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France: The French call it Paques. The main celebration sets off on Good Friday with a solemn note. Church bells do not ring for three days starting from Good Friday till Easter Sunday. This is a token of mourning for the crucified Christ.

Early on Easter morning the children rush into the garden to watch the bells "Fly back from Rome". As the children scan the sky for a glimpse of the returning bells their elders hide chocolate eggs.

Catholics believe that on Good Friday all the church bells in France fly to the Vatican in Rome carrying with them the misery and grief of those who mourn Jesus' crucifixion on that day. The bells then return on Easter morning in time for the celebration of the resurrection - bringing with them chocolates and eggs that are left in gardens for children to collect in their baskets when they wake up in the morning. In keeping with the tradition, French church bells don't ring from Good Friday to Easter morning. 

Italy: Italians call it La Pasqua. Easter is celebrated with a big feast. The Paschal feast is celebrated with Agnellino, Italy's special popular Easter dish. Agnellino is roasted baby lamb (see recipes page). Children enjoy a rich bread, made specially for the Easter, shaped like a crown and studded with coloured Easter egg candies.

Germany: The Germans call it Ostern, possibly by the name of the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre. School children have about three weeks holiday at Easter. No one works on Good Friday, Easter Saturday or Easter Sunday. Many people eat fish on Good Friday and on Easter Saturday evening there is often a big bonfire. This is very popular and these Easter fires burn as symbols of the end of the winter and any bad feelings.

On Easter Sunday, families have nice breakfasts together. Parents then hide Easter baskets with sweets, eggs and small presents. Hand-painted eggs decorated with traditional designs are exchanged among friends. Historically, it was customary in many regions for the village girls to present their suitors with a red egg. Many eat fish on Good Friday.

Children are given enormous Easter pretzels that are baked into heart-shapes and decorated with ribbons and streamers. Traditionally the children carry their pretzels to the homes of friends and neighbours to be admired. 

The Netherlands: The Dutch call it Pasen or Pasen Zontag. Throughout the country Easter is celebrated as a great spring holiday. People lay tables for Easter dinner with charming decorations of coloured eggs and young flowers. Sweet bread stuffed with raisins and currant, is one of the favorite dishes of the Easter feast.

Sweden: The Swedish call it Poskdagen. Throughout the country the egg, a symbol of life and resurrection, is featured in all Easter food and Easter games. Every household has egg colouring parties. Egg rolling contests are the favourite Easter activity for younger children. Palm Sunday is observed with palm fronds. Easter Eve is celebrated with bonfires. 

Mexico: Easter celebrations in Mexico are held as a combination of two separate big observances - Semana Santa and Pascua. The former means the whole of the Holy Week - Palm Sunday to Easter Saturday. And the Pascua is the observance for the period from Resurrection Sunday to the following Saturday.

For most Mexicans, this two-week period is the time for a great vacation. People often give gifts, send gift baskets or gift boxes. Semana Santa celebrates the last days of the Christ's life. Pascua is the celebration of the Christ's Resurrection. It is also the release from the sacrifices of Lent.

In many communities, the full Passion Play is enacted from the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Judgement, the Procession of the 12 Stations of the Cross, the Crucifixion and finally the Resurrection. In some communities, real crucifixion is included. The enactments are often nicely staged, costumed and acted, with participants preparing for their roles for nearly the full year leading up to Semana Santa.

Africa: In Africa, Easter is celebrated as a main function of the Christian communities. In the Easter Vigil hundreds of people assemble in the church building. In most parish churches the Easter Vigil is anticipated, because there are no lights, usually beginning at 3pm and finishing at dark, around 6pm. The church is decorated by Vitenge and Kanga, clothes made up in the form of butterflies, flowers, banana trees etc.

Christian hymns are accompanied by the beating of drums and Kigelegele, the high-pitched sounds made by women. After the Mass, traditional dances are held outside the church. Then people return home to continue their celebrations with local food and drinks.

In some parishes the people remain around the church after Mass and sit in their small Christian communities to continue the celebration of eating and drinking, as ceremonial dances and entertainment continues around them.

In Africa, Easter has a social dimension as well as a spiritual one. At Easter families come together. They share special food with Christians and non-Christians indulging in boiled or roasted rice with meat or chicken. Because meat is very scarce and expensive in Africa, the laws of abstinence (not eating meat) are not adhered to. 

On the Thursday before Easter in Greece, families dye hard-boiled eggs bright red. At a Saturday night feast pairs of people crack their eggs together. It is said that the one who cracks the other's egg will have good luck all year. 

adapted from the website www.giftsofnz.com