‘Palm Sunday known locally as Fig Sunday was a minor hamlet festival. Sprays of soft gold and silver willow catkins called ‘palm’ in that part of the country, were brought indoors to decorate the houses and worn as buttonholes for churchgoing. The children of the house loved fetching in the palm …..better still they loved the old custom of eating figs on Palm Sunday. Some of the more expert cooks among the women would use these to make fig puddings for dinner.’
Flora Thompson Lark Rise to Candleford
Fig Sunday was an alternative name for Palm Sunday and it appears to have been observed as a custom across the country. It is noted that at one point it was observed in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Northampton and North Wales. In Hertfordshire it is recorded in the village of Kempton:
“It has long been the custom for the people to eat figs – keep warsel! – and make merry with their friends on Palm Sunday. More figs are sold in the shops on the few days previous to the festival than in all the year beside.”
In Buckinghamshire it is noted that:
“At Edlesborough, Buckinghamshire, the children procure figs and nearly every house has a fig- pudding.”
In Dunstable, Bedfordshire:
“For some days beforehand the shop windows of the neighbouring town are full of figs and on Palm Sunday crowds go to the top of Dunstable Downs, one of the highest points of the neighbourhood, and eat figs.”
In the 1912 Byways in British Archaeology by Walter Johnson he observes that a:
“Ceremony was carried out on Palm Sunday by the villagers of Avebury, Wiltshire, who mounted the famous Silbury Hill, there to eat fig cakes and drink sugar and water. The water was procured from the spring below, known as the Swallow Head.”
The author observes that real figs were often replaced by raisins as they were in the west of England and Wessex.
“when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.”
The Gospel of St Mark
Palm Sunday is so called from the custom of eating figs on that day but why them? The main claim is that on Christ’s entrance to city on Palm Sunday he cursed a fig tree for not having any fruit, a barren tree, being hungry he then cursed it. Another claim is that the practice arose from the Bible story of Zaccheus, who climbed up into a fig-tree to see Jesus.
Sadly although a few food bloggers might promote fig pudding making on the day, Fig Sunday as a community custom has long ceased.