Monday, March 28, 2016

Flying Bells and Other Easter Shenanigans

I often get asked by friends and family what holidays the French celebrate and most people are shocked to learn that they celebrate most of the same holidays that we do: New Years, Christmas, Easter, Labor Day, a National Holiday in July- even typically "American" holidays such as Halloween and Valentine's Day are starting to trickle their way into French culture.  One of my favorite parts about living in France is being able to celebrate these holidays and compare and contrast typical French traditions with typical American traditions.  This year marks my second time celebrating Easter in France and here are 5 fun facts that I have learned about French Easter:

1. Celebrating Easter in more symbolic than religious
Although over half the French population identify themselves as Christians, only about 5% of French people attend a church service regularly.  Today France prides itself on being a secular country, however this doesn't stop them from celebrating almost every Christian holiday possible- Easter included.  Although celebrating Easter in France has become more symbolic than religious almost every French household celebrates the holiday in some form or another and in the weeks leading up to Easter it is not uncommon to see Easter decorations hung in store fronts and restaurants.

2. Easter Monday is almost as important as Easter Sunday 
Easter in France is always considered an automatic 3 day weekend.  Lundi de Paques or Easter Monday is a Public Holiday meaning that schools and stores are closed and almost no one works.  This is a time to be spent with family and close friends.  If the weather is nice many French people head to the park to enjoy a picnic or simply take part in springtime activities.  It is not uncommon for Easter Egg hunts to be held on Easter Monday and many French families eat omelettes on this day made from left over Easter eggs.

3. Flying Bells bring goodies to French children
In France the Easter Bunny doesn't exist.  Instead children believe that flying bells bring them candy and other goodies on Easter morning.  The tradition goes a little something like this: in a country where churches are everywhere and church bells sound the hour throughout the day a huge absence is felt when, following Catholic tradition, the bells stop ringing from Good Friday through Easter Sunday.  To explain the silence, parents tell their children that the bells have flown to Rome to be blessed by the Pope and will return on Easter morning with chocolates, colored eggs, and other fun surprises.

4. Pascal Lamb is the "chosen" meal
L'agneau Pascal or Pascal Lamb is the traditional meal that is enjoyed on Easter throughout France.  The lamb is symbolic of many things including Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, new life, and springtime.  The Easter lamb is often roasted and accompanied with asparagus or other green vegetables.

5. Chocolate Fish are a popular symbol of April and therefore Easter
Seeing chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs in stores around Easter seems completely normal, but what about chocolate fish?  The fish, which are the symbol used to mark April 1 (April Fool's Day in the US) or "le poisson d'avril" in France, start appearing in stores and chocolate shops about the same time as other Easter goodies.  Although the fish technically have no actual correlation with Easter it's not uncommon to see them mixed in with other Easter decorations.  On April 1 in France, children run around sticking cut-outs of fish to each others backs.  The person who walks around without noticing the fish becomes the "Poisson d'avril" or the April Fish !

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