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Easter (Paques) in France facts and traditions

    A girl picks up some chocolate eggs in her garden on Easter Sunday in Lyon, France.   

France, with its strong Catholic history, celebrates Easter with great enthusiasm. The country revels in Easter festivities and shops are decorated with white and dark chocolate rabbits, chickens, bells and fish (often associated with Poisson d'Avril). Children wake up on the Easter Sunday morning in search of Easter eggs (les oeufs de Paques) around their house and garden. French people also have a three day long weekend to allow Easter to be celebrated properly with their families. There are also many other Easter traditions:

Cloche volant or flying bells are another important part of the Easter traditions of France. French Catholics believe that on Good Friday, all the church bells in France fly to the Vatican in Rome, carrying with them the grief of those who mourn Jesus' crucifixion on that day. These flying bells return on Easter Sunday morning and bring with them lots of chocolate and eggs. In keeping with the tradition, French church bells do not ring from Good Friday to Easter Sunday morning. Often there are processions on Good Friday recognising the path Jesus took: see photos of one we saw in Calvi on the island of Corsica.

The contest of rolling raw eggs down a gentle slope is an old custom followed in France on Easter. As per the legends, the surviving egg was the victory egg and symbolized the stone being rolled away from the tomb of the Christ.

During the reign of Louis XIV, a tradition evolved where the King was entitled to the largest egg laid during the week preceding Easter Sunday. On Easter, coloured eggs painted with gold leaf were blessed. Then, the king would ceremoniously distribute the eggs to his courtisans and valets. The custom was abolished in France after the Revolution.

In France, offering eggs as Easter gifts began in the 4th century A.D. Church law dictated that Christians must abstain from eating meat or eggs during the 40 days of fasting that preceded Easter. On Easter Sunday, surplus eggs from hens that continued laying during the period were used to make an omelette Legend had it that if on Easter Day, the first thing eaten was an egg that had been laid on Good Friday, you would be protected from illness until the following Easter.

Over Easter, in the grounds of the Chateaux Vaux le Vicomte just outside of Paris, the largest egg hunt in France takes place with tens of thousands of eggs to be found by both kids and their parents. There are also other 'chasses aux oeufs' around Paris and elsewhere you can visit over the Easter weekend.

The main Easter meal is a traditional lamb dish (agneau) either 'gigot d'agneau' (leg of lamb) or lamb stew (navarin is popular).

In Bessieres near Toulouse, every year on Easter Monday they prepare a giant omelette in recognition of when Napoleon Bonaparte and his army stayed overnight near the town. After enjoying an omelette prepared by a local innkeeper he ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the village and to prepare a huge omelette for his army the next day.

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