Let us return to the field behind the salle des fêtes in Daglan, France, on Tuesday, March 8. As you discovered in yesterday’s post “The judgement of the children — Part I,” something mysterious was taking place involving lots of school kids, a few parents and teachers, and a strange homemade-looking creature in a blue suit, standing in a grocery cart.
What could possibly happen next? Well, have a look at this. It’s a teacher wearing (what else?) a cat mask, asking questions of the children, and receiving the obviously rehearsed answers. (And don’t worry, the girl at the right of the photo may have a gun barrel in her mouth, but it turned out to be a toy gun.)
Little by little, we started to understand what was going on. It was a trial — and the children were testifying against le méchant Pétassou (“the malicious Pétassou”), as he was later described in Echo No. 7, the April newsletter of Daglan’s Mayor. So that strange man in the blue suit was someone or something called Pétassou. A question would be something like: “How did you know that Pétassou had eaten all the cookies?” And the response might be: “Because we found crumbs in the cuffs of his pants.” So this went on for a while, like this:
Now we’ll leave the trial for a few moments, to let you know what I’ve learned about Pétassou. Believe me, it wasn’t easy finding a coherent story, and I checked newspaper articles, other blogs, Wikipedia, our Mayor’s newsletter, and more. What I learned is that Pétassou is a sorcerer, a prototype of Harlequin (Arlequin, in French), a legend, an evil man. He is often associated with rags, and may be pictured as a man covered in all sorts of rags. In one blog, the Pétassou made by the school children in another French village was an octopus. In some stories, Pétassou is responsible for all the crimes that have taken place in an area for a whole year.
But whatever the details, whatever the truth of the legend, the central point is that Pétassou is a bad character, and must be punished. And here’s what his punishment is, as dictated by the children:
Yes folks, it’s time to give that mean old Pétassou a good roasting. And after a slow start, the flames definitely start to catch:
And as all the school children, their parents and friends and teachers, stand around watching, the flames consume Pétassou completely.
In one report that I came across, the trial and burning of Pétassou was carried out on March 19 in the village of St Estèphe, so it appears that the exact date of this event doesn’t need to be the same everywhere. And in the St Estèphe report, the reason for burning the Pétassou figure was “to chase away winter and bring spring!”
Personally, I found the punishment for stealing some cookies and some sausages a bit harsh, but no one seemed particularly fazed by all this. Later, one friend in our village told me that as a kid, he wasn’t afraid of Pétassou, and just accepted the legend as one of those things. Another friend, whose daughter took part in the ceremony, said that at the end of the trial the school children were thinking less about Pétassou going up in flames and more about the cookies and other treats they were about to be served. That’s justice for you!