Easter in France is not very different from most countries that celebrate it, the main focus being getting together with family and friends for big meals and chocolate indulgence. The French love their chocolate, 13,000 tonnes of it is sold every Easter! But not just any old chocolate, a high percentage is artisanal hand-made chocolate from boulangerie-pâtisseries rather than supermarket mass-produced low quality produce. Just walking around towns at this time of year is torture for a chocoholic like me who only has to look at a beautifully decorated shop window to put on weight! But looking at it a different way, it's heaven - all that delicious chocolate hand crafted into eggs, bells, fish and bunnies just waiting to be devoured!
Luckily for me and my helpless lack of self-control when it comes to temptation, one of the things I appreciate most about Easter in France compared with Britain is the relative lack of commercialisation. In general eggs don't appear in shops until about 2 weeks before Easter, sometimes a little earlier, but not much, and then the selection in supermarkets is good but not overwhelming. It's in the bakeries where the choice is phenomenal; from all shapes and sizes to all different types of chocolate, garnished or not, prettily decorated, plain (or just plain ugly)... The chocolate is there, but it's not around for so long, hence less temptation. And it's usually really expensive, another deterrent.
I mentioned chocolate "eggs, bells, fish and bunnies" and you may well be wondering why bells and fish? In fact Easter rabbits are not traditional here and have only come in as a result of commercialisation and influence of multinational confectionary companies. Eggs are delivered by flying bells in France. Bizarre but true! (You do believe me don't you?)
The story goes back many centuries to a time when the Catholic authorities banned churches from ringing their bells from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Legend has it that the bells had flown to Rome to take away the grief of those mourning the death of Christ and would return on Sunday, having been blessed by the Pope. They would be full of chocolate eggs which they dropped from the sky on their way back to their churches. Even today church bells still don't ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
So that explains the bells, what about the fish? Chocolate fish are associated with the Poisson d'Avril tradition on the 1st of April when children tape paper fish on the backs of their friends, teachers and any unsuspecting person as a joke. As Easter changes date every year, it often falls around about the same time as the Poisson d'Avril hence chocolate fish in the shops. You can read more about April Fool's Day here in a previous post I wrote.
A typical Easter celebration in France revolves around an egg hunt on Sunday morning after Mass (for those that go to church). This takes place in the garden or a nearby park, weather permitting. (If you're visiting France at Easter it's worth noting that many Châteaux and other historic buildings put on fabulous hunts in their grounds for a small fee.) Then it's time for a big lunch of several courses, starting with an apéritif, followed by entrée, plat, fromage, salade et dessert. The plat - main course - is usually roast lamb. Different regions of France have their own specialities and variations, this is a generalised view. In my area in the south we also eat a lovely sweet brioche called Mouna that's only available at Easter. Easter Monday is a public holiday leaving everyone time to digest and travel back home.
I've lived in many countries and incorporate different traditions into our family Easter, ones which aren't common in France. Amongst other things my children always blow eggs and decorate them with paint, stickers and glitter. We also dye boiled eggs to eat at breakfast which as far as I know isn't done here. One thing I think is fairly standard no matter where you spend Easter, whether in France, England, Australia, Czech Republic (some of the best Easter traditions in my opinion, fond memories from years living in Prague) to name a few of the places I've called home, is that it's fun, kids love it and we all eat too much!
How do you spend Easter? Is it celebrated where you live? What are your favourite traditions? Wherever you are, I wish you a very joyeuses pâques.