French Tradition: PÂques

Pâques or Easter in English is a religious festival and is one of the most important holidays in France, it has now become a traditional gathering for French families despite their religious affiliation.

The word ‘pâques’ in French comes from the Latin word ‘pascua’ meaning food which itself comes from the Hebrew word ‘pessah’ meaning passing way (or passage). Pâques in France therefore has many different meanings to it. Interestingly enough, the French distinguish between the Jewish and Christian festival of Easter with grammar (of course!) The Jewish festival is referred to as ‘la Paque juive’ in the singular, but the Christian festival is usually called ‘les fêtes chrétiennes de Pâques’ or more simply ‘Pâques’ in the plural.

Les Cloches De Pâques

If you are walking around the French supermarket wondering why there are chocolate bells on the shelves it is because the French do not celebrate Easter with a bunny like Anglo Saxon commercial tradition dictates, but rather with  ‘les cloches de pâques’.  Traditionally Catholicism states that Church bells ring every day of the year to invite the faithful to attend the Mass, except at Easter where they do not ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday to commemorate the death of Christ and his resurrection. Myth has it that at this time the bells, with wings attached,  flew to Rome to be blessed by the Pope over these 2 days and they would randomly drop treats for the joy of children. The bells fly back on Saturday night so Sunday morning is the opening of ‘la chasse aux oeufs’ in France, otherwise known as the Easter egg hunt! Somebody in the family will shout ‘les cloches sont passées’ (meaning the bells have passed) and the children run outside on the hunt for their chocolate eggs!  Traditionally these eggs would have been real eggs that, after having been found, would have been boiled and then decorated by the children, coloured in red with onion juice, pink with radish and green with ivy. Most children now get chocolate eggs instead, much to their enjoyment!

L’agneau Pascal

After the egg hunt and the Sunday of fun, Easter is celebrated with the traditional meal, l’Agneau Pascal, Pascal(e) coming from the word ‘Pâques’. This meal will usually consist of asparagus vinaigrette and eggs to start followed by a main course of roasted lamb. For pudding it is customary to serve the first strawberries of the season or to make a nest shaped cake.

Joyeuses Pâques!

Easter Vocabulary

  • Pâques = Easter
  • La Pâque (Juive) = Passover
  • La Careme = Lent
  • Un gigot d’agneau = lamb roast
  • Les cloches de Pâques = Flying Easter Bells
  • Des oeufs en chocolat = chocolate eggs
  • Un lapin = a rabbit
Oeufs de Paques