French Easter Traditions: bells not bunnies

Written by Matilda Marseillaise

15 Apr 2022

3 min read

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French Easter Traditions: bells not bunnies

Did you know that in most of France (except for Alsace with its Germanic history), it is not the Easter Bunny but the church bells that deliver the Easter chocolates?


Pâques: The French word for Easter

There are two widely supported theories as to how the French word for Easter, Pâques came to be. One is that it comes from the Latin word ‘Pascua’ meaning “food”. The other is that it comes from the Jewish Easter “Passa’h” (or Passover in English).


But why bells?

For several centuries in Belgium, France and Italy, the ringing of church bells has been banned between the Thursday before Easter and Easter Sunday. To explain why the bells weren’t ringing, children were told that the bells were flying to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. Upon their return, they would sound and drop the chocolate eggs, chickens, and rabbits, so eagerly awaited by the children, in the gardens.

Whereas, in Alsace, as in Australia, the Germanic tradition of the Easter bunny continues.


Easter eggs

The giving of Easter eggs dates back to the 4th century but not in their chocolate form. Meat and eggs were not allowed to be eaten during the 40 days of Lent so on Easter Sunday all of the eggs from that 40 day period were used to make an omelette.


Easter meals

Roast lamb is a traditional Easter Sunday meal. It’s believed to have sprung (excuse the pun) from the Hebrew tradition of sacrificing a sacred lamb for Easter. Traditionally seasoned with provençal herbs, cumin, garlic and olive oil, the lamb is served with green or flageolet beans and potatoes.

Whereas Alsace has a different take on Easter lamb. It has a special lamb shaped Easter cake which is covered in icing sugar called Lamalas de Pâques. It’s also known as “Oschterlämmele” (for the lower Rhine area) or “Oschterlammala” (in the upper Rhine area).

In the rest of the France, there is a ring-shaped pastry with a coloured Easter egg in the middle which is called the gâche de Pâques.


Giant omelette

In the French town of Bessières, Easter Monday sees a massive omelette made with 15,000 eggs! Several chefs from the organisation called Knights of the Giant Omelette will use giant wooden spoons to cook the omelette in the town square.

Some key French vocab for Easter:

  • Pâques – Easter
  • Joyeuxses Pâques – Happy Easter
  • Les Cloches de Pâques – the Easter bells
  • Les cloches sont passées! – The Easter bells have visited!
  • l’Osterhase (le lièvre de Pâques) – the Easter bunny in Alsace
  • La gâche de Pâques – Easter brioche
  • Œuf en chocolat – chocolate egg
  • Les chasses aux œufs – Easter egg hunts
  • Le Carême – Lent
  • Vendredi Saint – Good Friday
  • Dimanche de Pâques – Easter Sunday

Matilda Marseillaise

Matilda Marseillaise, affectionately known as MM, is a bilingual (French and English) website about all things French and francophone in Australia. The site’s creator and writer has travelled the world and has lived in France and Belgium but currently calls Australia her permanent home. Learning French from a young age, she went on to study it at university level and had a strong interest and passion for French culture. While she no longer lives in France or Belgium, she has kept the French joie de vivre in her Aussie life.

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