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Customs and Superstitions of Easter

Across Brittany, a number of curious customs and strange superstitions were once very closely attached to the principal Christian festival of Easter and the Holy Week that led up to it.

Heralding the beginning of Holy Week, Palm Sunday was traditionally the day when, immediately after morning mass, people would take blessed sprigs of boxwood or laurel and place them on the graves of loved ones; a practice that still survived into the 20th century. These blessed evergreens were also planted in the strips of a family’s uncultivated land; typically, at the end of the furrows.

Easter Superstitions and Customs

While this latter custom seems to have died out by the middle of the last century, the habit of placing, for good luck, a branch in each room of the house as well as in the stables was still noted in the early 1960s. Planting a branch of evergreen in the fields was possibly a means of invoking the dead, whose souls were said to do penance there, to aid in the fertility of the field and to protect the sown crops from harm.

Traditionally, church bells were not rung here between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday; a mark of mourning for the death of Christ before they rang out again, in celebration of the resurrection, on Easter Day. It was on Maundy Thursday that the eggs that were popularly exchanged as gifts on Easter Day were coloured; typically, these were dyed red at home with onion skins.

According to legend, the church bells did not sit quietly in their towers but on Good Friday made a pilgrimage to Rome where they were blessed by the pope himself. They returned full of pious vigour on Easter Sunday, laden with eggs – treats for the children – dressed as red as the pope’s cardinals. Some tales say the bells were accompanied on their homeward journey by angels carrying baskets filled with flowers and eggs which they distributed near the houses of deserving children.

Easter Superstitions and Customs - Flying Bells

Serious misfortune was said to fall upon anyone who spun yarn on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. The latter was also regarded as a most inappropriate day to do the laundry, for it was said that whoever boiled laundry on Good Friday cooked the blood of Christ. It was believed that a person who slept in a bed whose sheets had been washed on this day risked dying there within the year.

In some parts of the region, popular prohibition against doing the laundry seems to have once encompassed all of Holy Week for fear that it would result in someone in the family dying in the year ahead. However, Holy Week was also traditionally the time when many Bretons gave their house a thorough cleaning and revived the external whitewash.

In western Brittany, many people chose to fast from the evening of Maundy Thursday until noon on Good Friday; a day especially shrouded in superstitions. For instance, those who ploughed on Good Friday were said to make the earth bleed all year round. It was also considered particularly unlucky to slaughter any animal on this day or to sow any kind of grain. However, it was regarded an auspicious day for sowing cabbages, onions and pumpkins; onions were said to be protected from drought and insects if sown on this day, while the largest pumpkins were assured if sown in silence but in parts of eastern Brittany, pumpkins were believed best planted during Holy Saturday. Flax, once a very important crop in Brittany, was not sown during Holy Week for fear that the seed would be destroyed by fleas.

Easter Superstitions and Customs

Good Friday was the most auspicious day for grilling a sardine, which, when hung from the ceiling was said to protect the house from bothersome flies over the year ahead. Likewise, sprinkling a little broth, made of pork fat, into the ponds and streams nearest the house on Good Friday was recommended to shield one against the bothersome clamour of croaking frogs throughout the coming summer evenings. While the bread baked on that day was believed to hold special properties; if placed in a pile of wheat, it provided protection against mice and other annoying rodents. 

The day was also one in which it was also customary for those that lived close to the coast to visit the seashore to collect barnacles and whelks. Unfortunately, I do not know why this was once so. However, I am fairly certain that people were not upset if it rained on this day as it was said to signal an abundant harvest in the months ahead.

Easter Superstitions and Customs

Spring lambs were taken to the fields for the first time on Good Friday and this was also the day that those who kept bees, placed a small cross of wax, blessed by the local priest, on top of the hives in order to secure good fortune over the coming year. However, in some parts of the region, it was a blessed branch of boxwood that was put on the hives.

The chicken eggs laid on Good Friday were thought to bring good luck to the household and were kept as talismans to protect the house against fire over the year ahead. Here, people traditionally refrained from eating eggs during Holy Week but then ate as many as a dozen on Easter Day. Care having been taken with storing the eggs laid on Good Friday as it was believed that eating the first egg laid on that day would protect one from illness for the following seven months.

