Easter customs in France and ten related expressions

Gigot d’agneau, cloches de Pâques - find out what is eaten on Easter Sunday and who brings the eggs for the Easter egg hunt

A leg of lamb is the meat traditionally eaten at Easter
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Most families and friends gather to eat a traditional meal of gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb) with flageolets (small green or white beans) on Easter Sunday.

An Easter egg hunt is also customary, usually on Sunday.

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). This is a Catholic tradition.

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

Children are told that they have flown off to Rome 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 ring around the country again.

Read more: Why you won’t be hearing church bells much in France for a few days

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

In non-Catholic regions, notably in the north-east of France, the Easter Bunny is the one who hides the eggs.

As it is a religious holiday, it is traditional to go to Sunday Mass to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

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.

Easter-themed sayings

Below are 10 expressions in French revolving around Easter, chocolate, bells and eggs.

1. Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison (‘Christmas on the balcony, Easter near the fire’)

If it is nearing Christmas and the weather is warmer than expected, you will almost certainly hear someone say ‘Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison’.

It means that if it is warm enough to spend Christmas on the balcony, by Easter-time the weather will be so cold that you will need to be near the fire (tison refers to a piece of wood that is still burning).

2. Quelque chose qui cloche (‘something is belling’)

This means something does not feel right. It comes from the verb clocher derived from the Latin verb claudicare meaning to limp, which is a sign that something is wrong.

If you came home on Easter Sunday and the gigot d’agneau was not yet in the oven, you could say Il y a quelque chose qui cloche.

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

It means to tell someone off. You can also say je me suis fait sonner les cloches if you are the person being told off.

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.

Another similar expression is 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 faire poissonnier la veille de Pâques (‘to become a fishmonger on the eve Easter)

The 40-day period before Easter is called carême, or Lent in English, and it is a time for fasting and giving up certain foods in honour of Jesus.

These foods are usually richer, fattier foods such as meat, meaning that people tend to eat more fish.

Therefore, se faire poissonnier la veille de Pâques would be a silly idea because people would be keen to buy meat again. It means to do something at the wrong time.

6. Être chocolat ('to be chocolate')

Être chocolat, or to be chocolate, refers to someone who has been tricked.

It supposedly comes from the card game bonneteau (three card monte), which is in fact a con.

The victim bets a sum of money that they can find the ‘money’ card. However, they are tricked by a plant who conspires with the scammer and, in reality, they have no chance of finding the correct card.

This plant or shill is said to faire le chocolat (do the chocolate), which means to act naive.

7. 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.

8. Qui vole un œuf vole un bœuf (‘who steals an egg steals a cow’)

This means if someone is capable of stealing a small thing, then they can also steal more important things.

If someone stole your chocolate Easter egg, you could tell them Qui vole un œuf vole un bœuf. It should make them feel bad.

9. Va te faire cuire un œuf (‘go and cook an egg’)

This saying is informal and a little bit rude (although it can still be playful) and should only be used with people you know well - not in a professional setting.

It is used to tell someone to go away. An English equivalent would be ‘bog off’ or ‘bore off’.

10. Pas de bras, pas de chocolat ('no arms, no chocolate')

This expression literally means ‘no arms, no chocolate’.

It originates from dark humour, from a joke in which a child with no arms asks for some chocolate and his mother replies pas de bras, pas de chocolat as a form of absurd (and horrible) logic.

It has now become a popular expression in France and it can be used to mean different things. For example, it can be used to make fun of stupid rules but it can also be a silly thing to say to your friends to make them laugh.

There is a famous usage of the saying in the film Les Intouchables, when Omar Sy’s character says it to François Cluzet's character - who is paralysed from the neck down.

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