french easter vocabulary

French Easter Vocabulary

Easter is just as popular in France as it is in the US, if not more so. Exploring the cultural aspects of French holidays, like Pâques (Easter), is one of the best ways to get in touch with the heart, traditions and vocabulary of the language.


Basic Easter Vocabulary

The French love a good long weekend, and Easter vacation is no exception. Not only do they observe Easter Sunday, but also Easter Monday, which is a public holiday in France. You could eat a lot of chocolate and eggs during a weekend that long.

With a large Roman Catholic population in France, it’s no surprise that the churches get crowded on Easter Sunday. For many, it’s one of the prime days of church attendance during the year. For a beautiful Easter service at none other than Notre-Dame de Paris, get your comprehension skills dusted off and take a peek at this video.

Primarily, Easter in France is a religious holiday, and secondarily, it’s a nice long weekend to be spent enjoying family (and possibly the reappearance of the sun).

So here we go: These vocabulary words and phrases will get you through that long weekend.

1. Pâques

The French word for “Easter.” To tell someone “Happy Easter,” use the phase Joyeuses Pâques ! Make sure you remember this one, because it’s going to be creeping around for the rest of the list.

2. Pascal / Pascale

Pascal(e) is an adjective for all things Easter! If there were good Easter movies out there (sadly, there aren’t many), they would be called films pascaux. Or if you have special Easter socks (because who doesn’t?), they would be called chaussettes pascales. 

3. Les vacances de Pâques

“Easter vacation.” The length of your Easter vacation may change depending on where you live and what you do for a living. But in France, if the word vacances is nearby, then you can expect to have your feet up on your Parisian terrace and drinking a glass of rosé (the favorite springtime wine).

4. Le vendredi saint

The French translation of Good Friday. Technically, it means “Holy Friday.” Depending on where you are in France, how vendredi saint is celebrated differs. If you’re in the Alsace region or in Switzerland, then it’s common to have the day off and for church services to be held.

5. Le dimanche de Pâques  / lundi de Pâques

Easter Sunday and Easter Monday! I told you the word Pâques would end up creeping into more of these vocabulary phrases. These are the primary days of celebration in France, and where most of our vocabulary fun will take place.

6. Le carême

If you aren’t familiar with “Lent,” it starts on Ash Wednesday, or le mercredi des Cendres (which occurs the day after Mardi Gras). Lent lasts for six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, and is a time of self-examination.

7. La Pâque

The French word for “Passover.” Passover is a Jewish holiday around the same time as Easter. Although France is predominately Catholic, there are about half a million Jews in the country. It’s important to note that while both Pâques and la Pâque are pronounced the same, you can often tell the difference because the noun for passover uses the definite article la. Yay definite articles!

8. Un défilé pascal

Un défilé is a parade, procession or march. So with our little Easter adjective tacked on the end, we have an Easter parade or procession!

9. Les rameaux  

Les rameaux refers to the decorated branches that people bring into church on Palm Sunday (or Les Rameaux, as the holiday is also called). This takes place the Sunday before Easter. The word also works for any other branch from a tree—if you’re into nature vocabulary.

The Bells

I told you there would be flying bells! And not just flying bells, of course—all kinds of bells. The thing about France is that there are old churches and cathedrals at every corner, and many of them have bells (though unfortunately no Quasimodos ringing them). It’s one of the most beautiful parts of Easter traditions in France, unless you’re not into loud noises (get your earplugs in that case).

And now, bet you’re wondering what the heck is up with the flying bells. On the Thursday before Easter, the bells in France go quiet. That’s because they’ve begun their trip to Rome to visit the Pope. And they do this by magically forming wings, of course!

After spending their yearly vacation in Rome, they come back home in time to pick up some chocolate before snuggling back into bed. When the bells ring on Easter Sunday, the children know to go looking for the bell-delivered chocolate. Awesome, huh?

By the way, I know you’re probably confused, but the bells don’t actually fly away. No need to be afraid. Here’s a rational explanation.

10. Une cloche

You guessed it, this means a bell! And it doesn’t pertain only to church bells or Easter bells, but any old bell you find lying around.

11. Une église

Une église refers to a church. If you like the more ornate things in life and would rather refer to a cathedral, then you would say une cathédrale. Isn’t it nice when we have cognates?

12. Les cloches volantes / les cloches de Pâques

The flying bells! Depending on whether you’re talking to a child or an adult about Easter, you can refer to the bells of Easter as les cloches volantes or les cloches de Pâques

The Chocolate!

Let’s get real for a second: If you’re a chocolate fan, then Easter might be your new favorite French holiday. Walking the streets of Paris, or any other French town, you’ll see elaborate chocolate sculptures and figurines in the windows of candy shops. And while French chocolate doesn’t quite stack up to Belgian or Swiss (great places to take your French language knowledge to take advantage, by the way), it has a pretty good reputation.

Your biggest issue will be whether to devour the chocolate or admire it. Here’s a slideshow (and another from French Cosmo) of some amazing Easter chocolates to get you salivating.

