As an American living in France, I learned a long time ago that the two cultures have different ideas about many (if not most) things. Still, I was surprised to discover that there was no Easter Bunny in France. But fear not, the French have come up with another method to distribute those Easter eggs to their children.
First, let’s talk about the American Easters of my childhood. The preparation would start the day before Easter when we decorated hard boiled eggs. We used some kind of dye that required vinegar and the whole house smelled of vinegar. Then we had various markers and stickers to add those special touches. At night we would place all of our beautifully (and artistically) decorated eggs on the table and go to bed.
Bunny and Eggs
While we slept, the Easter Bunny would come and hide all the eggs outside in the lawn, in trees, in the house, everywhere. Then before hopping away, he would leave us a basket full of candy (that was definitely my favourite part) including chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies, chocolate chickens, chocolate…well you get the idea.
The next morning, we would find our basket of goodies, have a little pre-breakfast chocolate, and then go out into the yard to hunt for the eggs the rabbit had hidden. Over the next week we would crack open the decorated shells and eat the hard-boiled, eggs – but only after all of the chocolate was gone, of course.
Looking back, it does seem a bit odd that a rabbit would hop around to our house once a year to hide the eggs that we had worked so hard to decorate. But what happens in France seems even more bizarre.
The Easter Bunny doesn’t come to France – except in the north east, close to the German border. There, children make little nests which they place in the garden and during the night, the German Easter Bunny hops across the border and fills them with Easter eggs. Otherwise, a French Easter goes something like this:
On the Thursday night before Easter, all the church bells go silent and they won’t be heard from again until Easter Sunday. Why? Well, this is the strange part. They sprout wings, pack up their suitcases and fly off to Rome. They go to Rome to visit the Pope, but I imagine they probably have enough time do a little sight-seeing or fly around to Italian bell towers visiting relatives as well. But what they do in their private time isn’t our concern here.
After the Vatican visit, they must go to the market where they load up their suitcases with chocolate. Chocolate eggs, chocolate rabbits, chocolate chicks, and chocolate bells (in their honour), of course. The chocolate April Fool’s fish are still around so they throw those in too – they do double duty as Easter fish.
Bells and Eggs
As they make their way back to France, and to their respective steeples, on Easter eve, they drop these chocolaty treats at the houses of children along their flight path. After making deliveries all night long, they have to be up bright and early the next morning to ring in Easter Sunday. When the children hear the bells ringing, they run outside to hunt for the goodies that the Cloches de Pâques, or “Easter Bells” have left them.
The Easter Bell egg-delivery system is an interesting idea, but I think I still prefer the good old American Easter Bunny. Bunnies are adorable; they hop and wiggle their noses while bells are cold and not very cuddly. I have to admit though, that growing wings and flying to Rome is pretty impressive.
The tradition that binds
Even though the two cultures have very different ways of dispensing their Easter eggs, does it really matter? They both cling to the most important tradition – eating lots of chocolate!
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