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|The New Year
New Year’s day is particularly consecrated
to visits and wishes of “Bonne Annee!” This custom is known to go
back to the Romans. On January 1, people would wish each other happiness
and health and exchanged gifts which they called “bonnes étrennes.”
Kings’ Day (January 6)
Almost all families gather on the eve
of this day at supper to elect by lot the “king of the bean;” but it is
especially among the common folk that the full manner of observing the
ceremony is preserved.
O grand sint Francois!
O great St. Francis!
A variant has the girl bowing three times to the moon, and saying to the moon three times without laughing, “Beautiful moon, I greet you!” The moon then assumes the appearance of the one she will wed.
Love letters are written by young people on St. Valentine’s Day. This custom comes from England but is much changed. On the eve of St. Valentine’s the young celebrate in an ancient custom a feast which is a symbol of the renewal of nature and the inborn desire of all living beings to perpetuate their kind. A number of boys and girls gather. They write their own names or pseudonyms on individual bits of paper. These are rolled up and are drawn from a hat, the girls picking from the boys’ names and vice versa. Thus each boy meets a girl whom he calls “valentine” and each girl a boy whom she calls her “valentin.” Often these valentines are seen to form a permanent and happy union.
In the rural areas, carnival has lost its former animation; it is marked nowadays (1901) only by some unimaginative masquerading and my dances where the joyous madness of yesteryear is rarely to be met.
It is customary for those wishing to know the identity of their future spouse to rise at the stroke of midnight on March 1, and as the clock strikes, walk three paces forward from the bed, while saying, “Good day, March, from March to March make me see in sleep the wife (or husband) whom I will have in real life.” Then one goes back to bed walking backward, goes to sleep and dreams. The person who appears is the future spouse.
The Poisson d’Avril or April Fish
The first day of April is dedicated to mystifications of all sorts, to pretended gifts, false news, false joys, false alarms. People are sent to houses to which they have not been in fact invited; everybody looks for dupes, but at the same time remains on guard lest despite precautions he himself be taken in.
On the evening of this day, men and children in a group go singing from door to door some verses of (a) complainte ... . They ordinarily receive eggs, butter, etc. which have been set aside for them. We have seen this very old custom practiced on Bayou Lafourche before the Civil War.
Gunshots and Birthdays
Guns are fired a number of times on
Christmas eve at night, on New Year’s day, at Corpus Christi, and on family
birthdays and saint’s name days. The birth of a son is announced
by three shots, preferably fired by the father of the new-born, whereas
a daughter is announced by two.
“Fete de la Roulaison” or Grinding Festival
When the last crop, sugarcane, is harvested, there is held a feast at which the rules of sobriety are often neglected. People say, “the “roulaison” comes only once a year,” which is as much as to say that one is then permitted to forget his troubles for a while. These meals are followed by dancing.
“The Clocheteur des Trépassés” or Bellman of the Dead
Formerly, at night on the eve of All
Souls’ Day (November 2), the church bells were wildly pealed, and people
ran about the streets of the village ringing hand bells and saying in a
loud and serious voice these words:
“Charivari” or Shivaree
When two people of disparate age marry
and when a widow marries a bachelor or a widower a single girl, as well
as when spouses of appropriate ages fail to provide the expected entertainment
at their wedding, there gathers at evening a crowd furnished with skillets,
kettles and other pans of brass or copper. They beat on these with
shovels or tongs and go tumultuously to the house of the couple.
Increasing their noise, they dance before the house shouting, “charivari,
The “barbecu” is an open-air celebration during which an entire steer is roasted and eaten. Such celebrations usually are connected with a political meeting.
Families visit each other even when separated by twelve to twenty-five miles. They travel in oxcarts or horse-drawn wagons. Often numbering a dozen or more, the traveling family, find at their host’s other visitors in equal number. At table it is common to find twenty-five or thirty-five guests. Usually the visitors remain some thirty hours. During this period many matters are discussed, news of their respective neighborhoods, weddings which have occurred or soon will take place, whose crops are the best, who raises the most livestock, who has good horses, or who best looks after his “habitation.” They talk of this man’s having a good store of corn, that other’s growing ribbon cane, of the neighbor who is putting out more cotton. They discuss the production of various commodities, the quality of soils, the best means of cultivation; they talk of drainage, the condition of the roads and of taxation.
On Christmas eve all the members of a family gather at the house of the father or eldest. Those who live far away, think nothing of traveling long distances to be there. At supper the head of the house takes a full wine glass and drinks to the health of all his family. This toast is repeated at the end of the meal. Everyone else in turn drinks to the members of the family, including those absent. When supper is over, hymns or carols are sung. Then they play a game which is played only that night. This is how it goes: You attach to the ceiling a piece of thread which will hang just as high as the mouth. At the other end you fasten a pin on which is fixed a hot coal. The young people make a ring about the hanging coal and each one blows with all his might toward the person opposite, who does likewise. If one party laughs or blows less hard than his opponent, the coal touches his face and everybody laughs.
From the Breaux Manuscript