Christmas Dinner - Cajun Style

Christmas Dinner - Cajun Style

I grew up in Nebraska where Christmas turkey, dressing, gravy, and the trimmings were standard fare. But my family never celebrated in the traditional Nebraska way.

Instead, we drove from Nebraska to Louisiana to spend the holiday with my Cajun relatives in Evangeline Country.

The differences between Nebraska and Louisiana were numerous and striking:

In Louisiana just about everyone spoke Cajun French, not English like they did in Nebraska. While my aunts, uncles, and cousins spoke English, my grandmother only spoke French which meant that every year my siblings and I had to relearn the language we hadn’t used since the previous Christmas.

Holiday food in Louisiana was very different than the food we ate in Nebraska. Making hogs head cheese and pralines took the place of making fruitcake and cookies. The holiday meal was a huge bowl of gumbo and rice instead of a turkey. The gumbo consisted of shellfish and chicken and sausage swimming in a brown roux served over rice.

Christmas trees sold or cut in Nebraska were sturdy, bushy affairs, not the spindly scrub pines of Louisiana. In Nebraska, people routinely lost ornaments because they were so hidden in the branches and needles of the tree. In Louisiana because the trees were almost Charlie Brown skinny, every ornament was highlighted and accounted for.

One of the best differences was the weather. We would leave cold, snowy, icy Nebraska in our heavy wool coats, knit hats, mittens, waterproof boots, and scarves and drive to cool, wet Louisiana where raincoats or sweaters might be needed, but often weren’t. We could play outside without our feet freezing. That was even better than the best present.
The biggest and most profound difference for me came Christmas eve before midnight Mass when everyone who could would walk with a lighted candle in hand to the church on the Bayou Teche. With the swirling ground fog instead of piles of snow and the trees hung with Spanish moss instead of icicles, the walk became a mystical parade of excited children and their happy families on their way to hear the story of a child born hundreds of years before.

What was your holiday like? Holiday-card traditional or other? This inquiring mind would like to know.

–Pat Henshaw AAR