The provincial bouquet is a tradition rooted in Picardie, in Ile de France and in Champagne. It is a very popular fest that takes place in the outdoors during one Sunday in May: all the citizens and shopkeepers join in, by notably decorating the streets, the houses and the town’s monuments. The term of “provincial bouquet” also refers to an event that happens over several months: starting with a great celebration, it also includes a shooting contest organized by the archery company that receives the other participating companies at the end of every week.
An evolving tradition
The “provincial bouquets” were originally organized within a “round” that is to say about thirty archery companies geographically close. The point was that each one of them could go to the celebration on foot in less than a day. A “bouquet” has variations: it can be “open” or “closed”, which means reserved to companies of a same round. Moreover, it can be of less importance and be called “cantonal flowers”. Today, the important organization the event demands tends to limit the number of manifestations. There is generally one per year and in one location. The bouquet is thus open to all French archery companies and can hold up to 4000 archers.
A well-codified event
The parade of the provincial bouquet unavoidably recalls the military parades of the Ancient Regime and the competition, the tournaments that helped warriors train and compete against each other during peaceful times. Today, this results in a specific organization and a well-codified event. The day of the parade, companies have to present their flag in order to get their running order for the parade. This number is important because it helps decide between potential draws during shootings. At the head of the procession, young ladies in white carry the vase of the bouquet that gets passed on from the organizing company from the previous year to the current year’s company. The parade ends with a mass celebrated in honor of the archers, to which the flag bearer must imperatively be present.
The next day the Grand Prize starts and lasts until each company has been able to go the organizing company’s archery game. Once the ranking has been established, numerous prizes are given, among which a Sèvres vase, traditionally given by the President of the Republic to the best arrow. Certain prizes, such as earthenware plates, have now become souvenirs made for each bouquet.