It’s one of my oldest and fondest Christmas memories: My mom and dad and I were walking along Bayou St. John in mid-December when we noticed that City Park was all lit up. We abandoned our normal path to cross the street and check it out. This was maybe the second or third year of Celebration in the Oaks, before the driving tour and the Cajun village and Dinobration, and we were the only people out walking that night, so it felt like it was all for us. Looking up while pointing and exclaiming, we strolled through what now seems like a very modest display of simple white lights, but at the time, it seemed both magical and extravagant.
Also figuring prominently into my childhood Christmas memories are the uniquely New Orleans traditions of Mr. Bingle and the Lutcher bonfires. Growing up here, I thought that everyone had the same traditions, just like I thought every restaurant gave out go-cups for leftover beer and every kid got three days off for Mardi Gras.
During the decade I spent in Missouri, I discovered a lot of nice new holiday traditions –– sledding, an impossibility in New Orleans due to its decided lack of both snow and hills; the elaborate Christmas displays at the Anheuser-Busch brewery; and some truly delicious German Christmas cookie recipes –– but damn it all, none of it could compare to Mr. Bingle, with his ice cream cone hat and holly wings! And how could Santa see to get to my house without a bonfire? That’s just preposterous!
Now, happily, I am back in the land of Bingle, and I am excited to take my little girl to see the icon himself, who is on display this year at Celebration in the Oaks, while basking in the joy and wonder of 70 degree Decembers.
There are many things that set New Orleans apart at this time of year, but there are also some things that we have in common with the rest of America: decorating, parties and food. (I happen to think we do all of these things just a little bit better than everyone else, but I also fully admit to being biased.) We’re celebrating all of those things in this holiday-themed issue. The homes of the Heebe and Boudreaux families are all decked out in holiday splendor, and we’re proud to showcase them here. We also offer some tips on hostess gifts for all of those parties you’ll be attending, and we talked with food phenoms Tyler Florence and Iron Chef Cat Cora about what they like to make for the holidays.
You may not have Tyler Florence’s “truffle connection” or a collection of nutcrackers to rival Jennifer Heebe’s, but I’m sure there are plenty of ways that you make your holiday season extra-special.
Above all, holidays are a time for family, of course, and one of the things that makes my husband and me feel more like a family and less like a couple with a child is making our own new traditions while incorporating old ones from both sides. Ruby will grow up knowing who Mr. Bingle is, and she will grow up making German spritz cookies, but we’re not sure yet exactly what new traditions we want to give her. It is my greatest hope, however, that she will one day have a Christmas memory as pure and simple and magical as accidentally discovering Celebration in the Oaks was to me all those years ago. I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas that year, though I’m sure my list to Santa was very long, but I will never forget how it felt to be walking through the sparkling lights while holding my parents’ hands. In a holiday season that might be a little leaner than we’d like, that’s something we should all keep in mind.
Happy holidays, and best wishes for a very happy new year!