Easter Superstitions and Customs

In Brittany, it was popularly believed that children needed to be washed on Good Friday in order to protect them from scabies but the power of the day also offered other marvellous cures. For instance, it was said that only a healer born feet-first on the afternoon of Good Friday was powerful enough to straighten the spines of those who suffered from rickets. Likewise, the seventh child of a family of seven boys was thought to possess the gift to cure fever and scrofula but only on a Good Friday.

One cure for scrofula noted in the east of the region required the healing ritual be performed before sunrise but only if both healer and patient had not broken their fast; the patient was even forbidden to eat or drink before noon. After making several signs of the cross, the healer dipped their middle finger in holy water and traced a wet circle around the sufferer’s sores in expectation of a cure.

Holy Saturday was traditionally the day when priests blessed the water that the faithful would take home to pour into their own stoups. This water was usually held in large copper basins placed in the middle of the church and it was from these basins that the women of the parish would fill their own containers. Accounts tell that this was often a most undignified affair with much jostling and even fighting for pole position, convinced, as they were, that those who took the first water would be more highly favoured than the others. On returning home, the women sprinkled their animals with this holy water in the belief that their cows would produce better and more abundant milk than their neighbour’s animals.

Easter Superstitions and Customs

As well as using-up whatever fresh eggs remained from the previous week of abstinence, eating eggs on Easter Sunday was thought the best way to assure the fertility of the household’s domestic animals. While Easter Sunday was the day to break eggs, Quasimodo Sunday was traditionally the day to break the pots and plates that had been chipped and damaged over the previous year. Another curious belief here noted that a seaweed commonly known as ‘marine mistletoe’ was held to cure epilepsy but only if harvested at precisely three o’clock on the morning of Easter Sunday by a person with a perfectly clear conscience.

Belief in the transformative power of Easter can also be seen in its employment against the supernatural. For instance, in parts of Brittany, it was believed that werewolves could only be killed when struck three times by a dagger made of silver melted from a crucifix or shot by a ball moulded from the same source but only if the haft of the knife or the stock of the rifle had been rubbed with wax from the Paschal candle. It was also said that even that bird of ill omen, the magpie, crossed its nest on Good Friday. Roosters born on this day were thought to crow unusually early and to possess the ability to foretell death, which they did by altering their usual cry. Around the Bay of Saint-Brieuc, sailors once believed that fish spoke to each other in Breton on Easter Day.

Easter Superstitions and Customs

The arrival of Easter Monday saw a swift return to business as usual, for this was traditionally, in western Brittany, the day that the backbreaking work of the great clearings began.


Published by Bon Repos Gites

Enjoying life in Kalon Breizh - the Heart of Brittany.

158 thoughts on “Customs and Superstitions of Easter

  1. I think these Easter traditions, superstitions and customs make a lot more sense that waiting for the Easter Bunny to come. Even the practice of dying Easter eggs seems to have its roots in Christendom. Thanks for sharing and Happy Easter. Allan

    Liked by 7 people

    1. That is a very good point Allan, many are just as spurious as the Easter Bunny or chocolate eggs. Who knows, maybe in a few hundred years, there will be other things brought into the popular celebration of Easter? 🤔
      Thank you for reading Allan – it is much appreciated! Wishing you and yours a very Happy Easter! 🙏🙏

      Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you! That is very kind of you to say and I am pleased that you enjoyed the read! 😊🙏

