In France, Easter celebrations begin on Saturday night when the whole family attends an evening Mass at 8 or 9:00pm. The service is called the Vigile Pascale.
The celebrations then continue on Sunday afternoon with a large family lunch. Since Easter marks the close of Lent, during which practicing Catholics would have forgone rich and sweet goods including wine or chocolate or heavy cream sauces, the repa de Pâques is normally an occasion flowing with Champagne and wine. A traditional menu begins with an entrée of Roquefort and pear tart or Foie Gras or a Paté de Pâques (a puff pastry wrapped around sausage and egg), followed by a roasted leg of lamb garnished with rosemary and a rich butter sauce. Side dishes vary greatly with preference, but likely include steamed snow peas, green beans or potatoes. En dessert, a Gâteau de Pâques is most traditionally served. Although the specifics of this dessert varies among the regions of France, it is a flavored cake or boûche decorated with small sugar or chocolate eggs and chocolate lamps and chickens.
After the family meal on Sunday, which can occupy a good part of the afternoon, an Easter egg hunt ensues. Parents secretly hide eggs that their children have dyed and decorated, much like we do in North America.
Traditionally in France, church bells take the place of the Easter bunny as the deliverer of the Easter treats, although the Easter bunny tradition has begun to filter into French culture. Rather the French tale tell us that as the church bells ring on Sunday announcing the resurrection of Christ, in so doing they disperse the eggs (dyed or chocolate) into the backyard of all the families in the parish. In fact, many chocolate bells are made with little wings signifying their ability to scatter the eggs all over the community.
Chocolate is a major element of Pâques. As one of the busiest times of year for French chocolatiers, the giving and receiving of chocolate bunnies, eggs, lambs, chickens and bells highlight the holiday.
One of my favorite chocolatiers in Paris is Servant, a family-run shop for over a century, located just around the corner from my house.
As Easter in France is one of the major family holidays throughout the year, many Français travel to country homes or to parents’ houses to celebrate en famille.