HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, and a MERRY HOLIDAY SEASON
This year – in a gap in my editorial business – I am focused on building my “platform” **** You know, all that marketing junk that comes with being a writer. My website is finally active – you are there now reading this – but far from complete. I am still trying to figure out Goodreads. My 2 Facebook pages carry my blog entries as well as an occasional rant or some family news here and there. I have no idea what Instagram is! And I simply REFUSE to use Twitter, if for no other reason than it has been made completely infamous by a certain POTUS. Maybe this ‘dry spell’ will serve a good purpose as I figure all of this out.
MEANWHILE . . .
The good news is that Madame Langlois’ Legacy is finished. I am in the midst of the final read through/clean up and learning the publishing methodologies of Scrivener as I prep the final product. But, as a Christmas wish and present to my readers, below is the Xmas chapter from the book. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps whet your appetites for the upcoming book.
***SUZANNE COOKS FOR CHRISTMAS***
The wheel of the year has turned once more, and Noël is fast approaching. This is easily my most favorite time of the year. Here in Louisiana, the weather is perfect throughout this season. It isn’t as warm as when I was a little girl in the islands, nor as cold as the people from France often describe the Noël season in their homeland. Cold enough to brace the blood but not so cold as to slow down business and commerce in the city, the weather only enhances this prosperous and vibrant holiday season.
By now, I have been here long enough to establish the Marigny’s household kitchen and garden as a efficient operation, so it’s only with a glad heart that I sit down at the beginning of December to plan the festivities. The first step, of course, is to set the menu. Not just the menu for the main meal, but all the accompaniments before and after, as well as foods and treats to keep around the house throughout the festive season.
After the necessary shopping is done, decorating the home for the Yuletide gatherings and festivities begins. Since there has been a France, Gallic homes, villages, and towns were hung all about with evergreens gathered from the local forests. People liked to mark these long dark nights with reminders of the greener times to come with their local firs, pines, and other green and growing things sprouting their leaves; as the year turns and the days once more begin to lengthen. Here on the Gulf Coast, the vegetation never really dies off and the pines, oaks, evergreens, and shrubs give up their branches to decorate our homes. The ancient custom of the Yule Log burning throughout the long Christmas nights is also, for many, a fond memory of the Old Country. Our Rhenish (German) neighbors from upriver even have a custom from their old homes of bringing a whole tree, smaller of course, into the house and decorating it with colored ribbons, little keepsakes, and even some candles. These folks from the Rhine valley even have a wonderful custom of lighting bonfires along their rivers and waterways to light up the long solstice nights. Some even say it marks the way for St. Nicholas or Pere Noël to pass over and bless their homes and settlements. The fires also help to light the way to Midnight Mass, for after all, this is the “main event” of the Christmas celebrations.
Here in the city, treats and hot drinks will be set out, cocoa and cookies for the children, mulled wines and rum cakes for the adults. Feasting will begin early on Christmas morning after the Midnight Mass. All December’s activities will come to purpose as the feasting commences in earnest and proceeds through the morning meal and throughout Christmas day.
At breakfast after Mass this year we will have Baked Glace’ Bananas, and deviled eggs. Grits and Grillades, one of the household favorites, will be on the menu. Also on the table will be several plump chickens stuffed with oyster dressing, with turnips, carrots and onions baked with the birds.
As the great day wears on, celebrations continue with general revelry, dancing, parades, parties, and singing carols. No doubt there will be games and pranks by the youngsters, and probably by a few of the adults as well! Here in New Orleans, a curious custom has also evolved. To beautify and somewhat humanize the new city as it was being built up, the city fathers planted the streets with orange trees, easily obtained from my home islands. And now, during the Yuletide season, we have oranges everywhere you look. Oranges have become an essential part of the New Orleans Christmas scene. Orange cakes, orange jam, candied orange peels, and savory orange sauces are all part of the Yule menu. Good children, even in the poorest homes, can usually find oranges among their gifts from Pere Noël.
From my kitchen, the climax of every Yuletide season is the Christmas dinner. Usually, the Marigny family — extended to aunts and uncles, cousins from the country, and other close friends and relatives from around town — gather for the feast. The meal is traditionally a sit-down meal with all the trimmings. Other families have other traditions. Some do a mid-morning brunch, or a day-long buffet, or, weather permitting, a picnic in the courtyard!
One thing was the same, though, all will eat well and all would be joyful.
***RECIPES*** (Or rather the menu for the purposes of this blog entry. Recipes will appear in the published book. OR perhaps upon request)
Breakfast after Midnight Mass:
Baked Glace’ Bananas
Creole Deviled Eggs
Corn Grits and Grillades
Grits & Grillades in New Orleans today is usually made in a tomato sauce or red gravy. Suzanne would probably not had too much access to tomatoes, as the French did not accept them into their cuisine until the late 1700’s. The Marigny household would have had something similar from Suzanne’s kitchen over their grits at Christmas breakfast.
