We just keep in learning new things around here. In typical fashion, I come into a holiday season with the confidence of someone that has celebrated this holiday their entire life. And I celebrate both the religious and secular aspects of the Easter so as we round the bend toward Easter weekend, I am prepared. Totally.
Until I see chocolate fish in the windows of all the chocolatiers.
And then I see bells.
Lots of chocolate bells.
Like the Liberty Bell, I think.
But, no. It can’t be.
Like a good student, I set to researching.
Now, as with all traditions, there are many variables and even as I write this, I may not get it all right. But this is what I’ve found.
While seasonal chocolates are central to the many nationalities that celebrate Easter it seems that bells and fish are uniquely part of French Easter traditions.
The Bells. For hundreds of years the European church bells have acted as a clock for individuals. Time to come in from the fields. Time for school. Time for church. The bells rang regularly. Except when it came to Holy Week. On Holy Thursday, the bells go quiet until Easter morning. And the story goes that the bells fly to Rome on Holy Thursday, carrying away the grief of Lent and the crucifixion, to be blessed by the Pope and return on Easter bringing back chocolates and other treats. So there is no Easter bunny delivering eggs. Kids look to the sky for the return of the flying bells.
As far as the fish go, those delicious candy fish are called Poisson d’Avril. Come Easter-tide, swarms of chocolate fish fill candy shop windows all over the City of Light. They come in varied sizes, some packed in shiny tin boxes holding small schools of fish all wrapped up in silver-blue foil. They are also sold unwrapped, by weight, in all their pure chocolaty glory.
Interestingly enough, the story behind Poisson d’Avril is both about Easter and about an April-Fools trick. Poisson d’Avril appear just before April 1st when mischievous French children stick paper fish on to the backs of as many unsuspecting adults as possible, then run away yelling “Poisson d’Avril!” The tagged adults, always graciously un-offended, respond by giving kids gifts of chocolate fish. Leave it to the French to turn April Fools into April Fish! And so chocolate fish enter the Easter candy menagerie.
So this morning we discovered that either the Easter bunny or a flying bell did visit us as our table was awash in chocolates…many, many fish as well as ducks, turtles, olives (!) and even a pig. There were a few trinkets for everyone and some grown-up chocolate for Tom and I. Grandma and Grandpa Hoffmeier had sent a box full of Easter surprises so that was fun, too.
We decided to walk to the Cathedral a bit earlier this morning and lucky we did because the pews were bursting by the time the service started. If you are a regular reader you already know how in love I am with this church so I don’t need to provide many details. But let me just say that if I am blown away by the choir and organ, when they add an entire horn section as well as timpani’s and some string instruments, well, it’s just about church music nirvana to me. And that is saying nothing of the welcoming atmosphere and message. I cry just thinking about leaving this church in a few months.
After the service there was an egg hunt in the sanctuary (the garden area is being remodeled). So we left with a few more very large chocolate eggs in my purse.
Our Easter meal was more of a brunch around 3pm and we’re still full. Nibbling on chocolate all day doesn’t help. We took a family walk, dog and all, stopping for some playing in the park at the Trocadero and walking past the Eiffel Tower and around the Seine. The streets were full!
And what fun for us that we are invited, tomorrow, to an Easter party on April Fool’s Day. We have our paper and chocolate fish ready for mischief!
I hope the day was (and is) blessed for all of you.