      You did? Were you aware of your neighbours or relatives doing the same? I find these things so interesting because I do not believe that beliefs just simply die. It would be a slow process over many generations but even then I am sure that some families still carry the old ways!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. In my parents’ house, catkins were stuck behind the Cruzifx at Easter. These had previously been blessed with holy water in the church. At an aunt’s, with whom I sometimes spent the holidays, I was allowed to put green branches from a box tree, in the house and in the stable. I only found this link in German: https://www.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing!! 🙂 Thanks also for the link which I was able to read thanks to the wonder of web-page translation! 😉 I seem to recall that the book The Golden Bough (an absolute favourite of mine!) contains a great deal of detail regarding some of these old German superstitions and practices too!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. My grandparents (also in Germany) had a crucifix inside above the front door . They would bring box wood home from mass on Palm Sunday and exchange the previous year’s dried sprig to bless the home for the year to come. The old sprig was never to go into the trash, it was burned in the coal stove, although I don’t know why. And I have no idea where my grandma put it after she moved to a modern flat without a stove.
        She later moved into a care home and my mother continued to get her the sprigs once she couldn’t do it herself anymore. My grandmother died in 2019.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Thank you for this interesting recollection! We tend to forget how keenly Palm Sunday was long observed not so very long ago. Western Europe seems to have cast aside as much religious observances and ritual in the last sixty years as the previous 400! You see it here too, especially in the small domestic stoups – now only found in the homes of the elderly or else in antique markets rather than hanging at home.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I find it fascinating how religion, superstitions, and knowledge fused into uncomfortable arrangements that guided our ancestors in everyday of their lives. We do the same now with just as much rigorous defense of our delusions and fantasies as our preferred reality. It’s part of being human and will color our history for as long as we wander the planet. I enjoy the depth of your blog and it helps me connect with my English ancestry by giving me glimpses into the details that made up their lives.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. What a wonderful way of putting it!! Yes, Just so, I agree fully! There is something in our make-up that seems to demand that we reach, in one way or another, for meaning! 🙏
      Many thanks for reading and for your kind words about the blog – much appreciated!! Stay well! 😊😊

      Liked by 3 people

  3. My mother is often reminding me not to do this or that because she is aware of a particular custom that I may be breaching. As amusing as they may seem, people used to live by these. Brittany for sure had some amazing ones! 🙂

    Thanks for posting and have a great weekend! 💐

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha, yes, my father was cut from the same cloth! 😉🙄 I find the old superstitions fascinating. I am not aware of following any but do find myself making a mental note when I transgress them!

      Hope that you have an enjoyable Easter break! 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, they do have the best times to tell them though, it can get amusing at times. I think it’s the. best to just laugh them away 😂.

        Thank you, my Easter break is next weekend but I’m looking forward to it. I wish you the same 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha wonderful!! 🤗🤗 Storytellers like her are what we need more of in this world. These little things were once important ways that folks made a kind of sense of the crazy world around them. They may have little scientific reasoning behind them but they certainly possess a little of the magic of the world. 😉😊
      Thank you, wishing the same to you and yours too!! 🙏 Are the two eldest coming home or are they off on Spring Break somewhere?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes we defintiely need more storytellers, I love hearing about all of the reasons they did what they did.
        My kiddos were already on spring break anad back at school. Their year will be over soon.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can’t wait!!! It will be short because my son had to get ready for the football season but I’ll take what I can get. Do you have college kids? I’m thinking you do as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I like to think of the fish speaking to each other on Easter Day. Surely those with epilepsy would be waiting for a long time for a cure if the healer had to have a perfectly clear conscience. This is a fascinating article, as usual! Hope you have a wonderful Easter Day!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha yes but it is a beautiful thought and, of course, a ready-made excuse to explain why no cure was manifested! 😉
      I am very happy that you liked it! Thank you for reading and for your good wishes! 🙏 Happy Easter! 😊🤗

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the painting of the bells.

    My personal Easter celebration (as I’m not really a Christian any more but, as Goethe described himself, I’m not unchristian or anti-Christian, just not Christian). I was raised Christian and I don’t repudiate any of it. I like Jesus, so all is well there, but…

    Maundy Thursday is my day. The way I see it (my superstition?) Jesus was hanging out in a beautiful garden and didn’t want to leave because it was so beautiful. I suppose this was influenced by one of the reproductions my VERY religious Mennonite grandma (whom I loved) had on her wall, of Christ in the garden. It was a beautiful picture to me as a little kid. As you’ve probably figured out, I’m a nature person and I probably won’t want to leave this planet, either. I can’t imagine any eternity more beautiful. For many years I’ve made sure I’m out with my dogs somewhere beautiful in honor of that moment in Christ’s story. After that, his story gets pretty ugly and then pretty surreal, but that moment has always touched my heart. I guess I feel if I don’t honor it, I’m missing something important. So…yesterday Teddy and I had a beautiful walk, and to keep things fair, Bear and I kept Good Friday similarly. My guess is we’ll keep Easter in a similar way.

