A look at Avoyelles Lenten traditions

Sheldon Roy’s translation from Corinne Saucier’s 1956 book

{Editor’s Note: Last year, Sheldon Roy of Marksville submitted his translation of a section of Corinne Saucier’s “Traditions de la Paroisse Des Avoyelles (Traditions of Avoyelles Parish).” The book was printed only in French in 1956. The translation was given to us just before Easter last year, so we told Sheldon we would hold it and run it early in the 2018 holiday season.

Sheldon Roy died Jan. 27, just as the parish was beginning its pre-Lenten festivities.

It seems like a good time to make good on our promise. We have kept references to Sheldon as they would have appeared had we printed it last year. Part 1 on Lenten traditions is printed here. We will print Part 2 on Easter traditions later. -- Raymond L. Daye}

Christians across Avoyelles, Louisiana, America and the world view the Lenten/Easter Season as an especially holy time. The season begins with a celebration of pleasures, goes through a period of personal reflection and sacrifice, and ends with a celebration of a divine sacrifice and miraculous Resurrection.

Sheldon Roy of Marksville was a devotee of Avoyelles heritage and of the French language. He was president of the parish chapter of CODOFIL and taught French at Avoyelles Public Charter School.

He said many local traditions are included in noted educator/historian Corinne Saucier’s 160-page book Traditions de la Paroisse Des Avoyelles (Traditions of Avoyelles Parish). Roy took on the task of translating the volume into English.

Following are a few of the local Lenten traditions included in that book. Many long-time Avoyelles Parish residents are familiar with these pieces of folklore and tradition. For others, it will be a glimpse into this parish’s past.


1. The last day of Carnival Season, Mardi Gras, ushers in 40 days of sacrifice and renunciation of pleasure.

The party ends at midnight, the beginning of Lent, which ends on Holy Saturday at noon. Even before this period begins, one considers how he will observe Lent. He must forego some pleasure in order to fulfill his duty as a Christian.

The sacrifice, however slight, indicates a state of mind in harmony with the Passion of Our Lord. Consideration is given to giving up sweets and going to the movies, fasting, refraining from smoking, drinking coffee or eating meat.

One gives up delicacies during the 40 days of Lent and promises to attend daily Mass.


2. One realizes the greater the mortification, the more meritorious the sacrifice. So, the decision is made and one makes an effort to follow Lent “to the letter,” starting by attending the Mass on Ash Wednesday to receive the cross on his forehead made with the ashes, a mark of humility. Avoyelles churches are always full on this day, with citizens going to work with ash crosses on their foreheads.


3. Avoyelles citizens try to attend the Way of the Cross every Friday at 3:00. If not available at this time, he makes it alone at a suitable time.

Similarly, daily devotions become longer and more sincere. Often, they are made as a family, for example, reciting the rosary together before going to bed at night.

St. JOSEPH DAY - a break

4. This strict regimen is interrupted only once, on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, which is equivalent to Mid-Lent in other Catholic countries. We are given a moment of respite that day, all in honor of the saint to whom we dedicated the Church of Marksville.

But the celebration keeps a spiritual tone, because each year we have the “40 hours devotion” preceded by the procession of 12 little girls in white, throwing rose petals.

APRIL 1 Poison d’Avril

5. When the first of April is included in Lent, it is another cause for interlude. The custom is to prepare “poisons d’Avril” for friends to eat.

PALM SUNDAY - Magnolias

6. For devotees, Palm Sunday is a grand day. Even people who never go to church, or rarely go, return on that day. The ceremony fascinates those in attendance, for whom the distribution of blessed leaves has a special appeal. Moreover, those who are afraid of bad weather use them as a personal protection. Beautiful magnolia leaves have always been used for this purpose. What a surprise, what a disappointment for a child, when he learns that they are not the only real palms! In his mind, the magnolia tree grows for this purpose only. He saw them from his earliest childhood tied in branches to the head of his mother’s bed. He saw them thrown into the fire during storms. So it is not surprising that he holds a reverence for them that remains until the end of his days!

HOLY WEEK- Little meat

7. The Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, which is observed according to the ancient tradition by most people in Avoyelles. This is the period of fasting and abstinence during which little meat is served. The practice is especially arduous on Good Friday.

The ancient custom admitted nothing from flesh, neither egg nor milk nor cream, and certainly not fish!

The main dish was "gros gru" (grits) with salt, that is to say, without fat or butter. It was made “at home” with corn soaked in lye from ashes. One did not serve breakfast that day.

Work also ceased, for no one touched the ground on Good Friday. It was said that the Earth would bleed if it were worked.

Bloodshed or killing in any way whatsoever was strictly forbidden.

Activities were limited to the home and the barn. Work was put aside to make room for traditions and devotion.


105 N Main St
Marksville, LA 71351
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