Here in New Orleans we tend to do things a bit differently, and Christmas is no exception. Traditionally, on the night before Christmas, the children are snug in their beds, the stockings are hung with care, and not a creature is stirring. Well, the stockings might be hung with care, but that’s where the similarities end in the Crescent City on Christmas Eve. From Christmas Eve bonfires to 2:00 A.M. Reveillon dinner, Southern Louisiana has its own history, traditions, and unique way of spicing up the holidays that we just can’t get enough of here at Lambert Zainey.
Christmas Eve Bonfires
Some people call him Santa Claus, others call him Father Christmas, but down in Cajun country we call him Papa Noel. According to some historians, the earliest Cajun settlers in the region lit bonfires along the Mississippi River on Christmas Eve in order to guide Papa Noel on his nighttime travels delivering gifts. Others say the bonfires were intended to light the way to church for Midnight Mass. In any case, the Christmas Eve bonfire tradition has survived and thrived, and today as many as 100 or more bonfires are erected in St. James Parish, ready to be set ablaze at dusk. Don’t worry though, the local fire departments supervise the levee bonfires, keeping them under control and safe for all to enjoy.
Papa Noel & His Eight Alligators
Snow in New Orleans is a rare, rare sight. A sled and eight reindeer doesn’t make much sense as a mode of transportation down in the swampland. What does make sense? A boat. What kind of boat? A pirogue. Pulled by eight alligators. In Southern Louisiana, Papa Noel’s magical green-eyed alligators light the way down the river as he navigates through the fog to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys. Luckily he doesn’t have to rely only on the alligators, he’s got the Christmas Eve bonfires to guide his way!
2:00 A.M. may seem like an odd time to eat, but Reveillon dinner is a New Orleans tradition dating back to the early 19th century. As a way of breaking the daylong religious fast leading up to Christmas Eve, New Orleans Creole families celebrated the start of Christmas with sharing a family feast upon returning from Midnight Mass. These days, many local restaurants offer special Reveillon menus to honor this age old tradition, serving up classic turtle soup, grits and grillades, and duck casserole to celebrate the season.
This evening, whether the kids are snug in their beds or at the dining table, whether Santa Claus comes down the chimney or Papa Noel glides up in his boat, we wish you and your loved ones all the best.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Lambert Zainey!