French Easter (Pâques) Traditions
The predominant religion in France is Roman-Catholic (90%). No city, village or town is without a church. Many of them date back to the twelfth century or before. Most churches have a bell, which is rung joyfully throughout the year marking various events and the passage of time. On the Thursday before Good Friday, all church bells in France are silenced in acknowledgement of Jesus' death. In fun, children are told that the bell's chimes have flown to Rome to see the Pope. Easter morning, the bells ring out once again in celebration of the Resurrection, declaring that Jesus is alive again. In some villages, people kiss and embrace one another when they hear the bells ring.
Easter morning is a happy time for children who wake to look for colorfully decorated Easter eggs (les oeufs de Pâques) hidden in their gardens, homes and playgrounds. Parents tell their children the eggs were brought from Rome (where the chimes had gone), and that when the chimes returned they brought the eggs with them. In some parts of France children look for small chariots full of eggs pulled by white horses.
Unlike Americans, the French allot an extra vacation day for the Easter holiday. Everyone gets an automatic three-day weekend which they usually use to spend time with family. Schools and universities tend to center the second spring vacation (two weeks for each of them) around Pâques as well. Easter also marks the start of the "high" season for tourists, and hotel prices rise accordingly. A series of holidays (starting with the three-day Easter weekend) continues into May, with a trio of three-day weekends that month. Oui!
French Confiseries and Chocolatiers
As always, the French take great pride and joy in their food, and no village is without at least one or more confiseries (candy shops). Easter is the perfect time of year for master chocolatiers to display and celebrate their delectable wares. Great attention to detail and years of practice result in chocolate eggs that look more like works of art than anything edible! They are truly beautiful, and many people enjoy strolling the avenues peering into the shop windows as if they are at a museum or art show.
Poisson D'Avril (French Easter Fish)
Everyone knows of chocolate rabbits in America, but did you know the French delight in chocolate fish? Although not directly related to Easter, poisson d'Avril are enjoyed throughout the entire Easter season. These fishy little friends start appearing in shops on April 1st, when children use paper versions to play an April Fools type trick. The 'trick' is to stick a paper fish onto the back of as many adults as possible, then run away yelling, "Poisson d'Avril!" (April fish!). The tradition is several centuries old. Some say it evolved from a silly 'fish trick' where one would send an unknowing person to market to buy freshwater fish when it was not in season. In French culture, food follows season, and even children know when (and when not!) to buy oysters!
Cloche Volant (Chocolate Flying Bells)
As mentioned above, bells play an important role in the French Easter tradition. Candy shops sell chocolate flying bells alongside Easter eggs and bunnies, in the same way many candy shops in America sell chocolate crucifixes. These edible bells are another nod the the resurrection of Jesus, a time for celebration, and the end of Lent.
Raw eggs are rolled down a gentle slope. The surviving egg is declared a victory egg, and symbolizes the stone being rolled away from Jesus' tomb.
Children might play a game of tossing raw eggs in the air. The first child to drop and break his egg is the loser, and in some versions, must pay a penalty (e.g. give up a piece of his Easter candy to his brothers or sisters). This is similar to the 'egg and spoon' game we play in America, only in our version the last one to have an egg left is declared the winner, and gets an extra prize!
Do you know of any French Easter traditions not listed here? If so, please leave a comment and tell us about them.