How to have a traditional French Easter in compliance with health restrictions

Some Easter traditions - such as the whole town gathering to eat a giant omelette - have definitely been scuppered by the Covid-related health restrictions, but it's still possible to celebrate.

How to have a traditional French Easter in compliance with health restrictions
If you have a garden you could stage your own egg hunt or egg rolling. Photo: AFP

Easter – which falls on April 4th this year – is usually a big family event in France, with many people travelling across the country to stay with relatives and towns holding special markets and festivals.

Some of those things will not be possible this year, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate, or that some traditions cannot be observed.

Here’s the latest on rules and advice regarding travel and socialising over the Easter weekend.

So here’s what we can do.

These will be flying to Rome on Friday. Photo: AFP

Flying bells

While in some parts of France, generally in the east, the lapin de pâques (Easter bunny) or lievre de pâques (Easter hare) makes an appearance, in most of France the legend is that chocolate is magically delivered by flying church bells.

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, 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. 

Most arrivals from the EU into France need a Covid test, but magical, non-human travellers are probably exempt.

In a slightly questionable tribute, chocolatier Jean-François Pré created this Easter Egg which is in the shape of the coronavirus virus. More tasteful chocolate is available. Photo: AFP

Eating chocolate

Which brings us neatly to eating chocolate. Trips to the shops are very much still permitted and most supermarkets are now full of tasty Easter treats including giant chocolate eggs, while patisseries and chocolateries are classed as essential under lockdown rules.

Chocolate bunnies and chicks are also popular, as well as chocolate bells and chocolate fish – a reference to the poisson d’avril.

Church services

Churches services for limited numbers of people are allowed and some churches are also planning to celebrate Mass online for those who cannot attend.

Buying special cakes

Naturally boulangeries and patisseries are counted as essential businesses in France, with their windows as full as ever with beautifully decorated little cakes and pastries.

There isn’t a particular traditional Easter desert in France, but it wouldn’t be a celebration without getting something from the patisserie to end the Easter meal with.

Anything with chocolate is popular, particularly cute little chocolate nests, and seasonal fruit like the first strawberries are often seen too.

Easter egg hunt

A lot of towns usually organise a chasse aux oeufs (egg hunt) as well as various French chateaux in their grounds. Public gatherings of more than six people are not allowed and the government has asked everyone to stop receiving people at home. But you could enjoy a mini-Easter picnic outdoors (just remember that consuming alcohol out in public now is forbidden).

Another rather messy tradition in some parts of the country is egg rolling or egg tossing. Raw eggs are either rolled down a slope or thrown into the air, and the last person to keep their egg intact gets a forfeit of chocolate from the other players.

Easter lunch

Having visitors to your home is not recommended (although not actually forbidden) but you can still cook yourself a nice lunch – lamb is the traditional Easter food, symbolising Jesus and also new life. People who do socialise are urged to do it outdoors – the weather forecast for the whole of France up until Sunday is for sunshine and warm temperatures so an Easter picnic with a small group could well be on the cards.

And to keep the traditions going, you could always make yourself an omelette on Monday.

The town of Bessières in south west France usually creates a 15,000-egg omelette on Easter Monday for the whole town to share, in a tradition that apparently dates back to Napoleon.

That won’t be happening this year, but you could always create your own eggy tribute to the emperor on Easter Monday.

Members of the Giant Omelette Brotherhood of Bessieres will be sadly under-employed this year. Photo: AFP

Have a day off

Plenty of people are not working at all at the moment, but for those who are, Easter Monday – April 5th – is a public holiday, so you can take a day off work and go for a walk, read a book or catch up on your box sets.

If you are in Alsace-Lorraine you will also get Good Friday off work, the only parts of France where it is a public holiday.

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

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French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.