Easter is of course a religious holiday marking the resurrection of Jesus, and many of France’s traditions during Pâques stem from old Catholic customs.
Like many other historically Catholic countries, France is a big fan of Easter. All around the country, you’ll see shopfronts and bakeries decorated with chocolate rabbits, chickens, bells, and other signs of spring — even fish, for France’s version of April Fools’ Day, which they call the “April Fish”.
The Easter Bunny isn't quite as popular as he/she is in the United States, but the lapin de pâques or the lievre (hair) de pâques does make an appearance, especially in the east of the country, where traditionally he brought eggs to children at Easter.
Many other delightful and sometimes bizarre traditions mark the holiday in France. Here are a few of them.
Photo: Jan Buchholtz/Flickr
Although the Easter Bunny is starting to make a name for himself, traditionally it is the cloches volantes, or “flying bells” that have brought treats for children.
French Catholic tradition says that on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), all church bells in France sprout wings and fly down to the Vatican for a visit and to be blessed by the Pope.
So no church bells ring between Friday and Easter Sunday morning, to commemorate the death of Jesus (and because they’re all in Rome, obviously).
After their getaway to Italy, the bells return to France laden with goodies for well-behaved children — namely chocolate eggs. And then during the church services of Easter Sunday, the bells go crazy once again in celebration of Jesus' resurrection.
A 15,000-egg omelette
Photo: Omelette Géante de Bessières Facebook page
It’s not every day that you see an omelette large enough to feed an army. But in the town of Bessieres in southwestern France, they certainly don’t do omelettes halfway.
Every year on Easter Monday, around 10,000 people gather to make a giant omelette, made with 15,000 fresh eggs, a four-meter pan, 40 cooks, and extra long baguettes.
This rather bizarre tradition is in recognition of when Napoleon Bonaparte and his army once spent the night near the town. After eating (and evidently very much enjoying) an omelette made by a local innkeeper, Napoleon ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the village to make a gigantic omelette for his army to eat the next day.
On the island of Corsica, residents celebrate Good Friday with an event called the "catenacciu", meaning "the chained man".
This religious ceremony entails a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The evening begins with a candlelit procession throughout the town, led by a "penitent" wearing a hooded robe and a heavy cross and chain.
He completes a nearly two-kilometer tour of the city, during which he must fall three times during this journey, as Christ did. The penitent's identity is a mystery to everyone except the priest, and each year there is a long list of volunteers hoping to win this honor.
Photo: Louish Pixel/Flickr
Although France loves its chocolate eggs, there are some traditional Easter games that involve the real kind. An old Easter custom in France is to hold an egg-rolling competition, in which raw eggs are rolled down a gentle slope, as they do in many parts of the UK.
The surviving egg is dubbed the “victory egg”, symbolizing the stone being rolled away from the tomb of Christ. Another Easter egg game consists of children tossing raw eggs into the air. The first to break his or her egg is a loser and must give some candy to another child. Although in some versions of the game, there is no such tragic penalty.
Chasse aux oeufs
Photo: Service de Communication/Flickr
Children in many countries hunt for eggs on Easter Sunday, but some lucky little ones get to hunt for their treats in the gardens of a French castle. One of the most famous chasses aux oeufs in France takes place at the Chateaux Vaux le Vicomte near Paris.
As well as a huge number of chocolate eggs hidden around the gardens, one lucky hunter will find a one-meter tall chocolate sculpture. To change things up, this tasty sculpture is not of a bunny or an egg as you might think, but instead a squirrel.
Alsatian Easter markets
Photo: Colmar Tourisme
In the eastern region of Alsace, they take Easter celebrations a step further with lively Easter markets and events. In a region also famous for its expansive Christmas Markets, cities like Colmar celebrate the holiday and the beginning of spring with live music, art exhibitions, and sales of local artisanal and gastronomic products.
Photo: Monsieur Paradis/Flickr
France has some world-famous chocolatiers, and they don't hold back for Easter. If you're lucky enough to be in France around Easter, keep an eye out in the chocolate shops for the magnificent chocolate creations. You'll see beautifully detailed sculptures of eggs, fish, chickens, rabbits, and more. They're almost too beautiful too eat... almost.
Working on Good Friday
Photo: Victor Nuno/Flickr
One Easter perk the French don't have is a free day on Good Friday.
Workers in most other Christian nations don't have to work on this day, which marks the crucifixion and death of Jesus. But even though the French still have plenty of other public holidays to mark Christian religious events, Good Friday is not one of them.
The exception is the lucky residents of Alsace, the only French people who get to stay home this day. The reason for this is Alsace's rather complicated history of switching hands between Germany and France. Under German rule, the Alsatians had Good Friday off, and when they once again became French, they refused to give up this benefit.
Can't blame them. Joyeuses Pâques!
By Katie Warren