Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sundays in France: Easter Celebrations in France

Every Sunday, this blog will explore France, based on our family's virtual explorations in 2011

Easter in France is celebrated similarly to North America with secular and religious customs that feature family gatherings and lots of chocolate. There are regional differences and one custom that North American kids might find curious - the Flying Bells.

The Easter greeting in France is "Joyeuses Paques!" meaning Happy Easter!

Cloches Volantes (Flying Easter Bells)

Silent church bells for Easter, ready to fly off to Rome
Photo Credit: Salva Barbera (CC)

France is predominantly Roman Catholic (90%) with every city, town and village having a church, most with bells that ring throughout the year. On Thursday night before Good Friday, all the church bells go silent in commemoration of the death of Jesus. The bells are not to be heard from again until Easter Sunday. This custom goes back to the 7th century when the Pope banned the ringing of church bells between Good Friday and Easter, to ring again after the resurrection of Jesus. Children are told that they're silent because they've flown off to Rome to visit the Pope where they are blessed and filled with chocolates to be delivered to children the night before Easter on their way back to their churches. All deliveries done, they are back and ready to ring in Easter on Sunday morning. When kids hear the bells ringing, it's time to run outside and hunt for the Easter goodies the Easter Bells left behind.


Easter chocolate in Paris
Photo Credit: Zachary Jean Paradis (CC)

Chocolate shops and patisseries are at their finest at Easter, with displays of gorgeous chocolate eggs (hollow and filled with little chocolate treats), chocolate hens, roosters, chicks, rabbits, bells (in honor of the Easter Bells), and fish. The tradition of chocolate fish is because Easter is around the same time as Poissons d'Avril, the tradition on the 1st of April.


Easter egg hunts, les chasses aux oeufs, are popular across France, whether in one's backyard or the many organized public hunts (I can't help but think an egg hunt at a chateau would be rather exciting!)

There's also a traditional game of rolling raw eggs down a gentle slope, with the winner being the one that reaches the end first without breaking. These days, kids are just as likely to roll their chocolate eggs to see which one reaches the end the fastest.

Easter dinner in France is a traditional lamb dish, whether roasted leg of lamb or a lamb stew.

Regional Differences

In the south of France, baking and eating mouna, an Easter brioche, is an important part of Easter. The tradition of eating this sweet bread comes from the French expatriates who lived in Algeria until its independence in the early 1960s and brought the tradition back to the south of France with them. Traditionally, mothers and children bake the crown shaped brioche that's meant to be given and shared on Easter Sunday.

A giant omelette being prepared for Easter Monday
Photo Credit: Kathryn Goddard (CC)

Easter Monday is a public holiday, and in parts of the South of France, many families eat omelette, a tradition called paquette. In the town of Bessieres, a giant omelette is made using up to 15,000 eggs! According to legend, Napoleon Bonaparte stopped by one evening in an auberge to rest and have dinner. He was so impressed with the omelette he ate that he ordered the whole town to have a huge omelette prepared for his army the next day. Since then, the residents met every Easter to prepare omelette along with bread to be given out to the poor in the village. To this day, everyone in town gets together for a free serving of the giant omelette.

In the Alsace region, near the German Border, there are German influences that means there are Easter traditions that differ from the rest of France. Unlike the rest of France, the Easter Hare brings chocolates, and not the church bells. On the night before Easter, kids put out baskets or make nests with moss and grass out in the yard to be filled with eggs by the Easter Hare. White storks, that symbolize fertility, are found on rooftops and chimneys. 

Lamalas, little lamb cakes baked in a special mold are found everywhere in Alsace, and are usually eaten for Easter breakfast. Baked in a traditional pottery mold (or in metal molds), it's a sponge cake sprinkled with icing sugar, with a ribbon around its neck. The lamb is a symbol of innocence and to Christians represents Jesus, "the Lamb of God". 

