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Good Friday used to be a more solemn day in New Orleans, so solemn that the movie listings in the newspaper would announce that local theaters were closed for the day. But Good Friday has also had a split personality – a somber religious day, but also the first day of a spring holiday weekend. New Orleans, a city with a tradition of maximizing its holidays, adds its own touches to the two faces of the day:
At the Shrine of St. Ann on Ursulines Avenue the grounds are busier than usual on Good Friday in preparation of a re-enactment of the Passion. Inside the shrine, troubled souls climb a stairway on their knees, hoping for help from St. Ann.
At the Circle Grocery on North Claiborne Avenue there is so much Easter candy on sale that outside stalls are used to house all the inventory. The block is so busy with activity that it takes on a Caribbean-market feel as shoppers steer grocery carts through the pedestrian traffic.
Through the doors of St. Augustine Church in Treme comes a group of people, 50 or so, who each year charter a bus from Algiers and then spend the morning of Good Friday walking to nine churches in the Downtown area. “Making the nine churches” is an old but nearly forgotten local custom. After St. Augustine, their path takes them to the St. Louis Cathedral before the bus ride home.
Through the doors of the St. Roch Seafood Market right off St. Claude Avenue comes a daylong procession of people who have come to celebrate boiled crawfish, filling as many sacks as they can afford. That and cold beers will make their Good Friday feast.
A cross is pulled along North Rampart Street as worshipers dress the part, some as Roman soldiers, others as disciples, one in the main role. They move in procession to the Center of Jesus the Lord, located in a former convent on that street. A sound truck sends music and prayer echoing off the walls of the old city.
Across the street from the Iberville housing development, worshipers of the food at Dooky Chase Restaurant stop for lunch. On this day the specials might include gumbo z’herbes, a Creole soup rich with greens to accompany the foods at the altar of the buffet.
Surviving changes in neighborhood population, Blessed Father Seelos Church (formerly St. Vincent DePaul) is the only Catholic church still open in the Marigny/Bywater neighborhood. The solitude in the old building captures the joyless mood of a sober day.
Surviving changes in traditions, a group of Hispanics gathers in the churchyard and creates a path of flowers in preparation for their cultures’ joyous celebration of the day.
Throughout town, altars in the churches are emptied and covered with purple drapery. The smell is that of candle wax. Shelves in the stores are filled with items for the season and decorated with the colors of Easter. The smells are those of chocolate and lilies.
Throughout Good Friday, the day is whatever people want it to be, though let us appreciate that whatever the alternative, there is generally a New Orleans way of doing it.
Deliver us our daily bread, and on this day, may it be stuffed with fried oysters. •