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How Easter is different in France and 10 related sayings

We look at France's Easter traditions and compile a list of the best egg-, chick- and bell-related expressions, to mark the occasion 

Flying bells

In France, it is said that church bells fly off to be blessed by the Pope, returning on Saturday evening bearing chocolates and gifts Pic: margouillat photo / Shutterstock

Is Good Friday a holiday in France?

Unlike countries such as the UK and Australia, most places in France do not celebrate Good Friday with a bank holiday, apart from the departments Moselle, Bas-Rhin et Haut-Rhin. 

This is because when these regions were part of Germany, they recognised Good Friday as a bank holiday and when they once again became part of France, the local authorities kept the tradition. 

What are France's Easter traditions?

In France, many families and friends will gather to eat a traditional meal of gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb). Easter egg hunts are also popular.

In many regions of France, it is not the Easter Bunny who brings the chocolate and sweets, but flying church bells (les cloches de Pâques). 

From Thursday until Saturday night over Easter weekend, church bells are silent around the country. 

Children are told that they have flown off to the Vatican to be blessed by the Pope. They return on Saturday night bearing chocolate and presents to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is only then that they will ring around the country again. 

The bells are said to scatter their gifts around gardens, in fields, on balconies or in houses, which children can then hunt for. 

Easter-themed sayings

By way of celebrating Easter, we look at 10 expressions in French using the words oeuf, cloche or poule (egg, bell or chick). 

1. Quelle cloche! (literally what a bell!)

It may sound funny but this is not something you want to hear. It generally refers to someone who is an idiot.

2. Quelque chose qui cloche (literally something that bells)

This means something does not feel right. It comes from the verb clocher derived from the Latin verb claudicare meaning to limp. If you limp, there is something wrong.

3. Sonner les cloches de quelqu’un (to ring someone’s bells)

It means to tell off someone. You can also say ‘je me suis fait sonner les cloches’ if you are the person concerned. The expression comes from the fact bells are very loud. It is a metaphor for anger.

4. Donner le même son de cloche (to give the same bell sound)

This means telling the same story as someone else. However, you can hear deux sons de cloches différents, which means you hear two sides of the same story.

Other similar expressions are ‘qui n’entend qu’une cloche n’entend qu’un son’ (whoever hears only one bell hears one sound) meaning a part of the story has not been told.

5. Se taper la cloche (to hit someone’s bell)

It means to have a feast where you eat so much your head (the cloche) is full.

To give an example, after eating a very hearty meal of gigot d’agneau, you could say, ‘je me suis tapé(e) la cloche’ to mean you have eaten a feast. 

6. Qui vole un oeuf vole un boeuf (who steals an egg steals a cow)

This means if someone can steal a small thing he can also steal more important things.

7. On ne peut pas faire d’omelette sans casser des oeufs (we cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs)

This means you cannot accomplish something without making a sacrifice. This expression was introduced by French author Balzac in the 19th century.

8. Se coucher avec les poules (to go to sleep with the chickens)

Chickens are known to sleep when the sun goes down so if someone sleeps with the chickens it means they go to sleep early. Sometimes you can also hear ‘se lever avec les poules’ (to get up with the chickens) which means to get up early.

9. Maman poule or papa poule (mummy chicken or daddy chicken)

A mother or a father can be described like this when they are protective of their children.

10. Nid de poule (chicken’s nest)

In French, this literally means a chicken’s nest but is also the word for a pothole. 

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