Here are ten of the most important French traditions for Easter (“Pâques” in French). After Christmas, Easter is one of the main religious celebrations in France, and its celebration is deeply rooted in the French culture. Indeed, Pâques is a major holiday in France: a religious one of course, but also a traditional gathering for families, religious or not.
The French celebrate Easter in many different ways, and it can vary across regions. And besides the traditional ringing of the bells, the Easter egg hunt, and chocolate-shaped eggs, the French observe other Easter traditions. Being French, I’ve gathered all of the most important French Easter traditions in order for you to learn more about how we really celebrate Easter in France.
But first, how do you say “Happy Easter” in French?
The Name Easter · Le Nom de Pâques
The French word “Pâques” derives from the Latin “Pascha”, a word derived from Aramaic Paskha, cognate to Hebrew Pesach. The word originally denoted the Jewish festival known in English as Passover (“Pâque” in French), commemorating the Jewish Exodus from slavery in Egypt.
In the Catholic religion, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion on Good Friday. Easter Sunday also marks the end of the fasting period of Lent. In France, we celebrate Easter Sunday on the first Sunday following the first full moon of spring.
The Easter Weekend · Le Weekend de Pâques
In France, “Pâques” is an important holiday and consists of a long three-day weekend. Easter Sunday (Dimanche de Pâques) and Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques) are public holidays in France and most shops and administrations are closed. On the other hand, Good Friday (Vendredi Saint) is a working day, except in Alsace.
The Easter Bells · Les Cloches de Pâques
In France, in most of the regions, it’s traditionally believed that it’s the Easter Bells (“les cloches de Pâques”) who bring the eggs to the children on Sunday morning. In the Catholic tradition, Church bells don’t ring between Maundy Thursday “le Jeudi Saint” and Easter Sunday, to commemorate the death of Christ and his resurrection. According to the legend, the bells would fly to Rome to be blessed by the Pope and then come back from this trip loaded with chocolates and treats. The bells would then ring on Easter Sunday to announce the Resurrection of Christ and therefore their return.
The Easter Hare · Le Lièvre de Pâques
Under the influence of Germany, Alsace has developed certain traditions that are not found anywhere else in France. One of them for Easter is that it is not the Easter Bells, but the Easter hare that brings the (chocolate) eggs to the children on Sunday morning. Children create nests with leaves, moss, or grass which they place in the garden, hoping that during the night they would be filled up with multi-colored (chocolate) eggs.
The Easter Eggs · Les Oeufs de Pâques
The egg symbolizes life, renewal and is a strong symbol of fertility. It is therefore the ideal representation of Spring. In many ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Greeks, it is customary to offer eggs at the arrival of this season.
In France, this tradition dated back to the 13th century. At that time, hard-boiled eggs were painted in red —to recall the Blood of Christ— before being offered. This tradition is even more symbolic since it is forbidden to eat eggs during Lent (the 40-day fasting period preceding Easter).
Over the centuries, the decorations of these eggs have become more and more refined, as shown by the eggs decorated by Watteau and Lancret, offered to the daughter of Louis XV. Or the famous Fabergé eggs —valuable gold goldsmith pieces, and stones considered masterpieces of the art of the jeweler— ordered by Nicolas II of the Russian imperial family and offered for Easter to his wife and mother.
In France, it was only in the 18th century, in the high society that fresh eggs were emptied and filled with chocolate. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the technique for tempering chocolate was developed. Since then, Easter celebrations have been associated with chocolate-shaped eggs and other chocolate figures!
The Easter Chocolate · Le Chocolat de Pâques
Chocolate is one of the very popular French Easter traditions. Decorated chocolate eggs and other chocolate figures are common gifts to give to children and adults at Easter. In France, in addition to egg shapes, it’s common to see chocolate designed in the shapes of chickens, bunnies, ducks, bells, but also fishes and seashells called “Fritures de Pâques” when there are in small format.
Also, French chocolatiers have a long-standing tradition of creating oversized ornamental chocolate eggs that are given as gifts. And even in the best French pâtisseries-chocolateries, great attention to detail results in chocolate eggs looking more like pieces of art than anything edible.
The Best Places To Buy Easter Chocolates in Paris
- Patrick Roger
- Jacques Genin
- Jean-Paul Hévin
- Pierre Hermé
- La Maison du Chocolat
- À la Mère de Famille
- La Manufacture Alain Ducasse
- Pierre Marcolini
- Hugo & Victor
- Maison Boissier
The Easter Egg Hunt · La Chasse Aux Oeufs
In France, the Easter egg hunt is one of the most popular French Easter traditions. On Easter morning, children take place in an Easter egg hunt which happens generally in homes in the back gardens and other public gathering places. Chocolates and chocolate-shaped eggs (and not hard-boiled ones) are hidden in the garden, then children go and hunt for the hidden eggs.
The biggest Easter egg hunt in France is in Chateaux Vaux-Le-Vicomte located in Maincy, southeast of Paris. Their annual Easter egg hunt is widely considered one of the best, where children hunt for eggs in the acres of gardens, ride on ponies and hunt for a giant one-meter tall chocolate squirrel.
