French Easter traditions involve many of the same elements to which those who live in the United States have grown accustom, and much of this tradition revolves around chocolate, fish and church bells.
Easter in France
Celebrating Easter in France is very much a part of the French culture, and many of the French Easter traditions directly relate back to the fact that much of the country (about ninety percent) considers itself Roman-Catholic. Whether they are truly practicing Roman Catholics or not, Easter is a major holiday celebrated by all.
The Ringing of the Bells
Churches, with their soaring architecture and revered history, are an intrinsic part of the French culture. It makes sense then, that these very same churches are central to Easter celebrations. The tradition begins on Maundy Thursday, before Good Friday. On this day, all the bells in France remain still and silent in remembrance of Jesus' passing.
As one might imagine, this is quite a somber remembrance, and one that's made all the more acute because the church bells typically ring out joyously at different times of the day. To ease the discomfort or any fears of the children, parents tell them that all the church bells have flown off to Rome to visit the Pope.
Luckily, this silence is fairly short lived; when Easter morning dawns, the bells ring out once more to rejoice in Jesus' resurrection. Much of the French community takes joy in this, fanning out into the streets, shouting boisterous greetings to neighbors, and giving warm hugs and kisses to those they know. You may hear all sorts of Easter holiday greetings, however, the French say "Joyeuses Pâques!"
Some French Easter Traditions
Besides the ringing of the bells, there are quite a few Easter traditions in France.
Chocolate plays a pivotal role during Easter in France, but not just in the form of melt-in-your-mouth eggs and rabbits. Here, you'll also find chocolate fish! While there is no direct correlation between the chocolate fish and Easter, you will often find chocolate fish in stores around Easter time because of its close proximity to the holiday.
The chocolate fish usually begin appearing in the shops on April 1, just in time for April Fool's Day, and all the fun and games that surround that day! In one such game, the children play a trick on the adults by sticking a paper fish on the backs of as many adults as possible. When the adults turn to see what's going on, the children squeal in delight, and run away yelling, "Poisson d'Avril!" this literally translates into April fish!
During Easter, the candy shops, or confiseries, are usually filled with beautiful and delicious chocolates in the shape of eggs, and bunnies. More often than not, these chocolates look more like exquisite works of art than candy, and much like peering at a masterpiece, many a Parisian can be found staring into the windows at the chocolate. Alongside these intricately decorated eggs and bunnies, one can also find chocolate bells. These "flying" bells directly correlate to the resurrection of Jesus, and with the end of Lent.
While it's true that Easter is a joy for both young and old alike, it's the children in particular who seem to have the most fun. It's in this spirit that French children delight in Easter games. One such game involves rolling raw eggs down a gentle slope. The egg that makes it down the slop, without breaking, is declared the victor. Many believe that this game symbolizes the stone that rolled away from Jesus' tomb when it was discovered that he had risen.
The second game involves tossing uncooked eggs into the air. The first child to drop and break his egg is the loser, who must then give up some of his candy to another child. However, in some versions of this game, there is no such penalty.
Easter Monday and Food
It is also important to note the tradition of Easter Monday. The Monday following Easter Sunday is a traditional holiday, in both France and in many other countries (Guyana, Hungary and Hong Kong, just to name a few. Obviously, as a holiday, adults do not have to go to work and children stay home from school. During this day, it is common to see many of the children playing some of the games listed above.
Food, of course, plays a large role in the many French holidays, and Easter is no exception. What can one expect to find on dinner plates throughout France during this holiday? Try succulent rack of lamb, a soup of some sort, like onion soup, lots of fresh bread, and of course, delicious hot cross buns.
Putting It All Together
From the delicious chocolate, to the magnificent churches, to the fun children's games, it's easy to see that Easter is quite a celebration in France. Heavily influenced by Roman-Catholicism, the holiday is both somber and joyous for those who participate and to not participate--is very rare indeed in France.