Have your own French inspired Easter

Here are a few ideas to incorporate French traditions into your Easter:

Eggs: Rather than leave out baskets for the Easter Bunny, how about taking inspiration from the Alsatians and making "nests" with spring materials found outside - grass, moss, twigs - for the Easter Hare to bring drop off his chocolates.

Chocolate: Any specialty chocolate shops in your area? Or even a French chocolate shop? How about getting a specialty hollow chocolate egg, or a chocolate hen? Or parents and kids can make their own chocolate fish and/or bells using a chocolate mold and melted bakers chocolate.

Games: try the raw egg race down a slope - whether you use your decorated Easter eggs or not, see whose can make it down the slope fastest without breaking! And of course, enjoy "une chasse aux oeufs" (egg hunt).

Food: There are many food traditions that can be included for a French Easter. Try an Easter roasted leg of lamb or Spring lamb stew. If you like to bake, make a sweet brioche like those in the South of France with this recipe for Mouna. Teach your kids how to make a classic French omelette. And if you can get your hands on a lamb mold, bake an Alsatian lamala cake, recipe below.

Joyeuses Paques!

Alsatian Lamb Cake

Lamalas are traditional Alsatian lamb genoise cakes (kind of a cross between a biscuit and a sponge cake). By lucky coincidence, I happened to own a lamala mold that I had picked up at a thrifts shop years before our France exploration. We'd used it with regular cake recipes and added marshmallows to it. When I read about the Alsatian tradition, I was excited to pull out my mold! We have a little lamb cake most Easters. It's so cute, but always a little strange cutting into it. We find it's best served with whipping cream.

Our metal lamala mold

Here's a similar cake mold: Nordic Ware Spring Lamb 3-D Cake Mold (affiliate link).

Recipe adapted from Cookismo (makes 1 cake)

2 large eggs, room temperature (this is important)
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup cake flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp corn starch
Zest of half a lemon
Icing sugar to sprinkle over the cake

1. Put eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Sift the icing sugar into the bowl, over the eggs. Starting on the lowest setting, start the mixer to whisk (if you don't start slow first, you'll end up with icing sugar all over your counter - and cupboards). Once the icing sugar is incorporated, whisk on high medium speed for 15 minutes. I just put the timer on and let it go. 

2. Preheat your oven to 350F. While the eggs are whisking, butter both sides of the mold. Assemble the mold, then dust with flour, tapping out any excess flour.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and corn starch. (It's very important it's all sifted)

3. Once the eggs and sugar have been whisking for 15 minutes, the mixture should have tripled in volume. Add the lemon juice, and whisk for to combine. Remove the bowl from the stand, and gently add the sifted flour. Fold the flour into the eggs while turning the bowl a little for every fold, making sure to get it from the bottom to the top. Fold in the lemon zest. Once the flour and zest are incorporated, pour into the mold. Pour half of it in, tap the mold a little to get all the crevices, and pour the other half.

4. Bake in the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes. Start checking after 20 minutes, if it's golden, insert a bamboo skewer into the center to check it's cooked through. 

5. Remove from oven, let cool a few minutes, and gently take out of mold. Let cool completely. Once completely cooled, sift icing sugar over the cake. In Alsace, ribbon is tied around the lamb's neck. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

What are your Easter traditions?

If you're curious about Easter traditions and cultures, here are some other posts you might like:

Easter in West Africa (with a recipe for a traditional Nigerian Good Friday dish)

Title Image Adapted with Overlay; Photo Credit to Radiowood (CC)


  1. I love that top picture - it looks so friendly and welcoming how could you not go in and have a look around?
    I love the lamb cake and have completely fallen in love with your mold. I would use it as an ornament in my old cottage kitchen!

    1. That would be such a fun ornament in a cottage kitchen! I've fallen in love with antique metal chocolate molds - but those I've come across are far too pricey - still, so cool looking.

  2. You know, some friends of ours are from France, I should ask them what traditions they have for Easter.


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