Easter ('Pâques') in France

France's Charming Easter Expressions and Traditions

Easter! The return of the bells of France
Easter! The return of the bells of France. Illustration from Le Petit Journal, 2nd April 1899. (Photo by Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images).

Pâques, the French term for Easter, is commonly feminine plural*. It is a holiday celebrated even by many nonpracticing Christians in France, and the Monday following Easter, le Lundi de Pâques, is a public holiday in many regions of the country, when the French stretch the celebration into a four-day holiday with Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday off in addition to the weekend.

One week before Easter, on Palm Sunday, called le Dimanche des Rameaux ("Sunday of the branches") or Pâques fleuries ("Easter of the flowers"), Christians take various rameaux to church, where the priest blesses them.

The branches may be boxwood, bay laurel, olive, or whatever is readily available. Around the southern city of Nice, you can purchase des palmes tressées (woven palm fronds) in front of churches.** Palm Sunday is the start of la Semaine Sainte (Holy Week), during which some towns put on un défilé pascal (Easter procession).

On le Jeudi Saint (Maundy Thursday), French Easter lore has it that church bells sprout wings and fly to Rome to visit the Pope. They're gone all weekend, so no church bells are heard during these days. For children, this means that flying bells from Rome will be bringing chocolate and other delicacies to them.

Vendredi Saint (Good Friday) is a fast day, meaning Christians eat un repas maigre (meatless vegetarian meal). However, in most of France, it's not a public holiday.

On Saturday, children prepare nids (nests) for le lapin de Pâques or le lièvre de Pâques (Easter Bunny), who arrives that night and fills them with chocolate eggs.



Early the next morning, on le Dimanche de Pâques (Easter Sunday), also called le jour de Pâques (Easter Day), les cloches volantes (flying bells) return and drop chocolate eggs, bells, bunnies, and fish into gardens, so that kids can go on la chasse aux œufs (Easter egg hunt). It's also the end of le Carême (Lent).



Besides excellent chocolate and eggs, traditional French Easter foods include l'agneau (lamb), le porc (pork), and la gâche de Pâques (Easter brioche).

Lundi de Pâques (Easter Monday) is un jour férié (public holiday) in many parts of France. It's customary to eat omelettes en famille (with the family), a tradition called pâquette. Since 1973, the town of Bessières in southwestern France has held an annual Easter festival, the main event of which is the preparation and consumption of l'omelette pascale et géante (giant Easter omelette), which measures 4 meters (13 feet) in diameter and contains 15,000 eggs. (This is not to be confused with la Fête de l'omelette géante that takes place every September in Fréjus and features a somewhat smaller, three-meter omelette.)

Pascal is the adjective for Easter, from Pâques. Children born around Easter are often named Pascal (boy) or Pascale (girl).​

French Easter expressions

  • Joyeuses Pâques ! Bonnes Pâques ! - Happy Easter!
  • À Pâques ou à la Trinité - very late, never
  • Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison - A warm Christmas means a cold Easter


*The singular feminine "Pâque" refers to Passover.

**You're supposed to burn last year's rameaux tressées séchées, but they're so lovely that many people keep them.

That's why they're white rather than green.