Christmas in Louisiana
Christmas is celebrated in Louisiana very much in the same manner as the rest of the United States, but it includes some customs reminiscent of the state’s French heritage. Among the Cajuns (Louisianians of French-Canadian descent), Santa Claus is known as “Papa Noël” (Father Christmas); he is believed to ride on a pirogue (a type of canoe popular in Louisiana) pulled by alligators (which are abundant in the state’s swamps), rather than on the traditional reindeer-drawn sleigh. To help Papa Noël find his way to the children’s homes, small communities west on New Orleans light large bonfires along the banks of the Mississippi River on Christmas Eve night.
While holiday feasting in the Pelican State includes the traditional foods enjoyed in the rest of the country, Louisianians also prepare dishes (casseroles and dressings, for example) with ingredients such as sausage, oysters, shrimp, crawfish, okra, and mirlitons; in true Louisiana fashion, some of these dishes may be spicy. Whole turkeys deep-fried in large vats of peanut oil are popular along with the roasted variety.
As in the rest of the United States, Louisianians welcome the New Year (and thus end the Christmas season) with much festiveness. In the historic “Vieux Carré” (literally, “Old Square”) or French Quarter of New Orleans, crowds of revelers converge around Jackson Square on New Year’s Eve just like northern counterparts do around Times Square in New York. A tethered ball of lights on top of the Quarter’s old Jackson Brewery building (which has been converted into a shopping mall) descends as the countdown to midnight begins, to then land near a large comical figure of a baby representing the New Year; the figure was built by a local company which designs and builds parade floats for the upcoming carnival season. One of the nation’s best-known New Year’s Day college football games, the Sugar Bowl, is played in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
It is a tradition in Louisiana to have a dinner of seasoned cabbage and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Eating the cabbage is supposed to promise you money during the new year, while the black-eyed peas are eaten for good luck. The Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (also known as Twelfth Night since it falls 12 days after Christmas) marks the beginning of the carnival season which ends on Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), the day before Ash Wednesday.