April is a festive month in France. Including April Fool's Day, Easter, and public holidays, it is the ideal month to spend some time with family. Or, if you live in Australia, it’s the perfect time to learn French during an express session of our Easter Holiday Intensive!
April Fool's Day
April starts with a bang on April 1st - no doubt the most popular day of the month for children! In France it is a tradition to put a hand-cut paper fish on the back on your friends, relatives, or even teachers - without being caught of course. Although few adults join in the game, it is not a rare occurrence for them to prank their friends. When the prank is over, we all cry out "Poisson d’avril!". Even the media likes to prank their readers with news like "voters will now be charged to vote" or "Qatar is going to buy the Eiffel Tower".
Now occurring in numerous countries, from Portugal to Canada, this tradition supposedly began in France in 1564 when King Charles IX decided the year should start on January 1st instead of April 1st. As some people still kept celebrating the New Year on April 1st, others would make fun of them by offering them fake presents, including fake fish. That is how April 1st became "Fool's Day", or a day for those not yet ready to accept reality.
Bells and chocolate eggs
The month of April is also very often the month of Easter celebrations. Since France is a country of Catholic traditions, Easter Monday is a public holiday and most businesses are closed. The word Pâques (Easter) comes from the Latin pascua, derived from the Hebrew pascha: the passage. The plural (Pâques) is used as an abbreviation of "the Christian celebrations of Easter" in order to distinguish it from the Jewish Passover (pâque in French). We say "Joyeuses Pâques" or "Bonnes Pâques" for "Happy Easter"!
On Easter Sunday, tradition dictates that we eat Paschal lamb and other dishes such as the Easter egg roll (pâté de Pâques) - made of two layers of puff pastry, meat, herbs and hard-boiled eggs - or the Easter cake (brioche pascale). The Easter egg hunt is always a success, as children look for chocolate eggs hidden in the garden and public spaces of certain cities (hunting for eggs at the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte? Yes please!). Although the myth of the Easter Bunny has slowly appeared in France over the last few years, the myth of the bells still prevails. Churches' bells do not toll on Easter Friday and Saturday and children are told that the bells go to Rome and come back on Saturday night to hide the Easter chocolates.
The case of Alsace
In Alsace, a region under German rule from 1870 to 1918, German customs have influenced the local culture and given rise to specific traditions. Easter Friday is also a public holiday (the equivalent of Good Friday) and families decorate their homes as Easter approaches. A few typical dishes are served, including the Osterlammele (or lamala) - Paschal lamb-shaped pastries dusted with icing sugar. They are sold at Easter markets which are less famous than the Christmas markets, but still well known in Eastern France.
Like Christmas, Easter is celebrated by almost everyone in France - Catholic or not. After all, who would say no to a family gathering and good chocolate?
Joyeuses Pâques/Happy Easter and happy holidays to all!
For the Alliance Française de Melbourne
Translated from French by Bonnie Kate Einsiedel and Laure-Anne Latinier,
students in the Master of Interpreting and Translation Studies at Monash University
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