From the Editor: Christmases’ Midnights

What I remember most about going to Christmas midnight mass as a kid was the men standing outside the church until the last moment before the mass began. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a French thing. The people of that ancestry in Avoyelles Parish, located in the center of the state, are generally not Cajun, their forebearers came directly from France rather than Nova Scotia, but they certainly live in the Cajun culture including the custom of men staying in the church yard until the bells rang. Meanwhile, the women and children sat piously in the pews.

(It was at Christmas midnight mass as a kid that I first heard a choir sing what I thought was, “Hark the Errol angels sing” and was pleased by the surprises that life was offering.)

In New Orleans there had been a tradition of the Réveillon, a bountiful meal served upon returning home from midnight mass. There were no such traditions in the country. There were times when we drove to the country on Christmas morning instead of the day before. As prevalent as the Catholic culture is in Louisiana so too is the Baptist religion. I remember in particular the many variations of black congregation Baptist churches and related Christians sects each with their own small wooden churches along the old highways.

For many denominations the favored Christmas dinner fare was roast pig. The people of central Louisiana are pork eaters. They are masters of the boucherie, for which a whole hog is cooked outdoors and where few parts of the pig are left uncooked in preparation of such side items as boudin and cracklings. The roast pig, and perhaps a turkey, would be accompanied by rice and gravy (a seriously overlooked delicacy in modern cooking) plus maybe potato salad or sweet potatoes. There would be cakes for dessert and a pie made with native pecans.     

At the town of New Roads we are reminded that though Christmas is over, the season continues. A tented market along the highway boasts of fireworks for sale. I always stopped there to survey the bottle rockets, Roman candles (which are not as potent as they used to) and the best from the Black Cat company. With New Year’s Eve only a few days away I made some purchases. (Note: Since shooting fireworks is illegal in the city my stash was bought strictly for theological purposes.)

Curiously, the fireworks market is operated as a fundraiser for a nearby Christian church. As the new year begins there will once more be a midnight ritual as skyrockets bring flashes of radiance to the winter sky. And maybe somewhere the angels still sing.

Categories: History

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