Bad news on Good Friday – the Friday before Easter is not a public holiday in France. So all the shops, restaurants and businesses will be open as usual. Zone A School holidays start officially on 8th April which allows families to travel to visit friends or relations over the Easter weekend. Easter Monday is a public holiday.
Originally in France the public holiday was to allow servants and others who had worked on Easter day a day off to be with their families. The rich had their holiday on Sunday and the poor had their holiday a day later, sometimes they were allowed to take leftover food home for their families.
France is mainly Roman Catholic (approx. 90%) and all towns and cities have a church, many as old as the 12th century. Most churches have a bell, which is rung to mark the hour and various other events throughout the year. On the Thursday before Good Friday all the church bells in France stop ringing and remain silent until Easter morning in acknowledgement of Jesus’ death. Children are told that the bells have flown to Rome to see the Pope. Then in the night between Saturday and Sunday, the bells are supposed to come back from Rome to announce the ressurection of Jesus, and during that night, the bells are supposed to leave some chocolate all along their way back to their church. On Easter morning the bells ring out again to celebrate the Resurrection and that Jesus is alive again. (Sadly, many churches have automated bells now and in rural areas there may only be one local Prête to look after all of the Canton).
Easter eggs in France are just as popular as in the UK. As well as eggs, there are traditionally Easter Bunnies, Easter Hens, Easter Bells (cloches)or “friture” (little chocolate fish). These can be bought from the Supermarket, a local bakery or a “chocolatier”. On Easter morning children wake up and to to look for colorfully decorated Easter eggs (les oeufs de Pâques) hidden in their gardens or homes. Parents tell their children the eggs were brought from Rome (where the chimes had gone), and that when the chimes returned they brought the eggs with them. These edible bells are another nod the the resurrection of Jesus, a time for celebration, and the end of Lent.
Easter is traditionally a family celebration in France, and as always a good excuse for a large family Sunday lunch, for which the traditional meat is roast lamb.
Traditional Easter Sunday lunch is often followed by a family walk or perhaps some games involving raw eggs – raw eggs are rolled down a small hill and the egg that does not break is declared the victory egg, and symbolizes the stone being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.
There is also a game involving children tossing raw eggs in the air. The first child to drop and break his egg is the loser, and in some versions, must pay a penalty (e.g. give up a piece of his Easter egg).