Nominally Catholic—but in reality mostly secular—France does, indeed, celebrate Easter (called Paques in French) every year. But the celebrations in the City of Light are not nearly as Jesus-y for the faithful or as candy-filled for the non-church-going as are those here in the U.S.
Yes, all of the churches throughout Paris will hold a series of masses on Easter Sunday and the Holy Days leading up to Easter. And many Parisians will attend one of the services, although, it’s fair to say a sizable portion of this week’s attendees are much like their American compatriots across the seas—church-goers only on Christmas and Easter.
And yes, sweet treats are an integral part of Parisian Paques family traditions, including Easter eggs. In fact, nearly every candy, chocolate and pastry shop in Paris will create one or more elaborate (and usually chocolate) eggs for the holidays—and put them up for sale three or four weeks before the actual holiday.
But while American kids go to sleep the night before Easter eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Easter Bunny who hides eggs and candy galore for the kids to find when they wake up, their French peers are dreaming of church bells. Yup, church bells.
Here’s why: In France, all church bells go silent on the Thursday night before Easter and don’t ring again until Easter morning. The legend told to children is that the bells, called the Cloches de Paques, all sprout wings and fly off to Rome to be with the Pope as he waits for Jesus to rise from the dead. On their return trips to their respective churches, they pick up lots and lots of chocolate goodies that they distribute to all the children while en route home. On Easter morning, the bells once again ring, and the kids jump out of bed to see what the “Easter Bells” have brought them.
And while American kids typically get a basket that they fill (overfill?) with all sorts of candy and maybe even small gifts, French children usually get only a few chocolate treats—usually chocolate eggs, a chocolate bell and maybe a chocolate rabbit or chicken (the animals symbolize the arrival of spring). Of course, these eggs are often the decadent and beautiful concoctions of world-famous chocolatiers, so it’s sort of a quality vs. quantity scenario.
Large-scale Easter egg hunts like those held here in the U.S. are only starting to take hold in France. This year in Paris, an egg hunt and Easter party will be held on the Champ de Mars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Sponsored by non-profit organization Secours Populaire, the event will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A section of the park will be roped off and designed as the “egg hunt” area. Children will be search the area for hidden eggs, which can be exchanged for a chocolate treat.
The event also includes several other activities for children, including dancing, make-up artists, magic shows, sporting events and several games with prizes. The festivities will be held near the Mur Pour la Paix section of the Champs de Mars park near the Ecole Militaire (Metro: Ecole Militaire).
But, again, these large-scale events are only recently gaining in popularity. Instead, most Parisian parents will simply hide the treats from the Cloches de Paques in their apartments, and typically not outdoors because few Parisian residences have a private garden or yard. For those families that do want to have a small, private Easter egg hunt outside (if the weather permits) Paris parks provide wonderful settings for these family events. And all city parks are open to the public on Easter Sunday.
Later in the day, while Americans are typically sitting down to a big feast featuring an Easter ham, French families will be gathering for a traditional meal of roasted lamb and beans. Well, that is the families that remain in Paris for Easter weekend. In France (as in much of Europe), the Monday after Easter is a national holiday, and many Parisians will take advantage of the three-day weekend for a “p’tit” getaway, often to visit relatives in other parts of the country, to simply enjoy a final chance to ski in the Alps or to welcome spring’s arrival with a trip to the countryside.
So take note if you are in Paris over the weekend: Many shops and even some museums will be closed on “Easter Monday.”