Easter is a Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So you would think that France, a country with a strict concept of laicité (meaning “separation of religion and state”), wouldn’t really celebrate Easter.
However, owing to its strong Catholic traditions and history, this is an important holiday in the French calendar.
The French word for Easter is “Pâques” which comes from the Latin “pascua”, meaning “food”. It shouldn’t be confused with the French word for Passover. There is a difference between the two spellings in French:
- Pâque juive – Passover
- Pâques – Easter
The Hebrew “Pessah” meaning “passage” which remembers the Exodus out of Egypt, and is called “Pâque juive” in French.
With that, let’s have a look at some of the top traditions in France for Easter, shall we? Allons-y!
1. Public holiday on Easter Monday.
While Good Friday is usually the public holiday in North America, in France it is Easter Monday that is the public holiday. Based on the Jewish calendar, Easter falls on the Sunday after the Passover full moon.
In the Middle ages dating back to the 11th century, the whole Easter week was generally a holiday in France. Sadly in 1801, only Easter Monday was made a public holiday, by Napoleon Bonaparte with concordat of the Pope.
Officially today, it is the law of March 8, 1886, which establishes Easter Monday as a public holiday in France.
However, certain regions like Alsace and Moselle have Good Friday off as well, giving them a 4-day long weekend. This is due to Alsace’s German heritage, as in Germany Good Friday is usually a public holiday as well.
2. No Easter bunny
An interesting note is that there is no Easter Bunny in France. Lapin (rabbits) are considered a food delicacy so it would be difficult for French people to explain to their young children why they are eating that cute little rabbit who gave them some chocolate eggs.
3. Church services and family gatherings
Easter in France is typically a religious holiday celebrated with church services and family gatherings. Many people attend mass on Easter Sunday and partake in a large traditional lunch afterwards.
If visiting someone house, flowers are usually offered to the host. Some flowers that can be offered in France for Easter are:
- White lilies
4. Easter eggs for children
Some French families also participate in the tradition of “la chasse aux oeufs,” or the egg hunt, where children search for hidden Easter eggs. Many towns across France organize an easter egg hunt in a nearby park.
Small children are invited to collect the scattered plastic eggs and exchange them for chocolate eggs to take home. There are also usually games and stands of food and music for the full family to enjoy.
In addition to these celebrations, many people in France also take the opportunity to enjoy the spring weather and spend time outdoors. This might include going for a walk or a picnic to celebrate the start of spring.
5. French Easter lunch menu
In France, people usually gather on Easter for a family meal or gathering at lunchtime. Dishes like a feast of lamb or pork loin are served with seasonal spring vegetables.
Starters and appetizers such as asparagus wrapped in prosciutto or tomato bruschetta are also very popular. For Easter dessert, a bûche de pâques or chocolate log cake is served, similar to the traditional dessert that is served at a French Christmas dinner.
6. Other festivals and holidays
There are also several festivals in March and April in France around the date of Easter. The city of Arles holds a large Easter feria bull-fighting festival in April. This area is part of the Camargue department near the French-Spanish border, and a strong Spanish influence.
There are also several Mardi Gras and carnival celebrations around France that extend from February to May. It can also fall during the school spring holidays, where French children are off of school for 2 weeks.
Overall, Easter in France is a time for reflection and spending time with loved ones. If you enjoyed that article, you may like to download some free Easter French-English flashcards below. A bientôt!