As spring approaches, France is preparing to celebrate Easter, a religious and popular festival that symbolises renewal and hope. This time of year is marked by many traditions that vary from region to region, but all have conviviality and joie de vivre in common. This article will explore 10 French Easter traditions, from decorated egg displays to spring markets in Alsace, from famous Easter bells to delicious Easter buns. Follow me on a tour of these age-old customs that make up the charm and richness of French culture!
(And as a bonus, I'll tell you my secret for emptying eggs so you can paint them for Easter!)
Watch our video about the French Easter traditions!
Ten French Easter Traditions
1. The Easter Vigil
In French: la vigile pascale / la veillée pascale
The Easter Vigil is a Catholic religious tradition that occurs on Easter night in churches in France and worldwide. This vigil is an important celebration for Catholics, as it marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Easter vigil usually begins in darkness, with all the lights turned off in the church. Then a fire is lit outside the church to symbolise the divine light overcoming death's darkness. This fire is blessed by the priest, who lights the Easter candle, a large candle decorated with religious symbols.
The priest then enters the church, followed by the other clergy and the faithful, all carrying candles lit from the flame of the Easter candle. This procession represents the passage from death to life, symbolised by the light that spreads throughout the church.
From the Old to the New Testaments
The Easter vigil is also marked by reading several passages from the Old Testament, which tell the story of the salvation of humanity. These readings conclude with reading the Gospel of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, followed by the priest's homily.
The Easter Vigil ends with the Easter Mass, during which the faithful receive communion with the new life offered by Jesus Christ. This mass is usually very festive, with songs of praise and floral decorations.
2. Religious processions
In French: les processions religieuses
In some parts of France, religious processions take place during Holy Week and Easter Day to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Processions may include re-enactments of biblical scenes, prayers and songs.
Perpignan's procession of the Penitents
The procession of the Penitents (or Sanch Procession) is an Easter tradition in the south of France, particularly in Perpignan. It dates back to the Middle Ages and consists of a solemn procession in which the Penitents, dressed in brightly coloured tunics and bonnets, walk through the streets singing and praying. The procession is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and the redemption of sins. The Penitents carry crosses, banners and candles, and a band or musical group accompanies the procession. It is an awe-inspiring tradition to see and experience.
Check out the official website of Perpignan Tourist Board for more info...
3. The Easter carillon
In French: le carillon de Pâques
The Easter carillon is a musical tradition in which church bells are rung on Easter Sunday morning. This tradition is widespread in France, where bells are often considered an important symbol of Easter.
The bells remain silent until Resurrection Sunday
According to Christian tradition, church bells stop ringing from Maundy Thursday onwards as a sign of mourning for the death of Jesus. They remain silent throughout Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Then, at Easter Mass, the bells resume ringing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The ringing of the bells in full flight thus marks the end of the Passion and the beginning of the resurrection.
Let the chimes begin!
The ringing of the Easter bells is also accompanied by carillon music, played from the church bells. The chimes usually consist of traditional Easter melodies, such as "O Filii et Filiae" or "Alleluia". Depending on the region and local tradition, the bells may also play popular tunes or religious hymns.
Decorating the bells
Easter bells are very popular in France, often associated with a time of celebration and joy. In the past, children were often invited to participate in the tradition by decorating the bells with ribbons or flowers. The bells were then rung in volleys, producing a joyful and powerful sound that announced the end of the Passion period and the beginning of the Resurrection period.
4. The Easter bells
In French: les cloches de Pâques
The French Easter tradition of the bells is prevalent in the country, especially among children. According to this tradition, the church bells, which were silent during Holy Week, come back to life on Easter Day and ring joyfully to announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Going on a pilgrimage to Rome!
According to popular belief, the bells fly to Rome to be blessed by the Pope before returning in time to ring on Easter Day. To make their return more fun for children, legend has it that the bells fly with Easter eggs and drop them on gardens and fields on the way.
So on Easter Sunday, children wake up early and rush to the gardens to look for the Easter eggs hidden by the Easter bells. The eggs are often made of chocolate, coloured or decorated with festive motifs.
5. The Easter eggs
In French: les œufs de Pâques
The Easter French tradition of eggs dates back to ancient times when the egg symbolised rebirth, renewal and fertility. With the arrival of Christianity, the egg became a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The tradition of Easter eggs is very popular in France, especially among children. Easter eggs are often made of chocolate, decorated with festive designs and hidden in gardens or houses for children to search and find.
Decorating the eggs
There are also other Easter egg traditions in France, such as decorating coloured hard-boiled eggs with natural dyes or creating decorative paper mache eggs.
Playing around the eggs
In some regions of France, traditional Easter games involve eggs, such as the egg race. In this activity, two players stand at a distance from each other and roll a hard-boiled egg towards each other, trying to break it. The player who manages to keep his egg intact wins the game.
Easter eggs are a joyful and playful tradition that is very popular with children in France. It is a way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the arrival of spring and the fertility season.
6. The Easter egg hunt
In French: la chasse aux œufs de Pâques
The Easter egg hunt is a prevalent tradition in France, especially among children. It is a fun and playful activity that involves hiding chocolate or plastic Easter eggs in the garden, home or park and letting the children search for them.
Children love this tradition as it allows them to spend time outdoors with family and friends while searching for sweet treats. Easter eggs can be hidden in hard-to-find places to make the hunt fun and exciting for children.
A fun activity for children
Easter egg hunts can also be organised at public events, such as Easter parties in parks or community centres. These events can include other fun activities for children, such as games, crafts, performances and parades.
