Tradition • History • Fun (with Chocolate)
Pâques is very much a family holiday in France. Since 1886, the 3-day weekend is a public holiday; most shops & supermarkets will be closed both Easter Sunday & Monday. While there are no grass-filled, whicker Easter baskets full of Peeps, Jellybellies, egg-shaped Reeses, etc., there is still chocolate, lots of it, the traditional family meal & bien sûr, la chasse aux oeufs de Pâques (Easter egg hunt).
Regardless of whether or not you are Christian, visiting one of the many churches in Paris during Holy week could be an interesting cultural experience. Organized religion is generally on the decline in Europe; however, most French still traditionally affiliate with Catholicism. Major churches & famous cathedrals will be packed for Easter services. At the top of that list is Cathedral Notre Dame of Paris, which will be especially busy, since they just installed a new set of bells, & it’s their 850th year anniversary!
In North America, we have the Easter Bunny. The French have the “flying bells.” It is all part of the children’s tale, whereby on Good Friday (the day of the crucifixion), all the bells fly to Vatican city, taking with them the grief of Jesus’ suffering. On Easter Sunday, the bells return, ringing & brimming with goodies for the children.
Churches typically offer an evening vigil mass, the Saturday before Easter, & a couple of masses & vespers Easter Sunday. If you are in town before the weekend, many churches also offer Chemin de Croix (Stations of the Cross) & Confession on Holy Friday.
Egg Hunts were always my favorite part of Easter. They will likely be filled with chocolate, or might in fact, just be chocolate eggs. The French love hiding a few special, prize eggs too! Pâtisseries create some beautiful chocolate molds throughout the season; you may notice a theme of bells, eggs & chickens, as well as lapins (rabbits, for springtime). Although most of the big Easter egg hunts take place on the grounds of Châteaux around Paris, check with the mairie (town hall) of your arrondissement for any local egg hunts. Make a day of exploring a Château & its surrounding parks; take a picnic; get some fresh air. Disneyland Paris & La Ferme et Cueillette de Gally (near Versailles) are popular destinations.
Wherever you decide to visit, go early. I’ve heard stories of no eggs left, etc. A great reference for les chasses aux oeufs de Pâques (Easter egg hunts) is a French site: Sortir à Paris – remember you can always use Google Chrome as your internet browser to translate the entire page, if you need it!
You might run across a couple of other French kids’ traditions- After the story in the bible about the stone rolling away from Jesus’ tomb for the Resurrection: An egg-rolling contest, where kids see whose raw egg survives the hill; An egg-tossing contest, which is self-explanatory!
Now for the food- Leg of lamb is the typical sacrificial Easter meal, & is much more commonly eaten in France than in North America. Lamb 10 different ways, chocolate, seasonal fruits & vegetables…& wine, naturellement! Book a table in advance, if you’re planning on brunching or dining out. Some places will be closed, & supermarkets will be (mostly) closed. Several of the famous hotels, like the Ritz, offer a nice brunch. Try exploring OuBruncher.com (“Where to Brunch”); many of the restaurants listed offer something special for Easter, since they’re already accustomed to offering brunch. French are not typically brunchers.
Familiarize yourself with Easter vocabulary:
Easter eggs les oeufs de Pâques
Easter egg hunt la chasse aux oeufs de Pâques
Egg oeuf (m)
Flying Bells Cloches volantes
“Happy Easter” Joyeux Pâques
Holy Week La Semaine Sainte
Leg of Lamb un gigot d’agneau
Mass la messe
Palm Sunday Pâques Fleuries
Public holiday jour férié
Stations of the Cross Chemin du Croix
*Remember to set your clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time Easter weekend, so you don’t miss any activities!*
Easter services/info for a few of the notable churches in Paris:
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris : 12h45 (12:45 PM) Mass of the Resurrection, 9h30 (9:30 AM) Easter laudes, 17h45 (5:30 PM) Easter vespers. *Several other masses offered throughout the day. The ringing of les bourdons (the Church bells, or les cloches) 15 minutes prior to mass.
Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre : Mass & Laudes de la Résurrection 7h00, Mass of the Solennelle de la Résurrection 11h00, Mass at 18h00, 22h00 at night.
Saint Eustache : Located next to Châtelet Les Halles, offers guided audio tours… : Mass in the Chapel of the Virgin Mary 9h30, Mass with full organ & choir 11h00, Mass with organ 18h00.
The American Church in Paris : An “interdenominational & international..community… in the American Protestant tradition.” It’s in the 7th, along Quai d’Orsay. Its services are all in English, & they feature a sunrise service 7h15 opposite the Seine. There is also a breakfast 8h00. Contact ACP for details. Masses: Traditional Celebration of the Resurrection 9h00 & 11h00, Contemporary Celebration 13h30.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church The English Speaking Catholic Church in Paris : At this church, all the services will be in English, & it is just off the Champs Elysées, on Avenue Hoche.