Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Louisiana, It's A Spicy Cajun Christmas

Kaley Willis /
Louisiana Christmas trees are adorned with magnolias, the state flower
By Kaley Willis
SULPHUR, Louisiana, U.S.A. – Christmas Eve: a time for families all over the world to come together over a hot turkey, leave some milk and cookies for Santa, and go to sleep early so they won't accidentally get a sneak peek of Santa and lose their gifts.
This is the standard tradition for most families in America during the Christmas season.
Things in Louisiana, however, are done a bit differently on December 24th.
Cajuns, descendants of French-speaking Acadians living mostly in the state of Louisiana, have many traditions that they incorporate into the holiday season. It’s a special time for them since it is in preparation of their most famous celebration, Mardi Gras: the last night of eating rich, traditional Cajun cuisines before the Lenten season of fasting.
Kaley Willis /
A Cajun gingerbread house in the 
Southwest Louisiana Tourist Bureau
For starters, the jolly fat man that the world knows and loves takes on a completely different identity once he hits Cajun country. There is no longer the familiar sleigh-driving, reindeer-handling Santa Claus, but Papa Noel. While you won't see a white Christmas in Louisiana, you will see Papa Noel as he rides over Louisiana in his alligator-led pirogue, a small boat Cajuns use in the Louisiana marshes.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is no longer leading the sleigh, but Nicolette the Glowing-Eyed Alligator, using her illuminated emerald green eyes to guide Papa Noel's pirogue throughout the night sky. Another way Cajuns believe Papa Noel is guided through the Louisiana sky on Christmas Eve is with bonfires in Lutcher, Louisiana with its Festival of the Bonfires.
At 7 in the evening, sky-scraping bonfires are lit along the Mississippi River levee and Christmas celebrations begin to welcome Papa Noel to Cajun country, a tradition that is said to be started 200 years ago. Many other festivals and celebrations take place, such as Christmas Under the Oaks Festival in Sulphur, Mistletoe and Moss in Lake Charles, and Christmas Festival of Lights in Natchitoches, all special events for locals and tourists to celebrate the holiday season, get some of their Christmas shopping done, and eat some traditional Cajun cuisine under the famous oak trees of Louisiana.
Kaley Willis /
Common foods and spicy seasonings
used in Louisiana
There are hundreds of other traditions, such as eating gumbo for Christmas dinner. The official dish of Louisiana, gumbo is a strong soup made of roux with seafood, deer sausage, and other meats. Along with gumbo, dirty rice, okra, pralines, and turducken, a mixture of turkey, duck, and hen are also devoured at the dinner table.
Parents also read The Cajun Night Before Christmas to their children, a spin on the original story using traditional Cajun lingo, the first line reading, “T’was the night before Christmas an’ all t’ru de house, dey don’t a ting pass, not even a mouse.” The spelling of the famous first line is written by author James Rice in the dialect of Cajun French, and is supposed to be read aloud in a Cajun accent.
Kaley Willis with one of the famous "Gator On The Geaux" statues in Lake Charles, Louisiana
Cajun gingerbread house making competitions, alligator statues in Santa hats, and Christmas trees adorned in magnolias, the official state flower, are common sights you will see during the holiday season in Louisiana.
A combination of the spicy food, the French language, and the old traditions make a Louisiana Cajun Christmas one of the most unique and memorable Christmases in the world.
Merry Christmas everyone, or as Papa Noel says, “Heaux heaux heaux, Joyeux Noël!”

1 comment:

Tana Pike said...

I LOVE this article! Great job Kaley, everyone will want to come on down and have Christmas with us!