As a side note, as an Anglican (we’re called “Episcopalians” in the US), when I Googled “Ash Wednesday in France,” this Anglican church in Paris came up in the results. I had to smile at that; it’s named St. George’s as a direct salvo at the French.
It’s not the kind of day you can really call a “holiday.” It’s more apt to call it an observance. It’s also one of those practices that was so tied into Mideaval life that the more Calvinist- leaning Protestants were more than happy to drop it as soon as humanly possible. (Looking at YOU, Jeanne of Navarre!)
Amongst the most observant Catholics, there are ways of getting around the technicalities of Lenten traditions. The French are no exception. One of the most common restrictions is against consuming “meat,” which many people creatively interpreted to mean “any meat other than seafood,” This led to a lot of salted fish being consumed during Lent. Cheese and butter are generally okay, but anything with fat or sugar must be abstained from until Easter Sunday. This is one of the origins of our eating candy on Easter Sunday because by that time most of us are about to explode from the sheer force of the cravings. (Full disclosure: I never gave up any kind of food during Lent. I”m not going to set myself up for failure. Apparently, none of the male Catholic clergy ever heard of “Period Cravings.”
One of my sources claims that in Provence they est escargot during Lent, claiming that the snail is a “sea creature.” I have no idea when that little tradition started, but I’m having trouble following their logic.
Another French concoction is Aioli, which is created from garlic, salt, olive oil and egg, and often resembles mayonnaise. Drizzle it over your suspect escargot and you’ve gone from bland to tasty in one step. Aioli is most commonly eaten in the Occtaine and Southern France.