You would not have heard any bells in France over the Easter weekend, not even the midday bells have been heard, according to French Easter traditions.
Indeed, folklore goes that all the bells have gone to Rome and they return on Easter Sunday. As they fly over the gardens on their way back to their rightful bell towers they drop Easter eggs and chocolate rabbits and chickens in all the gardens across France, ringing as they leave.
This is the signal for all the children to dash outside and to search for the hidden chocolate goodies.
For the Christian community, Easter is one of the main events of the calendar, symbolising life after death. On Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, after his crucifixion on Good Friday. Easter also marks the end of Lent, which lasts for 40 days.
Despite its religious origins, Easter is also a pagan celebration, commemorating the return of Spring after the long, dark winter months: it represents a rebirth and the return of light.
During the Middle Ages, the act of eating eggs was forbidden by the Church during the period of Lent. These were kept until the end of Lent and then decorated. During the 18th century, someone came up with the idea of emptying the eggs and of filling them up with chocolate as a way to celebrate the end of Lent. This is a tradition still very much alive in some countries such as Germany. The first chocolate eggs appeared during the 19th century, thanks to new techniques enabling the transformation of cocoa butter into chocolate. More and more moulds representing different shapes were also produced.
Why bells and rabbits?
According to French Easter traditions, it is forbidden for Catholic church bells to ring between Good Thursday (Jeudi Saint) and Easter Sunday, as a sign of mourning. This tradition stemming back from the 7th and 8th centuries in Europe is also respected in Belgium and Italy.
Children would be told by their elders that the bells were on their way to Rome in order to be blessed by the Pope. On their way back, the bells would chime loud and clear while dropping the long-awaited chocolate eggs in the garden for children to go and find. Nowadays, chocolate eggs come in various shapes, such as the traditional eggs, but also bunnies, hens, bells, etc.
Chocolatiers are very popular in France and their creations can be incredibly artistic, using high-quality cocoa, of course! Master chocolatiers are skilled in the art of working with chocolate and understand its chemical aspect as well, in order to design their creations. Whereas studies are reasonably short (3 years on average), perfecting their craft takes many years of practice, including the tempering, moulding and sculpting of cocoa, for example.
The art of being a professional chocolatier is also extremely serious business and highly regarded in the UK too. Competitions are organised every year, such as the famous British Chocolatier Competition. With the emergence of numerous TV cookery programmes (Masterchef being one of the most popular and famous ones), more and more amateur people are now not only inspired by the art of cooking and baking but also start to become more daring. Some attempts at skilled techniques such as tempering or sculpting chocolate can be absolutely fascinating.
As for us here at Expats France, this might seem a bit too daunting, so we are simply happy to taste and appreciate these incredible creations, even though sometimes it seems a shame to destroy such beautiful pieces of art!