It wasn’t until I was working in New York did I ever encounter fish and bells in regards to Easter. Yes, you will also find bunnies, hens and eggs in France. But the bells and fish threw me and left me with a cocked head to the side just like any adorable pooch.
The first year I worked in New York at Financier Patisserie, I was asked to help with the Easter chocolate production. Even though my father trained me, being faced with the task of tempering a bowl full of chocolate that’s big enough for you to bathe in, I couldn’t help but to have a slightly increased heart rate. As I brushed the molds fast and furiously, I finally took notice to the shapes. Fish. There were fish. I mean there were bunnies too, but more fish. I had only been there about a month, so I was so not brave enough to ask. The next year I asked. And funny thing was, no one could really give me a straight answer. I kept on asking what the symbolism was and in return I was told, “just make zem!” Oui, Chef.
Turns out, the fish is more of a practical joke. “Poisson d’Avril” literally means “April Fish”. It’s more of an April Fool’s joke. On April 1st, Children run around trying to stick paper fish to the backs of unsuspecting adults. If they get one on, the child will run in the opposite direction screaming, “Poisson d’Avril”! It’s more of a symbol for April and more fun for the children, which is never a bad thing.
On to the flying bells. The Thursday before Good Friday, all church bells in France are silenced in acknowledgement of Jesus’ death. Upon not hearing the ringing bells, and as every observant French child is, I’m sure they then ask their parents “Où sont passée les sonneries des cloches?” (Where are the bells ringing bells today?). Parents tell the children that the bell’s chimes have flown to Rome to see the Pope. Easter morning, the bells ring out once again in celebration of the Resurrection, declaring that Jesus is alive again. As the bells fly back, they are said to drop chocolate eggs, bells and bunnies into the gardens of the French towns.
The moral of the story is, in any language, for Easter, don’t forget your chocolate!