Today I'm turning over the blog to Ellen Byron. Ellen writes the Cajun Country Mystery series. A Cajun Christmas Killing, the third book in the series, will be released October 10th.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, Y’ALL
by Ellen Byron
I picked that post title for a reason. When I was celebrating Christmas in Louisiana a couple of years ago, I saw lights that spelled out “Merry Christmas, Y’all” strung from a French Quarter balcony. It became my favorite decoration - next to the giant, brightly lit purple and green fleur de lis that adorned another iconic wrought iron balcony. (I’m sure the owners of that ornament get double use out of it on both Christmas and Mardi Gras!) When I was trying to capture the Crescent City Christmas spirit, I incorporated both of those images into a chapter of A Cajun Christmas Killing, my third Cajun Country Mystery.
New Orleans, a city whose motto is laissez les bon temps rouler – “let the good times roll” – never misses a chance to celebrate, so of course they embrace the holiday season with gusto. Canal Street lampposts are festooned with white lights. Streetcars sport pine tree garlands and wreaths. Hotels like the Roosevelt and Monteleone boast elaborately decorated lobbies and Christmas trees. The entire city sparkles literally and figuratively.
One famous, age-old New Orleans holiday tradition is the Réveillon dinner. In French, the word “reveillon” means “awakening.” The dinners began in the early 1800s when NOLA Creoles celebrated the start of Christmas with a big family meal after returning home from midnight mass. Today you’ll find Réveillon dinners offered by many of the city’s restaurants throughout the month of December, at a much more reasonable dining hour. The meals offer a wide range of Creole dishes, from turtle soup to chocolate absinthe trifle.
Another wonderful New Orleans tradition is caroling in the French Quarter’s Jackson Square, which usually takes place the Sunday evening before Christmas. Hundreds of people congregate in the Square, where they’re provided with free candles and sheet music. Singing begins at 7 p.m. My family and I arrived at a restaurant that bordered the Square around the time caroling began. We watched and listened as we ate and when we finished our meal, we joined the carolers.
By the end of the last song, as the sea of voices harmonized, emotion welled up inside me and I shed a few tears. The Crescent City may endure tragedies like Hurricane Katrina, but its people and spirit are indomitable. And nowhere did I feel that energy more than Christmas week in my beloved Big Easy.