13. Le chocolat  (au lait/noir/blanc)

Another easy cognate is le chocolatDepending on your tastes, you may want chocolat au lait (milk chocolate), chocolat noir (dark chocolate) or chocolat blanc (white chocolate). While there are other varieties of chocolate treats to be found in France, these three are most commonly used for Easter creations.

14. La confiserie

But where to buy the chocolate? You may be aware of the many different French shops for each individual culinary desire: la boucherie for meat, la boulangerie for bread, etc. La confiserie is where you find the things that rot your teeth (happily so) and the towers of chocolate for les cloches volantes to drop off.

15. Un poisson d’avril

It’s chocolate fish! April Fools’? Actually, this kind of fish is both chocolate and for April Fools’ Day. Traditions for the first of April include eating chocolate fish (think chocolate shaped like fish, not fish covered in chocolate!), and playing pranks—more notably, sticking paper fish on people’s backs when they aren’t looking.

Since the first of April falls around Eastertime, les cloches volantes often drop off des poissons d’avril along with the Easter chocolate. For an explanation of the origins of poisson d’avril, watch this video.

Poisson d’avril ! This video will give you a real explanation.

16. Des œufs en chocolat

We can’t talk about Pâques without talking about chocolate eggs. (And again, it’s not eggs covered in chocolate, but rather chocolate shaped like eggs.) They’re hidden in the garden by les cloche volantes. Stay tuned for more on where to find them later.

The Easter Meal

As with many other French holidays, the celebratory meal is one of the most important, delicious and elaborate parts of Easter. Have you ever heard about the insanity that goes on at the Christmas meal? The Easter meal also comes with its trimmings, and while many French families take liberties with it, here are a few staples you’re likely to find on the table on Easter Sunday.

17. Un gigot d’agneau  

Hope you like lamb! Un gigot d’agneau is a leg of lamb in French, but meat-enthusiasts beware, the word gigot applies specifically to a leg of lamb. You wouldn’t refer to your own leg as un gigot, for example. Another way to say a leg of meat is une cuisseas in une cuisse de poulet (chicken). 

To try it yourself, here are instructions on how to prepare it!

18. Des œufs durs

Hard-boiled eggs! Remember, when pronouncing des œufsyou don’t pronounce the f or !

19. L’asperge

Aspergeor asparagus, is a vegetable commonly found on the table for the Easter meal. It’s roasted and served as an appetizer, maybe with some champagne if you’re lucky.

20. Une tarte

And if you like pie, you’re in luck. A typical dessert on Easter would be une tarte aux pommes (an apple pie) or maybe even une tarte aux fraises

21. Des fraises

Speaking of which, strawberries are in season in springtime, and since the French tend to eat the produce that’s in season and at its best, strawberries are a common addition to the table during Easter. Nothing gets you in the springtime mood quite like fresh fruit. Or chocolate eggs, whatever your preference.

22. Une quiche  

And of course, the most quintessentially French thing on the menu, so much so that it’s the same word in English: quiche. For Easter (and most times of the year), you can find une quiche au fromage (with cheese), une quiche aux épinards (with spinach), une quiche au poulet (with chicken) and many others on the table.

For some more Easter recipes, has this great list in French. Most of them include videos if you need that visual boost.

Easter for French Kids

Not that kids get to have all the fun on Easter or anything, but they do get to play lots of fun games in the garden. And let’s get real, they’ll probably get more chocolate than their adult counterparts (but hopefully, you can “help” them eat it).

23. La chasse aux œufs

Easter egg hunts should be familiar to American Easter fans. Often, the flying bell is the one who hides the Easter eggs, and not only are eggs hidden, but sometimes gifts and entire chocolate sculptures from la confiserie. Watch this video to see France’s largest Easter egg hunt in action.

24. Un panier

Where else to put all of your findings from la chasse aux œufs than in your panieror basket?

25. Le lancer d’œufs

This may not be a familiar tradition to French learners. Le lancer d’oeufs is a game where you throw eggs. Of course, throwing eggs is generally frowned upon, but not during Pâques ! Often, they are rolled down a hill to see whose lasts the longest without breaking. Sounds like an egg-cellent way to make a mess (couldn’t help myself there).

26. Un œuf teint

You didn’t think I was talking about plain old white eggs—it’s Easter! Un œuf teintor a colored egg, is a common tradition in France as well as the States. Kids get their fingers stained with food coloring while dyeing eggs every spring!


So where does all of this leave us?

Well, for Pâques this year, get on your Easter Sunday best, throw some eggs, stuff yourself with fancy chocolate you found in the garden, have a quiche or two, enjoy an Easter parade and of course…

Watch the flying bells fly back from Rome.

If you’re interested in learning even more about French Easter culture, this podcast at Frenchpod101 goes into more detail about the holiday.

By the end, you’ll be in a springtime mood and all ready to enjoy a Parisian summer.

And one more thing...

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