Cause to Celebrate
Christmas On Bayou Rouge
My first recollections of Christmas began when my family lived in a shotgun cottage in Uptown New Orleans, and our next-door neighbors were the Austins who hailed from Cottonport in Avoyelles Parish. Mrs. Ann Austin’s face always glowed when she spoke of their hometown.
Mr. and Mrs. Austin were a middle-aged couple with a grown married daughter, and they became an extension of our family. On the nights that Mrs. Austin went to choir practice, the minute the door closed behind her, we’d hear Mr. Austin blaring Dixieland jazz and the sounds of his dancing feet against the hardwood floors. Somehow, seemingly by magic, the music would end five minutes before Mrs. Austin returned from church, and quiet would resume. The December evening we learned my father would not survive the night, Mrs. Austin sat with us in our living room and wept as much as we did. The next morning she brought us homemade buckwheat pancakes as big as my face, but we were so heartbroken no one could eat them. To this day, I have never tasted homemade oatmeal cookies that can compare with hers.
Cottonport remains a postcard-like beautiful little town, filled with greenery, with the remnants of Bayou Rouge placed at the center of the town. Founded in the early years of the 19th century on the banks of Bayou Rouge, it was once a bustling little town. The bayou is no longer navigable, but once it was deep and sweeping enough to buoy large steamboats carrying cargo from Cottonport to New Orleans. Shaped like a horseshoe, it was a perfect waterway to allow boats to switch direction. The bulk of the cargo the ships carried was bales of cotton, and so much of it was shipped from the area that the residents named the town Cottonport. Although the glory days of Bayou Rouge are long past, it still provides a lot of pleasure for fishermen and boaters today.
In 1965, the inaugural Cottonport Christmas on the Bayou Festival was held, and it turns 47 this year. For two days, the bayou in the center of town is lined with Christmas treats, crafts, decorations and general Joyeux Noël celebration. One of the largest Christmas parades in the state winds along the waterway, followed by the splendor of Christmas fireworks lighting up the sky. The tiny town is filled with thousands of Christmas partiers spreading good cheer.
Cottonport Christmas on the Bayou Festival, Dec. 9-10, Cottonport, (318) 876-3417
Harvesting Christmas in Grant
The Grant Christmas Tree Farm and Syrup Mill, run by Gray and Mollie Anderson with their children, looks like it’s been plucked from a Bavarian mountainside and planted in Louisiana. The grounds are jeweled in the emerald-green colors of Leyland cypress trees and Virginia pines; the air smells like a virgin forest in the Pacific Northwest. Growing on the property along with the trees is sugar cane, something the Andersons harvest themselves and use to make their own nectar-like cane syrup for public consumption. In addition to raising children, trees and sugar cane, the Andersons are foster parents to honeybees, with hives spread over a 15-mile radius of their property; when the autumn sun filters through the trees, the honey is gathered and processed, and jars filled with the golden fluid then adorn the farm’s gift shop shelves.
For the first three Saturdays that follow Thanksgiving, the Andersons hold the Fall Harvest Festival and welcome visitors. Guests are treated to the sight of a donkey working an old-time cane press as it extracts the juice from the plant to make syrup – as they prepare the syrup, the entire air smells like pralines are cooking. Biscuits, syrup, white gravy and sausage are there for the taking, as are bluegrass and gospel music, hayrides and artisans working their weaving looms and spinning wheels. This feel-good haven in Grant is the perfect place to banish any “bah humbug” feelings you may have and capture the joy of the season. It’s also ideal for buying your Christmas tree or a special gift.
Grant Christmas Tree Farm, 716 Whitaker Road, Grant, (800) 987-NOEL (6635)