What are the traditions of Good Friday in France?


Good Friday is part of the Holy Week of Easter and commemorates the sacrifices Jesus-Christ made and his crucifixion at Calvary some 2,000 years ago. In France, the religious holiday is referred to ‘Vendredi Saint’ (Holy Friday) and is not a public holiday except in the northeastern provinces.

The Passion of Christ

Jesus Christ in his Passion, oil painting canvas by Matthias Stom circa 1633-1639

Jesus Christ in his Passion, oil painting canvas by Matthias Stom circa 1633-1639

Good Friday is a day observed as holy by the church in France and Europe. It commemorates the Passion of Christ according to the Gospels: the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, his arrestation by the Roman guards, his interrogation by the Sanhedrin, Herod and Pontius Pilate, his flagellation and the crucifixion in Jerusalem at a site called the ‘Place of the Skull’ (or Golgotha) along with two criminals.

Good Friday in France: A Christian Commemoration

Good Friday in France: Calvary in Kientzheim, Alsace © French Moments

Calvary in Kientzheim, Alsace © French Moments

For all Christians in France, Good Friday is an important day of commemoration as it represents the sacrifice Jesus made for them.

For the Catholic church, Good Friday is treated as a fast day when only one full meal and two collations are taken (without meat). To this day many French families would eat fish on Good Friday and abstain from meat, hence the name ‘Fish Friday’ sometimes given to the day.

At church, Good Friday follows a specific liturgy including three parts: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion.

The Stations of the Cross – le chemin de croix

Good Friday in France: Stations of the Cross, Rocamadour © French Moments

Good Friday in France: Stations of the Cross, Rocamadour © French Moments

On Good Friday observant Catholics follow the Stations of the Cross (in French: chemin de croix). Also named Way of the Cross, the path is either set inside of churches or outside on the slope of a hill for example (a perfect example is found in Rocamadour). Consisting of 14 stages, it refers to a series of images depicting the Passion of Jesus:

  1. Jesus is condemned to death
  2. Jesus carries his cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls the second time
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
  11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Often a 15th stage is added representing the Resurrection of Christ.

Good Friday in France: Stations of the Cross, Rocamadour © French Moments

Good Friday in France: Stations of the Cross, Rocamadour © French Moments

Where are the bells gone?

On Good Friday church bells are not rung in France. Children are told that they have gone on pilgrimage to Rome (and will return on Easter Sunday with chocolate eggs!).

Unlike many other European countries Good Friday is not a public holiday in France. However according to local law, Good Friday is a public holiday in the départements of Moselle (57), Bas-Rhin (67), and Haut-Rhin (68) where shops, administrations, post offices and banks are closed.

For French people wanting a long weekend, it is common to take the Friday off. This is called ‘Faire le pont’.

English-French Vocabulary

(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs

  • bell = cloche (f)
  • bunny = lapin (m)
  • to celebrate = célébrer (v)
  • chocolate = chocolat (m)
  • church = église (f)
  • crucifixion = crucifixion (f)
  • Easter = Pâques (f)
  • egg = œuf (m)
  • fish = poisson (m)
  • Good Friday = Vendredi Saint (m)
  • Holy Week = Semaine Sainte (f)
  • Jesus = Jésus
  • Passion of Christ = Passion du Christ (f)
  • public holiday = jour férié (m)
  • Stations of the Cross = chemin de croix (m)
  • Sunday = dimanche (m)
  • tradition = tradition (f)
  • Way of the Cross = chemin de croix (m)

Read more about Easter in Alsace on our French blog!


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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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