Palm Sunday (Rameaux) From Both Sides

Palm Sunday started on Saturday with a rare service at our 12th century church, St Clair’s, in Nouzerines. It’s seldom open so we make sure we go to every event that’s held there to show our support for this wonderful building.

The service was taken entirely by lay preachers. In generally pedantic and rule-following France, that was something of a surprise. Generally everything has to be done by someone with proper qualifications in triplicate. I guess that there’s not enough priests to go around any more.

Another surprise was that Chris was asked to carry the cross in the opening procession. Stéphanie, who led the service, pounced as we came in the door. Chris was delighted to be asked, but a little embarrassed since he, Rors and I had cycled down, so he was wearing cycling longs and a bright yellow cycling jacket. He removed the latter – to reveal his very old Denis the Menace jumper! But nobody seemed to mind his unconventional appearance and he did a very good job. The cross, a jug of water and a picture of Jesus were left on the altar.

The most interesting feature of the ceremony was the blessing of buis, boxwood or box elder, at the end. Those in the know, that is everyone except us, had come clutching a generous spray of it. There was a basket with some in at the door for people who’d either forgotten or never known to bring their own. The water from the jug, which was blessed during the service, was emptied into the font at the end. Then as people went out, they dipped their buis into the font, gave it a little shake and took the damp shrub home to display in the house over Easter.

Today, the day itself, we saw the secular side of Easter preparation celebrations. It was the school chasse d’oeufs, Easter Egg hunt, this year at the stadium in Nouzerines. We cycled down again and were nearly late since I had to do a last minute bike swap due to a puncture. It was its usual happy and disorganised chaos. Rors found five eggs and claimed his prize.

It was a fundraising do, naturally, but I was happy to buy the two very impressing objets (objects) – that’s how the teachers described them! – that Ruadhri had painstakingly made. Rors isn’t a great one for crafting so these took real application and dedication on his part. First there’s a noteholder with a wonderful pin and cotton éolienne (windmill). Rors chose to do the background in my favourite colour blue and added some pretty ribbon round the edge.

And the other gift was a tissue holder made from layers of card and wallpaper. I’m mega impressed and now have high expectations for what’s coming my way on Fête des Mères at the end of May. And that one will be free!

Chasse d’oeufs – Easter Egg Hunt

Yesterday, Sunday, it was the Chasse d’oeufs (Easter Egg Hunt) that Ruadhri’s school co-operative organises each year. Like the last two, it was another grey day, but it least it was dry.

The venue this year was St Marien. The eggs had been hidden in the field behind the school, but to get there it was a long walk through the village. However, we went off the main road so we got to see parts of St Marien we never knew existed, even after living close by for five years. There’s the old railway and station, a restaurant and a couple of large factory buildings, that were once thriving places. St Marien itself was previously a large, busy village. However, it was totally reliant on the railway for all this business, and once that was closed in the shortsigthed 1960s, the village went into permanent decline. It is the largest geographically and physically of the three villages in the school co-operative (the other two are Nouzerines and Bussiere St Georges), but it is the only one without any enterprise of any kind in it. Bustling Nouzerines has the bakery, the auberge and a garage; Bussiere has a garage, but poor old St Marien has nothing.

But this afternoon it was lively. There was a good turnout, as ever. Three hundred eggs had been prehidden in the field. By the end of the afternoon, 269 of these had been found. What happened to the last 10% I’m not sure. The place had been combed and recombed by the children, and by adults too, drawn into the fun.

Each child has to find five eggs. There’s also the special gold egg, which entitles the finder to a large chocolate Easter egg. All participants get a small packet of little eggs for taking part.

It didn’t take Rors long to find his quota, hidden in hedges, the grass and behind tree stumps.

He was disappointed not to find the golden egg, but I think the ones he found are much prettier! All in all, a nice way to start the countdown to Easter.

April Sayings and Easter Traditions

Here are some old country sayings for April, taken from the 1932 and 1933 editions of La Prosperité à la Campagne.

Avril froid donne pain et vin – April doux est le pire de tous.

A cold April gives bread and wine – Mild April is the curse of all.

Si St Marc n’est pas beau, Pas de fruits à noyaux.

If St Mark’s day (25th) isn’t nice, there will be no stone fruits (i.e. fruit with stones in e.g. plums, peaches etc).

S’il pleut en avril, il pleut sans arrêt en mai.

If it rains at all in April, it will rain non-stop in May.

En avril nuée – en mai rosée.

Cloudy in April, dewy in May.

Vent qui souffle aux Rameaux – Ne change pas de sitôt.

The wind that blows on Palm Sunday, won’t change any time soon.

I can vouch for that last one. Palm Sunday (Rameaux) was freezing here in Creuse. My son’s school had organised a Chasse d’Oeufs (Easter egg hunt) and we all got soaked and frozen. And we’re still getting soaked and frozen three days later!

Ruadhri's poissons d'avril - some look quite fierce!

There are a busy few days ahead. The first of April is poisson d’avril time. Children will be sticking paper fish on the back of every unsuspecting person they come across. Ruadhri has made a nice big shoal of them. This year we’re employing a secret weapon – Velcro! It’s much better than sticky tape.

That day is also Maundy Thursday, the day when, according to tradition, the church bells (or at the very least their chimes) fly off to the Pope in Rome to take everyone’s sadness at Christ’s suffering and crucifixion with them. They come back, all happy again, on Easter morning, bringing pretty decorated egss with them which they hide in children’s gardens. Sound like a tall story? Well, you won’t hear a bell chiming between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday so it could just be they’re not there!

Easter (Pâques) is all about chocolate here in France, as are so many things in this chocoholics’ heaven. But you won’t see many large Easter eggs, although there are plenty of small ones to be had. Thanks to the bell legend, you’ll find flocks of cloches volants (chocolate bells with wings). You’ll also come across vast quantities of chocolate rabbits and hens, and shoals of chocolate fish. These are chocolate poissons d’avril. They range from tiny friture (fish fry) to enormous multicoloured specimens. Yum.

Bantam, chicken and turkey eggs, left to right

I mentioned Ruadhri’s chilly Easter egg hunt. They’re huge over here. Many schools and organisations hold them. It’s lovely to see a field-full of happy children with bags and baskets scampering around searching for eggs. Actually, that’s what happens here regularly, but with just one child, as Ruadhri searches out our hens’ latest favourite laying spot. And he has an extra job at the moment. Our turkey has started laying eggs too, alternating between a nesting box and the middle of nowhere. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. They are magnificent affairs, elegantly tall and slim, with pretty red speckling on them. They taste just like chicken eggs but have a much tougher shell.

Have a great, chocolately Easter!