Ancient people believed the threshold between the dead and the living grew thin around All Hallow’s Eve, of Halloween, and tried to appease the spirits with treats. Christians later designated Nov. 1 as All Saints Day to honor the departed Saints of the Catholic Church. Today, residents of South Louisiana honor their loved ones who have passed on All Saints Day or La Toussaint by placing wax, silk or fresh flowers on grave sites.
Because much of South Louisiana has a high water table, the dead are buried in above ground tombs, from the simple to the extreme, accented by statues, cast iron detail and wrought iron gates. Every fall residents clean up these tombs, sometimes whitewashing the exteriors and making sure the cemetery is spruced up and weed-free for its Nov. 1 visitors.
In Acadiana, La Toussaint is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation.
“The day after Halloween, All Saints Day (La Toussaint), is more important in south Louisiana than in any other area of the country both as a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation and as a day of family unity,” writes Jane Vidrine in Louisiana’s Living Traditions.
Some florists sell a specific fake flower arrangement just for the occasion— sometimes called a coronne de toussaints, a wreath — since All Saints flowers should last throughout the year.
In many communities a Mass is held, then a candlelight walk to the cemetery.
The Cathedral of St. John, the oldest church in Lafayette, will be offering silk flower arrangements for both All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which follows on Nov. 2. Vermilionville Living History Museum & Folklife Park in Lafayette offers wax flower demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 10, 17, 24, and 31, 2013, culminating with a reenactment of La Toussaint with Vermilionville artisans on Nov. 1, 2013.