We take a closer look at how the French celebrate Easter...
It's Easter weekend and here in Gourdon the chocolatier's window display is brimming with Easter-themed goodies. In France, as with many other countries, Easter is a big celebration and a special time to get the family together. It is, of course, a religious festival, but also a traditional holiday for families, religious or not.
The French word for Easter, Pâques, comes from the Latin pascha, which in turn comes from the Hebrew Pesah meaning 'passage', from which Passover is derived. This is the Jewish festival for the commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. According to the Gospel, it was during this Jewish celebration that Jesus rose from the dead. In French, there is a distinction between la Pâque (Jewish Passover) and Pâques (Christian Easter).
As with elsewhere, many of the French traditions surrounding the celebration of Easter draw on religious and seasonal symbolism - eggs being one of the most common. For the traditional French Easter meal, the dish most likely to be served is gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb). The lamb symbolizes spring. Also, for Christians Easter symbolizes Jesus' passage from death to life and his sacrifice. As such, Jesus is identified with the sacrificial lamb of the Jewish tradition and is also represented by a lamb in Revelation. For the rest of the Easter meal, the French will feast on seasonal spring vegetables, such as asparagus. Dessert will typically involve chocolate, but also early strawberries, if available. You might see a display of spring flowers, such as pâquerettes (daisies) in pride of place. The important focus of the meal is to have the whole family round a well-decorated and abundant table.
In France, la chasse aux œufs (childrens' egg hunt) is a very popular event. These are often organized on a grand scale. The one big difference in France, however, is that the eggs are said to be distributed not by the Easter Bunny, but by flying bells! Catholic tradition dictates that bells do not ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, in order to commemorate Christ's death and resurrection. It is said that the bells fly to Rome at this time (on a pair of tiny wings) to be blessed by the Pope, and return from this journey with gifts which they scatter randomly for the children to find. As the bells ring on Easter day, the egg hunt can start - typically with someone shouting out "les cloches sont passées !".
The treats, of course, are usually chocolates, in the form of eggs, bells, fish and rabbits. The Easter Rabbit that is common in the UK is more of a Germanic tradition, but thanks to culturally Germanic regions such as Alsace, rabbit shaped treats are a common sight all over France. The fish-shaped chocolates are known as friture - or 'fry-up' and relate to the story of the 'miraculous catch' in the Gospel of John.
Important note: Good Friday is not observed as a public holiday in France, whereas Easter Monday is.
So that's some of what you can expect of a French Easter. It just remains for us to wish you Joyeuses Pâques !