Every year at this time, I go on this mad search across town covering every square inch, looking in every gourmet food stores for a chocolate hen. You can call this my very own Easter tradition. Alas, chocolate hens I never find because Americans only believe in the Easter bunny.
Now, let me explain before you start snickering at the idea of a chocolate Easter chicken. It’s not just a chicken – way too trivial and unimaginative – it’s actually a hen, which is a lot more elegant. When you grow up in France, depending on the region, the focus during Easter is on the eggs as well as the hens. Not a bunny. The stores will feature plain as well as pastel colored decorated chocolate eggs and hens for kids and adults to enjoy… or pig out! Dark, milk or white chocolate, these big hollow hens are a delight for whomever has a sweet tooth. I have only found one chocolate hen once in my life in the U.S. and I should have kept it forever like a long lost treasure instead of eating it right away.
So bunny or hen? Actually, there are more animals involved in this zoological Easter tradition! In Switzerland, they talk about the Easter cuckoo. And in Australia, they have the Easter bilby – this tiny little endangered marsupial. It seems that in Eastern and Northern Europe, in Anglo-saxon as well as Germanic countries – including Alsace, the Eastern region of France – the chocolate eggs are brought by bunnies. Apparently, bunnies being the most prolific during the Spring season used to represent fertility and renewal. Now how can I explain to the bunny believers that rabbits are mammals so they do not lay eggs therefore cannot be responsible for bringing eggs?
In France, as well as Belgium, the hens lay the eggs for everyone to scavenger hunt in grandma’s backyard during Easter lunch. However, the other emblematic symbol of Easter, along with the hens, is the church bell. Being a Christian tradition, Easter places the church bells as an important part of the celebration and the story says that they took a trip to Rome and brought eggs on their way back dropping them in everyone’s gardens. Now if you’re not a Christian, you don’t really hear or talk about the bells traveling to Italy with a round-trip ticket and empty suitcases to bring back chocolate eggs for all kids. The funny part is that illustrated children’s stories and store signs will feature drawings of bells with wings flying away to Rome. Yes, wings – on each side!
The stores in the U.S. only carry chocolate eggs and bunnies, which is quite sad and dull. In France, the stores are much busier with all sort of chocolate symbols and animals. We have hens, we have bells (yes, they do make chocolate bells), we have eggs, and now that we live in a globalized world we also have bunnies. Oh and more oddly, we have chocolate Easter fish too… don’t ask, I have no clue.