By Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT — It’s Christmas in Louisiana! Well, it’s Christmas everywhere, but my spot on this blog is usually from a Louisiana perspective, so I wanted to bring a little Louisiana flavor to your Christmas Eve.
We don’t usually have snow for Christmas; I can’t recall ever seeing a White Christmas here, actually. It’s brisk and cool today with beautiful blue skies – perfect for getting out and doing that last minute shopping, and I’ll be honest, I’ve been finished for days but I am trying to think of some little errand I need to do just to get out among the festive. Another book at Barnes and Noble, perhaps?
In Louisiana, Christmas means seafood; particularly on Christmas Eve. I’m making a gumbo this afternoon which we will eat after we go to the early church service this evening. In the grocery store yesterday I could tell I was not alone in my intentions; many other people were also buying shrimp, andouille sausage, and the tell tale sign: bell peppers, onions, and celery.
Further south than my own northwest corner, down toward Baton Rouge, today is filled with festivities along the Mississippi River as families and other groups gather to make last minute preparations for the bonfires along the Mississippi River levee.
The bonfires are a long Louisiana tradition and while their origins are not exactly clear, the custom brings families together in an atmosphere not unlike tailgaiting. Marcia Gaudet explains:
Christmas season bonfires, once popular in France, Germany, other parts of Europe, and the British Isles, continue to be part of the Christmas celebration in a small area along the Mississippi River in south Louisiana. After dark on Christmas Eve, huge bonfires blaze along the levees of the river in the parishes of St. James, St. John the Baptist, and Ascension. (This area includes about 30 miles of levee on each side of the river and is located about midway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.) These bonfires, built of logs, cane reed, and bamboo, create the effect of spectacular fireworks. Large crowds of family, friends, and visitors gather on the levee to watch the bonfires, sometimes built as close as 20 to a mile of levee. A popular explanation for the bonfires is “to light the way for Papa Noel .”
Gaudet goes on to explain that in recent years the bonfires have become more of a tourist spectacle than in years past, and the traditional tepee style bonfires have given way to giant pelicans and styled snapping turtles.
South Louisiana is deeply Catholic and up here in the northern part of the state there is a heavy concentration of Baptists. Whatever the case, most folks will be attending church services this evening which most certainly will include the Christmas story from Luke:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Merry Christmas from Louisiana!
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.