The Lamb · L’Agneau Pascal
As with many national holidays, it is a French tradition to have a family meal at Easter. This meal traditionally includes Pâté berrichon or pâté de Pâques, deviled eggs (Oeufs mimosa), or white asparagus (asperges blanches) as a starter and lamb as a main —either lamb shanks (Souris d’agneau), leg of lamb (Gigot d’agneau), rack of lamb (Carré d’agneau), or lamb stew (Navarin d’agneau).
One of the most traditional dishes cooked for the Easter Sunday meal is the “Gigot d’agneau de 7 heures” (see Alain Ducasse’s recipe below) which is a leg of lamb cooked for seven hours in the oven with garlic, carrots, olive oil, Provencal herbs, and dry white wine. This dish is usually served with potatoes, green beans, or flageolet beans.
Alain Ducasse’s Gigot d’Agneau de Sept Heures
For the pâte morte (see note below):
- 300 g flour +3 table spoons
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 egg
For the gigot d'agneau:
- 1 leg of lamb (1.4kg)
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 2 slices of bacon (2mm thick)
- 10 cl dry white wine
- 25 cl veal stock
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- olive oil
For the pâte morte:
- In a mixing bowl, put the flour and a pinch of salt. Add the egg and 15cl of water. Mix well until you obtain an elastic dough.
- Put the dough on a piece of floured cling film. Wrap it in the film as for a papillote. Let it rest for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
For the gigot d'agneau:
- Clean and tie the lamb. Season all over with salt and pepper and let it rest at room temperature.
- Separate the garlic cloves. Peel the onion and the carrot. Wash the carrot, cut it into four lengthwise, then into small cubes. Cut the onion in half and chop it.
- Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a dutch oven. Add the lamb to the rounded side. Brown it for 5 minutes over high heat on all sides, basting it with the oil. Remove the lamb from the dutch oven and set it aside.
- Put the garlic cloves, carrot, and onion in the dutch oven, salt. Add the bacon and sauté for 1 minute over low heat, stirring. Add the white wine, mix, then let it evaporate completely over medium heat, without letting it burn.
- Put the lamb back in the dutch oven, rounded side up, placing it on top of the vegetables. Pour the veal stock around. Add the thyme and bay leaf.
- Clean the edges of the casserole with a wet brush and bring to a boil.
- Lightly flour the work surface and roll the pâte morte, stretching it to form a sausage 2 cm in diameter.
- Preheat the oven to 120°C/248°F. Run a damp brush around the lid of the dutch oven.
- Place the sausage of dough on the edge of the lid, pressing down to seal it well with the casserole. Bake and cook for 7 hours.
- At the end of cooking, take the casserole out of the oven. Peel off the dough with a knife, open the casserole and pass a damp brush over the edges. Remove the strings from the lamb and serve it with a spoon.
The Lammele · Le Lämmele de Pâques
The lammele, pronounced “lamala” in Haut-Rhin (an Alsatian word meaning “little Easter lamb”) and also called Osterlammele, is a traditional Alsace pastry in the shape of a paschal lamb offered on the morning of Easter day. It’s traditionally cooked in a glazed terracotta mold, still made by the potters of Soufflenheim. This paschal lamb is a genoise cake and is traditionally eaten for breakfast with a homemade hot chocolate or with a fruit salad.
The Easter Brioche · La Brioche de Pâques
In France, the brioche de Pâques is one of the traditional desserts for Easter. There are different brioches depending on the regions of France: the gâche Vendéenne from Vendée, the “lou chaudèu” (“l’échaudé”) from Nice, or the Campanile (Cacavellu or Caccaveddu) from Corsica. According to the tradition, the Campanile is a brioche decorated with a hard-boiled egg that is placed in the dough before baking. Braided, with chocolate, or sprinkled with sugar, there are numerous brioche recipes but they have all something in common: they allow to finish the Easter meal on a soft and airy note.
Alain Ducasse’s French Braided Brioche Recipe
- 250 ml full-fat milk
- 10 g dry baker's yeast
- 500 g flour (T65)
- 10 g salt
- 60 g sugar
- 2 eggs
- 70 g unsalted butter
- Warm the milk. In a bowl, dissolve the yeast with 100 ml of lukewarm milk and leave it to rest for 15 minutes.
- In a bowl, mix the flour with salt and sugar. Sink a well. Pour the dissolved yeast, the rest of the lukewarm milk, and 1 beaten egg into the well. Mix with your fingertips, bringing the flour to the center of the bowl, until all the ingredients are incorporated.
- Place the dough on a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Add the butter cut into small pieces and knead again. The dough should be smooth, homogeneous, and slightly sticky. Form a ball, place it in the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to rise for one hour and half hours in a warm place.
- Knead the dough with your fist to remove the air. Cut the dough into three pieces and form sausages with each piece and braid them. Place the braid on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 1 hour in a warm place.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/356°F. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the brioche with the second beaten egg. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Et voilà! Joyeuse Pâques! I hope this guide to the French Easter traditions will inspire you! If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.
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