Joyeuse Pâques! Bonnes Pâques! Bonnes fêtes des Pâques! You will hear these phrases everywhere in France starting from Easter Sunday (or sometimes a day or so before), and lasting the whole week. Of course, these phrases are different ways of wishing someone a Happy Easter.
As France is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, it’s no surprise that Easter is celebrated widely across the country. But even for those French families who are not croyants (religious believers) view Easter as a time to come together and celebrate in traditional ways.
French Easter Traditions
Chasse aux oeufs et les cloches volantes
As in many countries, the French celebrate Easter with a traditional Easter egg hunt (chasse aux oeufs). But don’t look for bunnies to bring the eggs on Sunday morning. In France, large flying bells (cloches volantes) bring the eggs.
You might be thinking: say what? But here’s the story:
According to French lore, on Good Friday (vendredi saint), all the bells in France, grieved by Jesus’ death on the cross, miraculously sprout wings and fly to Rome to see the Pope (le pâpe). Thus, all the church bells in France traditionally remain silent from Good Friday onward. But when Jesus is resurrected on Sunday, the bells fly back to France, ringing joyfully and bearing chocolate for all the children.
The chasse aux oeufs is kicked off by an adult shouting: “Les cloches sont passés!” (The bells have passed!). The kids then begin scampering about, searching for the hidden chocolate treasure, which often take the form of eggs, chicks, fish, hens, bells, sheep, turtles and yes – bunnies.
Repas de Pâques
Naturally, no holiday can occur in France without a delicious feast being a part of it! French families gather for the lunch and/or dinner on Easter, where traditional foods are served. Lamb is inevitably on the menu, whether it’s a delectable slow-cooked gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb) or navarin d’agneau (spring lamb stew), brimming with potatoes and fresh vegetables.
There’s also usually an asparagus or egg dish for a starter (or an asparagus and egg dish), as these are traditional symbols of spring, birth and fertility. In some parts of France, particularly the South, it’s traditional to make and eat an “omelette de Pâques” (Easter omelette) on Easter Monday (lundi de Pâques). In the past, the omelette was made from that the children found on Easter Sunday; however, since children no longer search for real eggs on Easter, just chocolate ones, the omelette is the only part of the tradition that remains.
Easter desserts can take various forms of cakes and pastries, but a fun dessert tradition is to make a “Nid de Paques” (Easter Nest). This is nest-shaped cake has a large hole in the center, which is then filled with goodies such as chocolate eggs, jellybeans, pralines, strawberries or other treats.
Ideas for Celebrating Easter in Paris
Even if you’re a tourist or here temporarily, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Easter in Paris.
- Attend a mass (messe). You may have noticed that Paris is home to hundreds of beautiful old churches. If you want to give your French a test, you may attend services at any of them, including the famous Notre Dame Cathedral (hours included in the link). If you do attend a French church, however, please be respectful and don’t snap photographs or talk during mass.
- Cook a traditional French lunch. If you’ve got access to a kitchen, why not prepare a meal? Here’s a link to a traditional French omelette, southern style with ham and onions. If you’re really feeling ambitious, try this lamb recipe or even make your own Nid de Pâques!
- Hunt for Easter Eggs. A number of public chasse aux oeufs for children take place around Paris every year. The most well-known is the Secours Populaire hunt, which has taken place on for the past 70 years. Secours Populaire is a non-profit organization established to help the poor in France and the world. The chasse will take place on Easter Sunday (April 5th) from 10 – 5pm on the Champs-de-Mars. For more information click here, and to find out other chasse aux oeufs in Paris, look here.
- Eat chocolat. If you’re in Paris, surely you cannot help notice the fantastic and often elaborate chocolate displays in the windows of every chocolaterie (chocolate shop) and patisserie (pastry shop) in town. Now’s the time to go ahead and indulge! Here’s a short list of some of our favorite chocolatiers and chocolate shops in Paris.
• Pierre Hermé 72 rue Bonaparte, 75006, Métro: Saint-Sulpice.
Get ready to stand in line (especially at Easter) to sample the wizardry of this classic French chocolatier. Hermé is known for producing innovative chocolates creations that are no less than works of art.
• Henri Le Roux, 1 rue de Bourbon le Château, 75006, Metro: Odéon.
Don’t stop at eating chocolates in this shop, but sample M. Le Roux’s salted-butter caramels (caramel-beurre-salé) as well. It’s what he’s known for and rightly so.
Here look for French-style handmade chocolates and patisseries infused with Japanese spices, such as black sesame and green tea matcha and other flavors. The results are simply extraordinary.
• Le Furet Tanrade, 1 Rue des Messageries, 75010, Metro: Poisonnière.
The original shop was opened in 1728, making it one the oldest chocolateries in Paris. This decidedly unprententious place offers delicious handmade chocolates and wonderful jams (confitures). Particularly known for its chocolate infused with hemp (chanvre).
What questions do you have about French Easter traditions? Feel free to ask us below!