Creole Christmas Day Feast
Brandy Candied Pecans, Brown Sugar Nut Clusters, Pecans, Walnuts, Brandy
***YOUR TRICENTENNIAL MEMO***
A Note on French Catholicism
In Catholic French Louisiana, as in all other Christian countries, the two most important holidays on the calendar are undoubtedly Easter and Christmas. It should come as no surprise that the French settlers in the New World should approach these holidays as they do all other aspects of their culture… through the kitchen.
This occurred somewhat more so at Christmastime than at Easter because Gallic celebrations at Midwinter reach deep into the roots of the French mindset. Literally, since time out of memory, Midwinter was a time of feasting and fun. When the medieval Church adapted the Midwinter festivals of ancient Europe, it was only natural that the feasting and fun would become part of Jesus’ birthday celebrations.
In France especially, and later in Louisiana, culinary Yuletide customs blend right in with the holiday festivities. Coming to mind immediately is the association of Midnight Mass with a long leisurely breakfast that sometimes lasts even until dawn. After rising from bed late on Christmas day, the entire holiday was one long feast. By mid-afternoon, if relatives were stopping by, a sit down dinner may have been served, otherwise, the table was laid out in the morning and the family and guests would nibble through the feast all day long.
The foods associated with the celebrations varied from region to region. But no matter what was consumed, it was always a good excuse to enjoy a “laid-back” day marking the peculiar “laid-back” Gallic approach to Catholicism.
I recently encountered a quote while reading about the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef that sets the perfect tone for a consideration of French Catholicism: “He was a good Catholic without thinking much about it.” Never has there been a better or more succinct description of French and/or Louisiana Catholicism.
As France and the rest of Europe emerged from the Catholic Middle Ages, society was rocked by the tidal wave of Luther’s Reformation. While this is not the place to mark all the horrors, injustice, and tragedy of this ridiculous situation when Christians slaughtered each other because they went to the wrong church, it is worth mentioning that it was little different in the European colonies. In North America, vast distances between the Protestant English, Catholic French and Spanish, and pagan Native Americans minimized this silliness, but it was never far from the surface. Besides, simple survival often trumped philosophical differences.
In Louisiana, this cultural aspect of life was defined by French reaction to the ground- shaking social changes rocking Europe during these centuries. The virtual theocracy of Richelieu’s reign during the 1600’s, the legacy of Marazin’s influence, and the “divine’ kingship of Louis XIV’s long rule produced a curious riff on traditional Catholicism known as Gallicanism.
In Early Modern times (1500 – 1800), one ongoing conflict between church and state centered around the appointment of local or regional leaders (e.g. Bishops). For many centuries after the fall of Rome, the Catholic Church (for better or worse) had been the only recognizable form of authority in much of Europe. As a result, the local bishop of a given region was usually a political as well as a spiritual leader.
The Reformation in the 1500’s threw a wrench into this ancient system. Additionally, as Kings and nobility grew in political power, conflict about these episcopal appointments grew more violent. In France, the 1600’s saw the apex of this episcopal power under the reigns of Richelieu and then Marazin. When Marazin passed on, young Louis XIV shifted much of the bishops’ authority to the throne. As part of this general move away from Roman (Papal) influence, a theological movement known as Gallicanism began to take form. The Britannica Website provides a succinct description of this slant on the Catholic faith.
“The most notable champion of parliamentary Gallicanism was the
jurist Pierre Pithou, who published his Les Libertés de l’église gallicane
in 1594. This book, together with several commentaries on it, was
condemned by Rome but continued to be influential well into the 19th
century. The best expression of theological Gallicanism was found in
the Four Gallican Articles, approved by the assembly of the clergy of
France in 1682. This declaration stated: (1) the pope has supreme spiritual
but no secular power; (2) the pope is subject to ecumenical councils;
(3) the pope must accept as inviolable immemorial customs of the French
Church—e.g., the right of secular rulers to appoint bishops or use revenues
of vacant bishoprics; (4) papal infallibility in doctrinal matters presupposes
confirmation by the total church. Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet drafted
the declaration in Latin and defended it in a conciliatory preamble. Though
the articles were condemned at Rome by Alexander VIII in 1690 and were
revoked in France by Louis XIV in 1693, they remained the typical expression
More details can be found in the Wikipedia article at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallicanism
In far away, isolated Louisiana, most folks did not ponder the philosophical niceties of the Gallican interpretation of their faith. They were too busy trying to stay alive. Besides, the Pope, and the King for that matter, were literally thousands of miles away, and even priests were few and far between. All these factors came together to produce an easy-going, common sense approach to religious matters. It was, to the Catholics of Louisiana, enough to be “a good Catholic without thinking much about it.” It should be no surprise then, that customs like Midnight Mass, Mardi Gras, All Saint’s Day, and Catholic schools have anchored themselves along the French Gulf Coast. They have become hallmarks of our “Catholic” culture. A recent book title (which is now a popular meme in and around New Orleans) best sums up this outlook, “Who’s your Mama, are you Catholic, and can you make a roux”!