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Flying bells and giant omelettes: 8 ways the French celebrate Easter

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Flying bells and giant omelettes: 8 ways the French celebrate Easter
The Bessieres giant Easter omelette. Photo: AFP

Food, drink, family gatherings and egg hunts all feature at Easter in France - plus some more unusual traditions.


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. 

The Easter Bunny isn't as popular as he/she is in the UK or US, but the lapin de pâques or the lievre (hare) de pâques does make an appearance, especially in the east of the country, where traditionally they brought eggs to children at Easter.


Many other delightful and sometimes bizarre traditions mark the holiday in France. Here are a few of them.

Flying bells

Traditionally it is the cloches volantes, or “flying bells” that have brought treats for children.

READ ALSO How to have a traditional French Easter

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 to be blessed by the Pope.

So no church bells ring between Friday and Easter Sunday morning (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

It’s not everyday that you see an omelette large enough to feed an army. But in the town of Bessières in south west France, they certainly don’t do omelette half measures.

Every year on Easter Monday, around 10,000 people gather for a giant omelette, made with 15,000 fresh eggs, a four-metre pan, 40 cooks, and extra long stirrers. The event is organised by the town's Confrérie des Chevaliers de l'Omelette Géante (brotherhood of the knights of the giant omelette).

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. 


Crucifixion reenactments

This religious ceremony on the island of Corsica entails a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The evening begins with a candlelit procession through the town, led by a "penitent" wearing a hooded robe and a heavy cross and chain.

He completes a nearly two-kilometre 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 be chosen for the honour.

Egg battles

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.

The surviving egg is dubbed the “victory egg”, symbolising 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

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 château. 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 mix things up, this tasty sculpture is not of a bunny or an egg as you might think, but instead a squirrel.

Alsatian Easter markets

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 artisan and gastronomic products. 

Chocolate art

France has some world-famous chocolatiers, and they certainly don't hold back at Easter.

If you're lucky enough to be in France at this time of year, keep an eye out in the chocolate shops for their magnificent 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

One Easter perk the French don't have is a free day on Good Friday.

Workers in many other European countries 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.

READ ALSO Why is Good Friday not a holiday in (most of) France? 

But, Easter Monday is a public holiday, so make the most of it. This year, Easter Monday falls on April 1st, which is also the day for the poisson d'avril.


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