad traditions (and silly). Thank God, in Russia we put all kid of flowers on graves and we bring all kind of flowers to our living friends for various celebrations :) Flower says of affection and no matter what you bring, even a cactus, it will always be appreciated

  6. Francesca Says:

    Just a little note from an Italian: yes, chrysantemums are considered “grave flowers” in Italy, the reason is that in times when green-house flowers were either non-existant or too expensive to get, chrysantemums were one of the few varieties of flowers naturally blooming around end of October / start of November, so most people brought those to their loved ones’ graves and over time the flower became associated with the Day of the Dead. That’s too bad, personally I find them gorgeous and wouldn’t mind getting them as a gift. I’ve actually bought them for myself a few times ^^

  7. Martyna Says:

    The same in Poland. Chrysantemums are considered “grave flowers” for the same reasons as in Italy.

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