    I really enjoy your posts and paintings. And your sense of humor 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for this! 😊🤗 That is a powerful memory but I guess that is to be expected as it is, or was, a week full of power and meaning. I had not really delved into the Mennonites before, so, I have also learned something new today and that is always a good thing, so, thank you again!

      Hope you enjoy your Easter – however you choose to keep it! 🤗🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would say that’s a reasonable assumption. However, in recent years, the big supermarket chains have started putting hot cross buns out on Boxing Day. We’re not the most religious people here in The Great South Land, but many of us feel that that’s taking crass commercialism too far.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Agreed! That really smacks of it! 😔 I wonder how that marketing meeting went or, at least, how many meetings before everyone voted that it was a good idea to start pushing hot cross buns at Christmastime! 🤔😮🙄

        Liked by 1 person

  6. As always, what a fascinating read. I’m reminded of a great aunt who said that it was a sin to sew on Sundays. I always wondered why, especially if a ripped a pair of pants on Sunday.

    But the division of what one could safely sow on Good Friday is interesting. Grains are a no-no. But pumpkins and onions are good things.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you! I am pleased that you found it interesting! 🙂 Yes, working on Sundays was also a big no-no here too.
      Like you, I was struck by the clear distinction between what could/could not be sown. Easter is usually at one end or other of the sowing season here but I don’t know why it was only ok to sow small seeds on Good Friday! 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have problem rodents and flies are a nuisance but I’m not sure I will be able to find a sardine to grill. However as it’s too late for this year, I have a 364 days to find one! Most interesting as always. Happy Easter!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Wonderfully informative and interesting post on the customs and superstitions surrounding Easter in Britanny.

    I guess if it was hazardous to spin yarn on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, politicians would do well to refrain from campaigning on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

    I had never heard of the term Quasimodo Sunday until you mentioned it in this post just now.

    When you mentioned it, I thought the famed Hunchback of Notre Dame had a Sunday named after him. 🤔

    I googled the term Quasimodo Sunday and discovered that it was vice-versa.

    Quasimodo was named after Quasimodo Sunday which was the 1st Sunday after Easter Sunday.

    I forget what they used to call the 1st Sunday after Easter here in Canada but I remember sometime during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the name was changed to Divine Mercy Sunday.

    Interestingly enough, John Paul II died on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’m so happy to read great story of Easter 🐣 schooling time in India, we go near church with my friends
    and light candles 🕯 Easter restored world peace ✌🏼 on the Day when Jesus Christ is Risen , we studied 👏
    Wishing you dear friend A Blessed and Joy Filled Easter 🌹🙏💝💒

    Liked by 2 people

  10. We do actual palms 🌴 it was quite special – I was actually really excited for Palm Sunday for that 👏 I don’t really know why I loved so much – but I did ❤️

    We never lived near where my loved ones were buried – but I would save them every year and hang them on the wall over my bed until we got to visit. Then I would bring to them ❤️ was special and still followed with us…

    I did not know about dying eggs with onion skins 😮 but that makes sense for color…

    Phew 😮‍💨 I did NOT do laundry on Friday lol thankfully – our Good Friday was very solemn

    Also- I feel like everyone in my town ate fish on Friday – you could smell fish everywhere – of course I do not do fish 😝, but instead had a nice salad 🥗

    Not that this is a tradition – but I used to believe when it rained it was the heavens crying over the loss of someone loved dearly – it rained Friday

    I have to say – I do kinda love the breaking chipped plates and cups tradition – that would be a fun and cool tradition ❤️ I may have to take that one up lol ✌️

    We never had the werewolf tradition, but I have heard similar for Dracula or zombies 😮 (not religiously just old tales)

    Like your magpie, mine was crows – that one I still believe … 3 crows – can’t be more, can’t be less – signals death is to come to you or someone close to you

    Crows give me the creeps 😮 and make my heart beat faster

    Today was my only day off so I had to do stuff today… that backbreaking work 🫤 or in my case – breast breaking work 😝😩

