Streetcar: In the Land of Easter Egg Paquing
About 200 kids stood across from each other in parallel lines on a Saturday before Easter in a park near the Avoyelles Parish town of Effie. Each kid was handed two colored hard boiled eggs and, when given the go-ahead, approached the kid they faced for the custom of egg knocking. One kid would hold the pointed end of the egg in his or her hand while the opponent would gently tap the egg with the pointed end of another egg. Whichever egg cracked would be surrendered to the opponent. Those with surviving eggs would keep on knocking until a champion of the annual “Easter on the Red River” festival was determined.
Egg knocking is an old tradition that survives in Avoyelles Parish, though is hardly practiced elsewhere. That same day in the picturesque Avoyelles Parish town of Cottonport, there was another Easter festival where knocking was part of the activities.
In the world of egg knocking, the epicenter is the Avoyelles parish seat town of Marksville. There, the longtime tradition is for egg knockers to gather on the courthouse lawn on Easter Sunday morning. The successful knockers go home with a stash of failed eggs.
Culturally, if Avoyelles Parish was a country, it would be Switzerland, minus the mountains, chocolate and army knives. Its similarity, though, would be a central location where cultures blend. Just as Switzerland is part French, Avoyelles is the northernmost outpost of French Louisiana. Cross the Red River and the dialects change. Even among the French there are divisions. Though many locals are raised in the Cajun culture, they are not Cajuns but descendants of Napoleonic soldiers who were given land grants there.
Common to the French though, both Acadian or otherwise, the custom is properly called egg “paquing” (taken from Paque, the French word for Easter) but what we Americans call “knocking.”
I was raised in New Orleans, but in a paquing household. Even as adults, my mom, who was a native of Avoyelles Parish, would purchase an egg dying kit each year. Each Good Friday while the oysters were frying (our own personal tradition,) we would dye eggs that would be paqued on Easter Sunday. Like the sport of boxing, this is a one-on-one event, as one person taps the shell of the other’s egg. Sometimes, just to keep the action going, contestants will meet again and tap the rounded ends.
(It has been said that dyed eggs taste better than those that are not. I have concluded that that is true, but probably because the colored one have been around for a day or two and thus developed a fuller flavor, whereas regular non-Easter boiled eggs are usually eaten sooner.)
As is true with any contest, there is a way to cheat. Egg knocking hustlers have long known that the egg of the guinea hen, though smaller, has a tougher shell, that can outdo any conventional chicken egg.
Most of the time though, the custom is practiced without anyone going over the moral cliff. We learn from preserving our customs: Today’s tradition is tomorrow’s egg salad.