Although Easter is a religious holiday, people of all backgrounds often celebrate Easter in both America and in France. In both countries, many shops and restaurants are closed as people spend time with their families.
Leading up to Easter is Lent, a forty-day period of sacrifice. Traditionally, Christians in France fast, giving up butter, eggs, and milk. This is the reason why during Mardi Gras celebrations beignets, crepes, and waffles are popular. These sweet treats were made to use up all of the dairy products that would go bad over Lent. The largest Mardi Gras festival in France is in Nice. This year, the theme of the festival is “Le Roi de l’Energie,” or The King of Energy.
In the week leading up to Easter, there are many parades and celebrations. These all happen before Thursday, the day of “les cloches volantes” (the flying bells). Children in France believe that the bells of all the churches and cathedrals grow wings and fly away to the Vatican to visit the Pope. In reality, this means that bells are not rung in churches as a sign of mourning for the death of Jesus. The bells fly back on Saturday night before Easter, dropping candy and chocolate from the Pope for children to find the next morning. In addition to the gifts dropped by the flying bells, some French children also believe in the Easter bunny. The legend of the Easter bunny came from Germany because the goddesses of Spring were believed to take the form of bunnies. Children who do believe in the Easter bunny build nests for the Easter bunny to leave gifts in. On Easter, it is also common to receive chocolate fish, since the poisson d’avril (given on April Fool’s Day) has become a symbol of Easter in France.
The traditional Easter dinner includes lamb and fresh produce, which is abundant during this time of year. Lamb may represent both Jesus, the Lamb of God, or the coming of Spring. While there isn’t a traditional dessert, some people prefer to serve the first strawberries of the year.
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