Monday, November 04, 2013

Writing Down the Holidays, Part Deux

Writing Down the Holidays Part Deux (and I'll give away another ecopy of Suzanne's Christmas in Dogtown in keeping with the theme and because I like the story so much! )

As Suzanne Johnson said, I’m from “da Parish” -- St. Bernard Parish, the Ninth Ward. My greatgrandfather started a lumber company there more than one hundred years ago, and it remains operational and in the family still today, in spite of Katrina's efforts to wash it away.  
So many of our beloved New Orleans institutions and ways of life did not survive, so an online community effort called “Ain’t dere no more (ADNM)”  is trying to preserve and share snapshots and memories of those things we took for granted as kids growing up, not realizing what a special heritage we had in The City That Care Forgot. With thanks to the many people in the Facebook group ADNM, here are some special New Orleans holiday facts and stories for you to enjoy. P.S. Photos posted are my own or are used with permission. Links are to the Louisiana Digital Library , Ain't Dere No More on Facebook, The Past Whispers -N.O. Treasured Traditions and Garden and Gun magazine.
My own Mr.Bingle

Everyone knows Santa keeps two lists, right? But even Santa knows that with all the temptations afforded by the looming holidays it can be dangnear impossible for any little boy or girl to constantly be on the Nice List. More importantly, the savvy retailers on Canal Street - DH Holmes, Sears, Krauss and Maison Blanche  - knew that the Naughty List could be ten times longer than the Nice List. That’s alot of toys!
Enter Mr. Bingle, Redeemer of the Naughty List.
To the boys and girls of New Orleans, Mr. Bingle is a special favorite of Santa’s - a mischievous snowfairy  always getting into trouble. He had his own show on tv that we all raced home after school to watch, and his theme song still echoes in my head:
Jingle Jangle Jingle… Here comes Mr. Bingle… with another message from Kris Kringle!
Actually, Mr. Bingle was a charming marionette - Maison Blanche’s answer to  Mongomery Ward’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Fashioned from  a bunny puppet, with holly leaf wings and an ice cream cone hat, he was the star of the store window puppet shows put on by Mr.Edwin “Oscar” Isentrout.
Maison Blanche and Mr. Isentrout "ain’t dere no more," and the original Mr.Bingle almost drowned in Katrina. Dillard’s has come to his rescue and resurrected our Mr. Bingle, and he continues to charm girls and boys of all ages - naughty and nice - to this day. So much so, he has his own fan group on Facebook.
photo courtesy of Diane Cooley Turner, 1967

not Copeland's, but close
Football season? Trim the front door in black and gold and hoist the Fleur de Lis!
Mardi Gras? Swath the light pole with purple, green and gold and put out the Comedy/Tragedy flag!
So it's no wonder Mrs. Centanni would have a live elephant in her yard on Canal Street for Christmas decorations, right? 
Many of the Centanni Family's beloved decorations were donated to City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks. But another kid from "da parish" - Al Copeland, late founder of Popeye’s Fried Chicken 
 - was so inspired by the Centanni home that he sent to Mr. Centanni's funeral a Christmas wreath, complete with working lights, inscribed to "The King of Christmas". Copeland didn’t use a live elephant, but I do remember the palm trees and every arch and door lined in colored lights. Cars lined up for miles to view the decorations, and traffic jams and lawsuits weren’t too far behind. Like the Centanni Family, the Copelands donated their decorations also - to Lafreniere Park. <-But here's a video on YouTube before that happened.

Midnight Mass and Reveillon's Revival:
An old tradition that has been newly revived by French Quarter restaurants and others throughout the city, Reveillon is the French word for "Awakening," as in... 
you stayed up all day cooking and cleaning and getting ready for Midnight Mass and now you are Tired and Hungry!
Back when the Catholic Church had stricter rules, it was customary for people to fast through the 24th if they wanted to receive Communion at Midnight Mass. Of course you can imagine how cranky famished they were! The servants who stayed behind cooked a breakfast meal - something I imagine our high school seniors eat after prom - that revived everyone to celebrate Christmas Day.
When the church relaxed the rules for fasting, the custom disappeared. For our family,we stayed up all night, our parents eating and drinking (and smoking); us kids playing and eating (and sneaking smokes and drinks if we dared). This was not an organized party - more of a get together around a table groaning with food, passing the time until it was time to walk to church and then hurry home to bed so Santa could leave his presents.
The restaurants have revived Reveillon with long, four course holiday meals filled with special dishes, like Spinach Madeleine -- almost another casualty of ADNM, since Kraft discontinued its jalapeno cheese roll. The Junior League's updated version can be found here and John Currence's oyster version on Garden and Gun magazine (which is the one I'll be making this year!) is here.

For a city that sits six feet below sea level, it takes a special magic to make it snow. Since 1849 when the National Weather Service first started keeping records, there have only been "seventeen snow events of lasting cover, and thirty-eight days of snowflake sightings." (source:

So for lagniappe, I give you a snowy Christmas in New Orleans, by Louis Armstrong.
Joyeux Noel and Happy Holidays Y’all!  


Suzanne Johnson said...

Oh man, I'm so homesick! I have a stuffed Mr. Bingle that comes out each Christmas to keep watch on everything, but my favorite image was an ADNM in the snow video--Ted's Frostop on Jeff Highway! Katrina knocked down the giant mug of root beer and it sat upside down on the parking lot for at least a year.

SandyG265 said...

We used to go to NYC for the holidays. My grandmother worked at Saks and they had a Christmas party for all of the employees kids.

Liz S. said...

Marshall Field's always had the best Christmas windows on State Street when I was a kid. And eating in the Walnut room with the huge Christmas tree was a rare treat! Hard Rock, Coco and Joe was a local black and white cartoon about Santa's elves whose theme song would stay in your head for hours after watching it.

Pamela Mason said...

Suzanne - we loved going to "FrostyTop" as we called it when we were kids. The best rootbeer and cheeseburgers!

Pamela Mason said...

Sandy, What a nice thing for Saks to do for their employees! Looks like it's been a good childhood memory for you too. Thank you for stopping by!

Pamela Mason said...

Liz, I came across interesting info about Marshall Field's in my research. Seems all the department stores were competing for the kids' attention with their Christmas mascots and cartoons. And apparently it worked - too well! LOL! Thanks for commenting.

Patricia said...

I am so unfamiliar with this part of the U.S. that it's interesting to learn fun facts like these about Christmas. Thank you.

bn100 said...

Interesting info

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Pamela Mason said...

Patricia, there is actually quite a bit I had to leave out that I am going to carry forth on my own blog,
You have NO idea how colorful New Orleans and its history can be!
Thanks for stopping by!

Carol Burnside / Annie Rayburn said...

Enjoyed the song/video and learned a bit more about New Orleans. One day I hope to see the city for myself.

Never heard of Mr. Bingle or his theme song, but he's cute.

Pamela Mason said...

Mr.Bingle IS cute Carol - but his voice wasn't!
Mr.Isentrout smoked filterless cigarettes, and Mr.B sounded like it.
Distinctive for sure.LOL!