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France During Easter: Six Traditions to Enjoy

April 20th, 2014

If you go barge cruising in France during Easter (called Pâques in French), you may experience some of the country’s unique Easter traditions.  Along with Christmas, Easter is a major holiday for many French people, who imbue it with their own customs and festivities.  What are you likely to encounter when visiting France during Easter time?

Take part in French Easter traditions

Easter in France and Europe during a barge vacation

Chocolate Easter eggs originated in Europe back in the 16th century

1) Church bells bearing chocolates from Rome. Typically from Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) to Easter morning, church bells are silent in France.  The fanciful explanation given is that the bells have departed from each steeple and have gone to Rome. When they return on Easter morning, they’ll bring chocolates with them and drop them around for children to find. Then they’ll start ringing again.

2) Easter processions.  Many towns will have processions in the week leading up to Easter Day. These processions may take place by torchlight. They often involve singing and dancing in costume or church garb. In some places, particularly Alsace, you may also see passion plays.

3) Raw egg games.  People, usually children, will toss raw eggs in the air and try to catch them without letting them break. In another version, eggs are rolled down a hill or a slope, and the winners are the ones whose eggs don’t break. These games can be played to earn more chocolate and other candies.

4) Easter feasting.  On Easter Day, the main meal usually has lamb and lots of fresh vegetables; dishes that make heavy use of eggs, such as omelets or quiches, are also popular. A rich, cake-like bread (called La Gâche de Pâques) is also served. Being France, the sweet foods of the season can’t be missed. These include Easter chocolates, formed as eggs or other shapes; the fine chocolatiers around the country will craft eggs that look like works of art. If you love chocolate, Easter in France will expose you to irresistible selections.

5) Celebration of the Giant Omelette.  On Easter Monday, omelets are especially popular fare, and one town – Bessières, in Southern France – is famous for its tradition of making an enormous omelet publicly in a giant pan; the omelet is then handed out to townspeople. Known as La Fête de l’Omelette Géante, this tradition has also been replicated in some other places.

6) Easter decorations.  Decorations are popular in France, most notably in Alsace.  Flowers, painted eggs, and figurines displayed in windows are common.  Children may also construct nests to lay out in their gardens in the hopes that they will be filled with chocolate eggs.

France is gorgeous in the springtime, and if you come during Easter (which in 2014 falls on April 20th), you’ll get to experience an extra-festive atmosphere.

Happy Easter!

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988