Fact About France (Part III)
Spring has finally arrived and with it Paris has seemed to revive herself, or at least I'm seeing her with new eyes. The sun is out, wild flowers are blooming and the cafés are lined with people and drinks. The Easter bank holiday is fast approaching and the month of May with her millions of 'jour fériés' is tantalisingly close. There are several special traditions surrounding this time of year in France to delve into...
1. Le Poisson d'Avril - Our version of April Fool's Day, but far stranger, literally translated it means 'the fish of April', and traditionally people play jokes on each other, the most common of which is to pin a paper fish onto someone's back (without them noticing) and when they do notice everyone must shout "Poisson d'Avril!" It is widely debated why it's called "Poisson d'Avril" and why there is such a fascination with pinning fish on each other. However, the most accepted theory is that when Charles IX changed the calendar, so the year began on January 1st instead of 1st April, many people weren't happy. Those who clung to the old calendar and continued to celebrate the old New Year had jokes and tricks played on them by those who had embraced the new calendar. April 1st also coincided with the end of Lent, when the Church forbade Christians to eat meat and so fish was plentiful and often used as a gift offering for the New Year. Therefore, one of the most popular tricks to play on those reluctant to change to the new Calendar was to offer them fake fish to trick them, and so "Poisson d'Avril" was born!
2. Les Cloches Volantes - Traditionally, the Catholic church forbade any bells to ring between Good Friday and Easter Sunday and so it was said that during this time the bells grew wings and flew to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. On their flight home, ready to ring out on Easter Sunday the bells would drop little treats for good children to be picked up on Easter Sunday, namely during the "Chasse aux oeufs" (The Easter Egg Hunt!)
3.Chasse aux Oeufs - Just as in England the French have their own Easter Egg Hunts, the largest of which is held at Chateaux Vaux le Vicomte where tens of thousands of eggs are hid for the children to find!
4. Raw Eggs - In keeping with the theme of "Pâques" another Easter tradition centres around raw eggs! One way in which the children celebrate is by rolling raw eggs down a hill, the one that remains intact and uncracked is named the winner, and supposedly symbolises the stone in front of Christ's tomb being rolled away. Although, this tradition isn't isolated to France as I remember playing this as a kid! However, that's not the end of the raw egg traditions, another game played by kids is throwing and catching raw eggs! Everyone has one raw egg and has to keep throwing and catching it in the air, if you crack your egg you owe the winner your sweets!
5. Giant Omelette - In Bessières each Easter Monday nearly 10,000 people gather to make a huge omelette with nearly 15,000 eggs, supposedly in recognition of Napoleon Bonaparte, when he and his army spent a night near the town. He ordered all the eggs in the village to be gathered and made into a giant omelette for him and his army, after having enjoyed one made by a local innkeeper.