|2019||19 Apr||Fri||Good Friday *|
|22 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
|2020||10 Apr||Fri||Good Friday *|
|13 Apr||Mon||Easter Monday|
Note: Good Friday is observed in Alsace and Moselle only.
France is one of the largest Catholic countries on the planet, with a population of over 65 million, of which 64 percent were self-identified Roman Catholics in 2009. However, this is a major drop from the 81 percent who called themselves Catholic in 1965. Furthermore, over a quarter of the French people refuse any religious identification, and only 3 percent call themselves Protestant. Five percent are followers of some other religion. Startlingly, over 90 percent of church buildings in France are Roman Catholic, and yet, only five percent of the people attend Mass on a weekly basis.
The celebration of Easter in France, along with the keeping of other holidays like Christmas, reflects this general decline in religiosity. France is a “secular” nation that has a policy of “laïcité,” which means that public life is kept 100 percent secular.
Nonetheless, there are, of course, devout Catholics living in France who carry on the ancient traditions and keep Easter as the holiest day of the Christian calendar. For them, Holy Week stretches from the Triumphal Entry a week before Easter, to Good Friday when Christ was crucified, and finally, to Easter Sunday itself when Christ arose bodily from the grave.
In modern France, Easter Weekend is a holiday weekend. It is a time of family feasting and general holidaying. In many cases, a full week or two of vacation time is enjoyed during the Easter season. Given the French preoccupation with culinary excellence, it is not surprising to learn these family gatherings and the French Easter season in general are crowded with delicious, unique food dishes.
Some French Easter traditions that are centered around food include the following:
- A children’s Easter egg hunt on Easter Morning. The eggs, however, are normally chocolate instead of hard-boiled. The eggs in egg hunts are typically small and plain, but those in the shops of French chocolatiers are large and exquisitely ornate.
- Other traditional fare at French chocolate shops on Easter Sunday include bunnies and “flying bells” meant to symbolize Christ’s ascent to Heaven. These candies are veritable works of art, though soon devoured, and French people crowd around the chocolatier’s window to admire them. These pieces of chocolate art are traditionally given away to friends and family as Easter gifts.
- A multi-course, Easter Sunday meal with wine, cheese, and delicious desserts. Lamb is traditionally the main course, often a saucy or herb-rubbed rack of lamb. Ham is also a common main dish, but Turkey is reserved for Christmas. A short, mid-meal break with everyone seated and drinking wine and eating cheese is also typical. The desert is normally some form of chocolate. Onion soup, lots of bread, and hot cross buns are also almost always included.
- Chocolate fish, along with eggs and rabbits, are “very French.” Stores will be stocked full of chocolate fish from April 1st up till Easter Sunday, even though fish have nothing to do with Easter. Children even stick paper fish on adults’ backs on April Fool’s Day and run away shouting triumphantly, “Poisson d’Avril!,” meaning “April Fish!”
Even as adults are off work for Easter Weekend, children are out of school. This gives them the occasion to partake in several traditional Easter time kids’ games, all of them involving raw egg
- A Catholic game has children roll raw eggs down a hill. This is meant to symbolize the stone rolling away from Jesus’ tomb. Whoever can roll his egg farthest without breaking it wins.
- Contestants toss eggs as high as they can into the air. Whoever can toss it highest without breaking it wins.
- A variant of the above game has the focus on the “loser.” Whoever breaks his egg first loses and may have to give up some of his Easter candy to his peers.
Another French Easter tradition involves the ringing of church bells. Despite the fact that the towering cathedrals are little attended, they are a part of French history and culture. Therefore, all of the bells ringing on the day before Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, is a somber occasion for all. Then the bells go silent for a time, and a rather unsettled feeling results. To calm their children, many parents tell them that the church bells have flown to Rome to see the Pope. Finally, the bells ring out again in great joy on Resurrection Morning, and you hear exchanges of “Joyeuses Pâques!,” meaning “Happy Easter!”
Some of the most famous annual Easter events celebrated in France include the following:
- The Limoux Carnival, in the southern French town of Languedoc-Roussillon, which is the longest-running carnival in the world. It begins in mid-January and finishes up, in climactic fashion, just before Easter arrives. The celebrations are heavy on local folklore, and you will see much of it displayed in the musical bands, feasting, and costumed parades.
- The Easter markets in Colmar, Alsace. Here, at two locations that have been the scene of important meetings since Medieval Times, a huge Easter celebration erupts. You will see street stalls selling their goods, public shows, abundant food and drink available, and cafes filled with music of the jazz tradition as well as with classical-style sounds.
- The displays in the windows of the three most famous Paris chocolatiers, to the French, are also a major Easter event. Fauchon has chocolate stores both in Paris and throughout France, and is famous for the bold-colored papers it wraps its chocolates in. Patrick Roger and Jacques Genin are the two other big names in Paris chocolate, but the rest of the country is also served by a large number of chocolate experts.
Anyone visiting France at Easter time will be struck with the focus on traditional food items and on chocolate in particular. If the traveler pays attention, he will also notice the children playing egg games in the streets and the bells ringing in special patterns. Those who love French cooking and culture could not pick a better time to visit France than Easter Weekend.