The Easter egg hunt is a tradition that celebrates the arrival of spring, the rebirth of nature, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is very popular with children in France and is often combined with other Easter traditions, such as egg decorating and the tradition of Easter bells.
7. Easter Fritures
In French: les fritures de Pâques
Fritures de Pâques is a French culinary tradition that makes sweets in the shape of eggs, chickens, rabbits and other animals associated with Easter. These treats are often made of chocolate but can also be made of sugar, marzipan or marzipan.
The origins of fritures
Easter chocolate fritures have a long history in France and date back to the 19th century. Initially, these treats were made by hand by local chocolatiers who used metal moulds to shape the chocolates. Today, Easter fritures are still popular and are sold in many confectioneries and chocolate shops in France.
Easter fritures are often presented in pretty cardboard or metal boxes decorated with Easter motifs. These boxes are usually given as Easter gifts or used as festive decorations.
Although Easter fritures are often associated with children, they are also enjoyed by adults. Giving them as gifts or adding them to an Easter basket filled with chocolates, sweets, and other goodies is common.
Different types of fritures
Chocolatiers often use different types of chocolate to add variety to their creations. For example, you can find dark, milk and white chocolate fritures. In France, there is a wide variety of Easter fritures, ranging from small chocolate eggs to large chocolate hens and bunnies.
8. The leg of lamb
In French: le gigot d'agneau
The leg of lamb is a dish traditionally served at Easter in France, and more generally in Christian countries. This tradition goes back to the Old Testament, where the Passover lamb was sacrificed as a sign of redemption for the people of Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus is called the Lamb of God, reinforcing the lamb's symbolism in connection with Easter.
A traditional family dish
In France, the leg of lamb at Easter is a traditional family dish. Families often gather around the table to enjoy the meal together. Inviting friends and neighbours to share this convivial moment is common.
The preparation and serving of the lamb
The choice of lamb is crucial for the success of the dish. The French often prefer salt-meadow lamb, raised in the salt meadows along the Channel coast. This type of lamb is appreciated for its tender flesh and delicate taste. The leg of lamb is usually cooked at a low temperature for several hours to make it soft and tasty. It is accompanied by garlic, thyme, rosemary and other aromatic herbs. The cook will is often serve it with seasonal vegetables such as asparagus, peas or new potatoes.
Easter lamb is often served with a full-bodied red wine, such as Bordeaux, Cahors or Côtes-du-Rhône. This is the perfect accompaniment to the meat and the robust flavours of the dish.
9. The Easter brioche
In French: la brioche de Pâques
A sweet brioche shaped like a crown with coloured eggs in the middle is also an Easter tradition in France.
The Easter brioche is often prepared in large quantities to be shared with family and friends at the traditional Easter meal. It can be prepared in advance and stored for a few days, making it a practical dessert for large family celebrations.
Depending on the region, the shape of the brioche can vary: it can be crown-shaped, braided or rabbit-shaped. When the brioche is shaped like a crown, it symbolises the crown of thorns worn by Jesus before his crucifixion, while the eggs represent rebirth and resurrection.
In Alsace, the brioche takes the shape of a lamb (the lamala or lamele).
10. Easter Exhibitions and Markets
In French: Expositions de Pâques
Easter exhibitions are a widespread tradition in many parts of France. They consist of displays of decorated eggs, often very colourful and imaginative, created by artists, artisans, schools, community groups and individuals.
The eggs are often decorated with traditional Easter motifs such as flowers, butterflies, bunnies, chicks, bells or crosses. Artists may use various decoration techniques, including painting, pyrography, engraving, cutting, embroidery, gilding and glittering.
Easter exhibitions are often held in churches, museums, cultural centres or public squares. Activities for children, such as egg-decorating workshops, egg hunts, storytelling and performances, may accompany the markets.
This tradition is a way for communities to celebrate the Easter season and showcase their creativity and artistic talent. It is also an opportunity for visitors to learn about local customs and traditions.
Easter markets (in Alsace)
In French: Marchés de Pâques / Marchés de printemps
In Alsace, Easter markets are annual events in several Alsatian towns and villages, such as Colmar and Strasbourg. These markets are an opportunity to celebrate the arrival of spring and the Easter festival.
The most famous Easter market in Alsace is the one in Colmar. This market offers plants, flowers, various Easter decorations, jewellery, and handicrafts. In addition to the market stalls, Colmar offers many events during Easter, such as concerts, exhibitions and workshops for children.
Like Christmas markets, Easter markets in Alsace are becoming a real institution, attracting families and tourists during Easter. They are an opportunity to discover Alsatian traditions and to spend a convivial moment with family and friends.
Check out the official website of Colmar Tourist Board for more info...
How to empty an egg before painting it for Easter?
One of the favourite French Easter traditions is decorating eggs. Emptying an egg is essential if you want to paint or decorate eggs for Easter. Here are the steps to empty an egg:
- raw eggs
- a pin
- a bowl
- a small skewer or toothpick
- a large bowl of soapy water
- Start by pinching a hole at each end of the egg. You can make a small hole at one end and a slightly larger hole at the other.
- Insert a skewer or toothpick through the hole to break up the yolk and white of the egg.
- Hold the egg over a bowl and blow gently into the smaller hole to release the egg's contents.
- Allow the egg to drain completely and rinse it with cold water.
- Dip the empty egg into a large bowl of soapy water and rinse it thoroughly to remove any residue.
- Let the empty egg air dry, or use a hair dryer to dry the inside.
- Once you have emptied your eggs, you can paint or decorate them to suit your Easter preferences. Emptying eggs can be a bit tricky, so make sure you take your time and be gentle to avoid breaking the egg.
More about the French Easter traditions
Check out our pages about the French Easter traditions :