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Halloween: An ungodly import?

Only 35 percent of French celebrated Halloween last year
Only 35 percent of French celebrated Halloween last year

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Ungodly U.S. import

PARIS (Reuters) -- Saints instead of witches, pop songs instead of hooting owls, "Christian cake" instead of pumpkins -- France's Catholics are trying everything to fend off a Halloween celebration they say is an ungodly U.S. import.

As hordes of French children dress up as witches and monsters on Friday night, some 10,000 Christians are expected at a free rock concert in Paris to celebrate the Christian All Saint's Day on Saturday and Sunday's Festival of the Dead.

"Halloween has put these Christian holidays into the shade. Lots of young people don't even know them any more," said Ines Azais, in charge of an initiative by the French Catholic Church.

"Halloween plays with death, it wants to scare us. But we want to show that we're not afraid of death. We believe in resurrection and want to celebrate life," she told Reuters.

Pumpkin decorations and "haunted castle" theme parties, associated with the Halloween holiday in the United States, have only recently arrived in France, a country keen to protect itself from what it sees as U.S. cultural dominance.

Around 35 percent of French celebrated Halloween last year, slightly up on 2001, according to a survey in Le Figaro daily. Some bakeries are also turning their backs on pumpkins and cobwebs, which are prominently displayed in many French shops around Halloween, and have put up figurines of saints in their windows instead.

"Halloween isn't French at all," said Odile Roussel, whose Paris bakery was equipped with its "saints kit" by a church initiative. It includes notes on different saints and a special recipe for a pistachio and nut-flavoured "All Saint's cake."

"It's very popular. Clients like the fact that the cake represents a Christian event," Roussel said.

Striking a less religious note, fast food chain Flunch is also making a stand against Halloween products by celebrating an ancient local tradition -- the Gallic New Year -- instead.

Following in the footsteps of plucky cartoon character Asterix, diners eat dishes such as boar and cabbage in stores decorated with cardboard druids, and can find an inflatable helmet or sword in their meal.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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