CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

New Orleans' Holiday Traditions

3 minute read

New Orleans is a place that is steeped in tradition, and its residents love to celebrate! The winter holiday season is an especially festive time of year for the city, and has been for our 300 year history. Here are seven ways the Crescent City chooses to celebrate the season.

New Orleans legend, Louis Armstrong, and his wife Lucille wish you a Merry Christmas! Louisiana Digital Library

New Orleans legend, Louis Armstrong, and his wife Lucille wish you a Merry Christmas! Louisiana Digital Library

Réveillon Awakened

It may not come as a surprise that one of New Orleans’s favorite Christmas traditions involves a hearty Creole supper. New Orleans has deep Catholic roots. Founded by the French and influenced by the Spanish, New Orleans existed as a Catholic colony for a century before it became American. The custom of Réveillon (meaning “awakening” in French) began in the mid-19th century as a family meal that was served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Following the rule of fasting before Holy Communion, by the time midnight mass ended, everyone had worked up an appetite. The women would rush home from church to finish preparing a wonderful late-night feast for their families that would consist largely of things they made ahead and reheated like stews, gumbos and game pies. The custom faded over the generations but was revived in the 1990s by the city’s best restaurants. Today, they offer special Réveillon menus during the holiday season (although served at more conventional dining times). Caroling in Jackson Square Since 1946, New Orleans residents and visitors of any and all religious affiliations have gathered in Jackson Square in front of the St. Louis Cathedral for one night to sing the songs of the season. Professional and amateur carolers alike hold candles and song sheets while they serenade the city with holiday favorites. This joyful event attracts huge crowds every year and often exceeds the capacity of the square!

Carolers in Jackson Square. Louisiana Digital Library

Carolers in Jackson Square. Louisiana Digital Library

Throw me something, Krampus!

The Big Easy is known for it’s Mardi Gras parades, but we love any excuse for an over-the-top display. Each year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, multiple parades meander through the streets on New Orleans complete with elaborate floats, creative costumes and the best marching bands around. There is the Krewe of Jingle Parade that features well-known, beloved holiday characters and even a parade from the Krewe of Krampus honoring the mischievous half-goat, half-demon who punishes children who misbehave. Expect to catch bigger and better throws than the peppermints from your average Christmas parade. Papa Nöel Every culture has their own myth of Santa Claus, and Cajun country is no exception. Since reindeer, sleighs and snow are completely foreign to the hot and humid bayous of Louisiana, Papa Nöel (the Cajun Santa Claus) instead rides in on a boat pulled by eight alligators. Did you ever move to a new city as a child and worry that Santa wouldn’t be able to find your new house come Christmas Eve? Imagine being a small child immigrating from Europe to America and the fear that came with that relocation! In the 19th century, as more and more German, French and Spanish immigrants were relocating to Louisiana, parents got creative when trying to ameliorate their children’s fears that Santa wouldn’t find them in the New World. They began to build large bonfires on the nights leading up to Christmas to help light the way for Papa Nöel. Present day, the areas surrounding New Orleans keep up this tradition with creatively constructed burning displays along the river levees. Jingle, jangle, jingle! Here comes Mister Bingle! A cheerful snowman with a waffle cone hat and holly leaf wings known as Mister Bingle has become a holiday mascot of sorts for New Orleans. In 1948, local department store Maison Blanche created the character to help them stand out during holiday shopping season. Amid the hustle and bustle of Canal Street, Maison Blanche’s front window hosted regular puppet shows featuring the sprightly snowman and immediately became an icon. The character was so popular that according to a 1949 story in The Times-Picayune, “Two uniformed men were required to help get adults aside so children could see the Bingle show.” Today, Maison Blanche no longer exists, but Mister Bingle lives on in the hearts and Christmas parade floats of New Orleans.

Mister Bingle appears on Maison Blanche’s storefront. The sign reads: “When Santa left his shop one day he found a snowman near his sleigh. ‘You’ll be my helper now,‘ he said, and tapped the little fellow on the head. The snowman laughed and sang a jingle, so Santa named him Mr. Bingle. That’s how they came to be each year at Maison Blanche with Christmas cheer.” Louisiana Digital Library

Mister Bingle appears on Maison Blanche’s storefront. The sign reads: “When Santa left his shop one day he found a snowman near his sleigh. ‘You’ll be my helper now,‘ he said, and tapped the little fellow on the head. The snowman laughed and sang a jingle, so Santa named him Mr. Bingle. That’s how they came to be each year at Maison Blanche with Christmas cheer.”
Louisiana Digital Library

Deck the Swamps

In the holiday tradition of giving back, New Orleanians can recycle their used Christmas trees for the conservation of our beloved local marshes and swamps. These unique and vital ecosystems are under constant threat of coastal erosion, and these trees are useful tools in combating that. Every year, we are able to discard our trees curbside on certain days for volunteers to pick up and bring to the swamps. The trees are excellent at trapping sediment around the shoreline, allowing plants to take root to strengthen and rebuild the marshes. The project has been in place since 1986, and according to Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources, nearly 1.5 million Christmas trees have been recycled in this way! Crescent City Countdown In a city that loves to celebrate in its own one-of-a-kind ways, you know we have to ring in the New Year with something that feels authentic to us. Every New Year’s Eve at midnight, instead of a ball we drop a giant, illuminated Fleur de Lis in Jackson Square complete with music and fireworks. It’s our very own version of Times Square! At M.S. Rau we celebrate the many customs that make New Orleans so magical this time of year. We wish you and yours a joyful and peaceful holiday season.

FROM THE SAME AUTHOR

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