    But I had help ❤️ and I made a nice dinner after and shared ❤️

    Was nice Easter –

    Ever since my children were little – I make little riddles and put them in plastic eggs they would have to solve the riddle to find the next egg – eventually leading to their basket 🧺- they could not wait… my daughter, even though is 16 still requests me to do because she loves that sooo much!! ❤️ it’s a lot of work and thought – but I love to see her light up and have excitement ❤️ I have done that since my oldest was about 2 😮 he is gonna be 29 in May 😮😮😵‍💫 Omg 😳

    Thanks for sharing your traditions – hope you had a nice Easter 🐣 👏✌️❤️

    Ugh Monday lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your devotion with the palms does sound a very similar practice or at least similar enough to be noteworthy!! It certainly sounds something very special!

      Haha yup, no laundry last week but you can vent with a spot of plate smashing this coming Sunday! 😉

      Awwhh, that is another lovely tradition that you had!! 🤗🤗 Haha, I am sure that even when she is in her thirties, she will be visiting you and hoping to find those egg hunt clues! 😉🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol … I don’t have anything that’s chipped – otherwise I would totally look forward to that!!

        Yes 🙄😄😄 she reminds me weeks in advance because I have to plan the riddles lol … I will say well I thought you don’t believe anymore? And she will say well I believe for that 🙄😄😄 and then she will go on a rant about how much she loves it – so how I not do that?

        That will be something she will always remember me with lol ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know 😄 although it’s a lot of work 😄

        You have to make good riddles – age appropriate so not to hard for whatever age to find lol …

        Then you have to set it up the night before Easter – so you have to wait til they asleep lol

        And you have to put together pretty awesome baskets lol

        You have to make it worth the hunt lol

        Not as easy as it sounds lol – but at the very least they will appreciate little fun things like that ❤️

        We also color eggs on Easter morning and I use bees wax … we take a pencil ✏️ with a pin 📍 in its eraser … I melt the bees wax and you make designs on the egg before you color – comes out amazing lol … you can scratch off the wax once colored and they sooooo pretty ❤️ they love that too ❤️

        My parents did that last one with us when we were kids ❤️✌️ so I just continue it 😘

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi, dear friend, and many wholhearted thanks and all of my warmest wishes to you and your beloved family! Happy Easter and may all of your wishes and perspectives come true as soon as possible! Stay safe and sound and take care of yourself! Life is difficult here but I’m going to make it this time too! Best regards. 😇😊😊😔😪🤐😚😚😍

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad that you found these of interest! Thank you! 🙏 I think it probably fair to say that most of these old customs have now died away but who knows, some may well be still observed quietly and without any fuss! 🤔😉

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for sharing this information. I never knew about these superstitions. Due to its pagan origins, my family never celebrated Easter, so it’s interesting to learn more about the traditions of this celebration.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow! So many traditions! And I thought the Philippines had a lot! What stands out for me is, aside from the usual Ash Wednesday’s ash cross on the forehead and the no meat on Friday, we were not allowed to laugh or make loud noises until Easter Sunday when Christ had risen.
    Thanks for the interesting read, as always

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I am happy that you enjoyed reading of them! 🙂 It is funny that you should say that about no loud noises as I recall that my grandmother used to say something similar!! I had not remembered that until you mentioned it, so, thank you!! 🤗🤗


  13. Same thing for me as above blogger wrote (password protected). Got notification for all your blogs stating this!

    On another front, I just heard France changed the pension age. I’m sorry. In US, we can choose early retirement age of 62, full is 67. Do you have option of an early retirement age? Marla

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am unable to view any of your posts in the new Jetpack WP reader and app on my cell phone. It says your site password protected and can only view your site online directly. I am blocked from viewing your site.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The superstitions and rituals are so detailed! I love the idea of the bells floating off to Rome to be blessed. I guess that Easter coincides with all the pagan spring festivals, giving a wide variety of customs free reign. I remember palm fronds on Palm Sunday, getting new clothes for Easter Sunday and a Lindt bunny. We still saw rickets and scabies at primary school. My Nana put a smidge of Dettol in my bath to protect me…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the notion of rebirth would have made Easter an easy sell for the early evangelists I would think.

      Yes!! Now that you mention it, I seem to recall some form of disinfectant going into the bath when I was little too!

      Liked by 1 person

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