April has been a strange month for almost everyone, and illness has meant that tales of France and French life are in arrears. Fortunately, not the virus and I am marooned in England for the moment, but although the weekend has passed, I thought that you might like to hear about how Easter is celebrated in France. Who knows, you might be there next Easter, staying at Le Prieure or in La Tour and be wondering how the French celebrate Easter and how you might too, in the French fashion!
Easter decorations: mixing French and English traditions
Loving an excuse for celebration food and decorating both inside and outside the house, at Le Prieure, we mix our English traditions with those of our French neighbours and their French Easter traditions, though in truth they are not that different. Inside, we love to decorate eggs and have them hanging on beautifully painted boughs, whilst outside there is always a special hunt, with small characters especially planted in the ground for the children, pointing the way. The children are handed pretty baskets and head off with delight for the chocolate treasures they will find!
Easter Sunday Bells and Monday Egg Hunt
France, being a historically Catholic country the weekend, is of course, centred around the Church. On Maundy Thursday, Jeudi Saint, the bells of all the churches are silenced to mourn the death of Christ and, according to tradition, they acquire wings and fly to Rome for a special blessing by the Pope.
On their way back, they pick up eggs and miraculously carefully drop them in all the French gardens on the way home. Originally real, they have been superseded by chocolate, though it may explain why omelettes are a great tradition in the south... a surfeit of broken eggs on Easter Sunday would logically lead to omelettes on Easter Monday!
A lovely thought, but actually, eggs were traditionally blown and then decorated for Easter, having been forbidden during Lent. A large surfeit of blown egg on Easter day is more likely the reason! And that explains the tradition for omelettes at Easter, especially in the south of France.
To celebrate the return of the bells and the Resurrection, the church bells peal on Easter Sunday and La chasse aux Oeufs – the Easter Egg Hunt - begins with the gifts of chocolate bells, followed by the cry of ‘Les Cloches Son Passes’ – The Bells have Passed – and the children, and no doubt not a few adults, take off to search for eggs in gardens around the country. For the French, it is traditionally bells and not bunnies that bring the Easter Eggs.
Every chocolatier and patisserie shop in France has stunning windows at Easter, where bells take centre stage, but as well as delightfully decorated hares, rabbits, turtles and sheep, there are small wicker baskets of straw filled with pretty foil covered ‘fritures’ – small whitebait….perhaps coming from the story of Jesus being a ‘fisher of men’ and the disciples being fishermen.
Traditional Easter food in France
French Easter activities have without doubt, to include fine epicurean delights and lamb is the traditional dish at Easter. Often with fine weather in our corner of France, the second sunniest in the country, we love a barbeque on a warm Easter Sunday. To sit outside to eat the meal after the children have enjoyed a fine hunt for chocolate eggs and to enjoy the beautiful flowers and scents of the early spring garden is a delight.
A traditional starter of asparagus and or eggs, followed by gigot d’agneau, rack of lamb; brochettes d’agneau, lamb kebabs and navarin, casserole of lamb, the dishes of choice for Easter, served with fresh local vegetables and followed by delicious puddings will please most palates, although we can cater for non-meat eaters too!
Both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are public holidays in France and as the French word for Easter, Paques, derives from the Latin Pascua meaning ‘food’, it’s quite evident that after forty days of fasting the traditional meal was and is going to be pretty special!
Many people still attend church services on Easter Day, and the happy notes of ‘Joyeuses Paques’ and ‘Bonne Paques’, ‘Happy Easter’ in French, can be heard as people leave church. A joyful time for those who have followed the traditional path of Les Croyants, the believers, who have eschewed favourite food or beverage for Lent, La Careme. They have a real feast to look forward to!
Easter break in France to look forward to in 2021
Think to next year, when we hope we will be able to travel again and plan a visit to our lovely corner of France, where you will find a very warm welcome at the very special time of year.