Due to technical difficulties, I’ve been unable to write about the many NOLA Christmas festivities I’ve been enjoying. I will attempt a Reader’s Digest version. First up, the Newcomers Club of New Orleans annual gift-giving at Raintree Children and Family Services. Raintree has been providing services to foster children and the families who care for them as well as the homebound of all ages for 85 years. The Newcomers Club offers activities to women moving to the area including a book club, a gourmet group and, of course, participation in non-profit organizations like Raintree.
One of Raintree’s many services is a group home for teenage girls who, after being placed in foster services, still find no home. The Newcomers supplied the girls with giant Santa sacks of goodies like jackets and teddy bears. We sang carols, Santa arrived to hand out the gifts, then we ate like kings and queens on the tasty food made by the women who cook for the girls. The turkey was outstanding and the praline dipped cupcakes were a big hit. And speaking of queens, this year’s Queen of Iris attended in her tiara. I gotta love a town where a tiara is appropriate attire at so many events. The women of the 95 year old Krewe have been very generous in their involvement in Raintree. May all the Raintree girls’ Christmas wishes come true and bless all those who do what they can to help.
Next up was a gathering for food and football in Musicians’ Village. Musicians’ Village, conceived by childhood friends, Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis, provides low income housing in the Upper Ninth Ward for musicians displaced by Katrina. A pretty, Carribean-colored batch of 72 single-family homes, the village was built by volunteers, donors, sponsors and low-income families.
Santa and Saints converged as we munched on spicy fig jam poured over cream cheese and served with crackers and other Christmas-flavored treats while cheering on another Saints victory. Geaux Saints! Who Dat! There were oysters on the porch waiting to be shucked and our lovely hostess, Margie Perez, was heading out to sing for us all at a local gig but we headed to the French Quarter for a new favorite annual event, caroling in Jackson Square sponsored by the Patio Planters du Vieux Carré since 1946.
Like last year, Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson (actress Patricia Clarkson’s mom to the rest of the world), Mayor Mitch Landrieu, General Honoré and other local luminaries led the festivities, but the recently passed Archbishop Hannan was missed. The favorite local priest, he was best known for wearing his jersey with his robes on game days and dedicating about 20 minutes of those day’s sermons to asking God to help shore up the Saints defense and help Brees find the blitz, etc. His favorite song, out of a plethora of songs about our savior’s birth, was by-far Jingle Bells. He loved it. We sang it double-loud to reach his ears.
I loved the homespun hurricane lamps made of water bottles and 2-liter soda jugs. Some were even decorated. It’s hard for me to ignore an opportunity to learn a new craft so I think, next year, I may start adding the tradition of making a hurricane lamp to the tradition of joining over 8,000 of our city’s residents in song for an hour while standing in front of the stately St. Louis Cathedral.
Last year, I went for a walk around the Garden District a couple of weeks before Christmas and was surprised to find so few houses decorated. This city loves any excuse to bling their houses and the neighborhood has the expendable income to do it up right. A week before Christmas, I took another walk (without my camera) and found the neighborhood fully festooned. Turns out that “doing it up right” in the Garden District often means using real boughs to decorate, so the trimmings and wreaths have a short shelf life.
This week, I brought my camera for a walk on a warm and sunny day. The Sweet Olive was in bloom and the air was thick with the perfume. There are moments in this city when you can block out the power lines and parked cars, focus on the sound of a horse and carriage rolling by, and just be in the 1800’s. Looking around at the giant red bows fastening ropes of pine branches to balconies and doorways as the gas lamps burn continuously (for over 100 years), it was easy to be transported to a time before iPods and e-mails.
On Magazine Street, I make a constant point of passing Rick’s place, a beautiful old home with an ever-changing front porch display of whimsically frightening vignettes. Motifs include motorcycles and skeletons, even child-sized ones usually posed catching beads or cheerfully waving. Rick’s porch welcomes photos and I love taking them as often as I can remember to carry my camera. This video shows many of his displays over the years and features a porch concert with the recently passed Coco Robicheaux.
And, it’s the season of the tree for me. I put mine up for Christmas, change most of the ornaments to Mardi Gras ones after Twelfth Night, and leave it up through Fat Tuesday. I made most of my ornaments out of Sculpey clay or beads and each year, I like to add a Baby New Year and few ideas inspired by the year I’ve had. This year, I added a Mardi Gras Indian and a second line umbrella, among others.
Santa was kind, bringing me lots of local treats including the 610 Stompers 2012 calendar with a movie theme and a signed copy of Cornell Landry’s new children’s book, Happy Mardi Gras as well as Saints gear from the amazing Black and Gold Sports Shop.
As if my pile of presents wasn’t enough, I received the gift of yet another Saints victory last night! This win against the Falcons secured the Saints the title of 2011 NFC South Division Champions. The big red bow on top was Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino’s 1984 single season passing record with the final touchdown pass to Sproles. What a game, what a team. Who Dat!
Enjoy the video of caroling in Jackson Square and the photos of the Christmas season in NOLA.