What is the traditional Easter meal in your family? Do you eat ham or turkey or something else? Is there a reason why your family chooses that particular meal?
If you live in France or have French ancestors, chances are you will have a lamb roast or un gigot d’agneau as they say in French. And there is a definite reason for this choice, as with the other French Easter traditions.
Here are some of the Easter traditions in France.
Let’s start with the name for Easter in French, Pâques. Translated literally, it means Passover. As with most languages in the western world (except English and German), Easter is actually named after the Jewish festival of Passover. And this makes sense when you consider that Jesus died at the time of the Passover feast. In fact, His famous last supper was the Passover meal.
Also, Jesus’ death and resurrection were meant to cleanse us from our sins but it was also the moment when God released us from all the ceremonies and rituals usually performed in the tabernacles. Our sins were now forgiven by simply believing on Jesus Christ and asking for His forgiveness.
Which leads us to the traditional Easter meal in France.
Le Gigot d’Agneau
As mentioned above, a lamb roast is a traditional meal served at Easter. This is an obvious representation of the sacrificial lamb of Passover. It is generally spice with herbes de Provence, garlic, cumin, and olive oil. Traditionally, it is served with green beans (often wrapped in a slice of bacon) and potatoes baked in the oven.
Les Cloches de Pâques
In America, we usually associate bells with Christmas. However, in France, there is a well-known tradition of Easter bells. In the 12th century, the Catholic Church forbade all the bells to ring from Maundy Thursday until Easter Sunday. This was to mourn the death of Jesus.
The legend told to children in many Catholic countries, and specifically in France, is that all the bells left on the evening of Maundy Thursday to go to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. They would then return in time for the celebration of His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Which leads to the next French Easter tradition.
La Chasse aux Oeufs
Now you probably know about Easter egg hunts. But do you know why we have them? French Catholic tradition has an explanation that ties in with the legend of the bells.
To continue the story from above, as the bells are flying back to the churches on their return from Rome, they bring with them chocolate and colored eggs. These are dropped in backyards and public parks on their flight back and when the bells ring again for the first time at Easter service, it signals to the children the start of the Easter egg hunt.
However, do you know why it is eggs and chocolate that the bells drop?
Les Oeufs de Pâques
There is actually a very practical explanation for why eggs are associated with Easter. And it goes back once again to Catholic tradition.
During Lent, Catholics were forbidden to eat eggs (among other things). However, the chickens would keep laying (of course) so they would pile up. When the bells rang on Easter Sunday signaling the end of Lent and the resurrection of Christ, most homes would have a surplus of eggs to consume. So they would hard-boil them for consumption and serve them for the next few days.
The decorations came later. Probably around the 15th century when the aristocracy would decorate eggs to give to each other. When Fabergé started created his famous eggs in the 18th century, it solidified this new tradition.
By the way, this also explains Mardi Gras (the day before Lent). People would try to use up all their meats, eggs, and milk before the fast began. This would usually be a lot of food, hence the name Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.
In some parts of France, there is also the tradition of beignets half-way through Lent, also known as Mi-Câreme. This was a way to use those eggs that were piling up without technically eating them. They would be used in a batter to create those delicious doughnuts we all know. You can find an easy recipe on Allrecipes.
Easter is a time for celebration. We worship and rejoice the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
But though this is the common reason for the holiday, the way in which it is celebrated differs between countries, regions, and sometimes even families. We may recognize or even have the same Easter traditions as those I’ve described in France. But it’s interesting to see their origins.
And if you are curious, to know the terms used in France to describe the resurrection story and these Easter traditions, there is a vocabulary list available in French and English. You can sign up below to receive your copy.
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