The children sat cross-legged at the front of the First Presbyterian Church sanctuary Sunday morning, holding palm branches close to their chests.
"Are these palms real?" asked one little boy, minutes before the children headed to Sunday school to learn about Palm Sunday, the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was welcomed by people waving palm branches.
Indeed, the palms were real. But it wasn't until the children were seated in class that they learned about the day's big surprise -- a donkey would soon arrive on the church's front lawn.
After that, "it was so hard to keep their attention through the whole class," said teacher Kim Louise Spinosa, laughing.
As soon as the children were led outside, the palms were given to parents so Jessie, a 20-year-old donkey from JC's Pony Parties in Seymour, wouldn't confuse them with food.
"I feel like the donkey is going to chase me," said one middle-schooler, as Jessie lazily swung its head his way.
"I like it," declared kindergartner Audrey Anderson, who needed little prompting to remember who rode the donkey in the day's gospel readings.
"Jesus," she said, beaming.
Peti Deer, 14, said he didn't expect to be chosen to dress up as one of the disciples sent by Jesus to get the donkey he would later ride into Jerusalem.
"It was a good surprise," Peti said. "You have a real sense of what it was like."
"I think it's fabulous," said Richard, a Fairfield resident. "It just strikes me that the donkey is so meek and mild. I didn't know there was a cross on the back of every one. It makes it seem more real."
Her son, James, who finished reading the Old Testament in his children's Bible recently, was excited to touch and take pictures with Jessie, "especially on Palm Sunday because that's when Jesus rode to town on a donkey."
The 10-year-old's younger siblings, meanwhile, preferred to stay inside the church.
"They want nothing to do with the donkey," said their father, Jeff Richard.
The Rev. Edward Duffy said the church has brought donkeys to Palm Sunday services in the past and would like to make it an annual tradition.
"We've been trying to do it every year, but it's not the easiest thing to find a donkey," Duffy said, noting that it took several tries to find a local farm with a donkey.
"Can you picture Jesus riding on one of these?" Carol Fraser of Fairfield asked those gathered around Jessie.
"They are so sturdy and so strong," Brooks said. "I absolutely could."