By Joyce Poche’ Bernard
Perhaps my earliest recollection of the Acadian-type home where I was born was the wide-mouth brick chimney where a stocking hung from the mantle piece.
During the advent of Christmas, if someone had mentioned bringing a tree into the house, the hardy descendants of the Acadians would have laughed. Even cards with pictures of Santa Claus were rare.
On Christmas Eve, I remember riding the Nonc Ozema Thibideaux and Tante Eliza by horse and buggy to attend midnight mass in the town of Pont Breaux, as the French-speaking people call Breaux Bridge.
As we rode along the deep-rutted road from the farming community Poche’ Bridge, familiar farm homes and trees were enveloped in darkness. Huddled underneath the lap robe it seemed an eternity before we crossed the wooden bridge over Bayou Teche.
Even today I can recall this scene . . . . light streaming from the stained glass windows of the white wooden church of St. Bernardo.
. . . flickering lights from candles on the altar and the sound of the organ with voices of the choir resounding in that historic place.
On Christmas morning, the fragrance of strong black coffee mingled with the apples and oranges in my bulging stocking. Even though many children who lived in the country in those days were less fortunate, somehow my parents managed to order toys from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Icicles hung like spears around the cistern and along the eaves of the steep shingled roof of the weather beaten home and moss sparkled like sapphires in the oak trees on the banks of Bayou Teche.
Even the fire in the blackened fireplace and black iron woodstove in the kitchen failed to warm the old homes with the bousillage walls made of mud and Spanish moss, but it warmed our spirits and made our hardships easier to bear.
Roots of My Raising – Cajun Christmas
By Roy Dunn
My childhood Christmases were spent in extreme poverty. If anything, I received very few gifts. In fact, if you were to ask me what my fondest memories of my boyhood Christmases were, my response would have to be midnight mass at the old Mary Magdalene church. The church sits up on a knoll near the banks of the Vermillian river. It has always seemed to me to be the Christian foundation of the township area surrounding Abbeville, the majority of people being Cajun Catholics.
I guess we were the poorest people in the area, but whatever our best clothes were, feed sack shirt and what all, we wore to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. We had exceptional faith, and I was always moved by the services. The beautiful mass was said in Latin, and the Gospel would be spoken in both French and English. The large choir sang its beautiful Catholic Christmas hymns. The service was that of the old traditional Catholic faith. I haven’t witnessed anything as beautiful and moving since. It was the highlight of my Christmas.
I can recall very few gifts. Sometimes, maybe a handmade toy, but mostly a useful item or two, socks, a new shirt, maybe a pair of new shoes. We never had but one store-bought Christmas tree, and that was one the teacher gave me after it had been used at school – the prettiest tree we ever had. If you can imagine a limb off an ordinary tree being decorated with a paper chain, that’s what we usually ended up with. Paper was colored with crayolas and cut, pasted into a ring with flour paste, and we draped it around the tree. I don’t ever recall feeling sorry for myself. Through necessity or habit, I took the poor Christmases in stride. However, I was disturbed by the fact that my little sisters wouldn’t get anything.
Once, when I was around eleven years old, I gathered rebuilt toys, a hand-me-down doll or so, and a few other items from a help-the-needy organization. I surprised those three cute blonde-headed girls on Christmas morning. I bet they recall it today.
Later as I grew older, times got better. We still didn’t get very much from Santa, but we had more to eat and Christmas Day was filled with relatives who gathered around Grandma Aveila for a big Christmas feast. Recalling the past, in my case, makes me especially thankful for the good fortune we all enjoy today. Despite losing so much to Hurricane Ike, looking back gives me even more reason to be appreciative. I’m sure many of you can associate with that. In my case, that Cajun upbringing has served me well through the hard times.