A Season of Festivals
There’s a holiday celebration for everyone
Cool, crisp December means the heady scent of sweet olive hanging heavy on the night air, the burst of tangy Louisiana citrus as rind is ripped from fruit, wisps of wood fire smoke, and all manner of soul-warming foods. ‘Tis the season for things like latkes (potato pancakes), meat pies, Turducken, gumbo, stewed rabbit and venison, roasted duck, satsumas, oranges and shopping; lucky for us there are beaucoup holiday-inspired festivals to attend and a feast of delicious things to eat. I love Louisiana, don’t you?
Remember the Seinfeld episode in which an alternative to Christmas, “Festivus,” was created? The brilliant folks of Market Umbrella, the organization that brings us Crescent City Farmer’s Market, draws inspiration from Seinfeld with a holiday market that is a “fun, human-scaled alternative to the loneliness of online shopping and the hassle of big box holiday parking lots by featuring the best of local cottage industries whose business reflects our core values of ecology, fair trade, craftsmanship and personal customer service.” Held in the same place as the downtown Crescent City Farmers Market (700 Magazine St.), this Festivus takes place on the first three Sundays of December from noon to 4 p.m. Bring your kids, your gift list and your wallet— buying brings good cheer! Some of the best gifts for food fans, home cooks and enthusiasts include hand-turned maple rolling pins from Foote Wood Work; deep, dark and delicious truffles from Bittersweet Confections; and wine stoppers with New Orleans motifs from Heather Elizabeth Designs. www.festivusmarket.org
Get into the spirit of the holidays in Cajun-style at the 18th annual Festival of the Bonfires, in Lutcher (www.festivalofthebonfires.org). Held December 7, 8 and 9, this festival is hot! Kicking off on Friday at 4 p.m. with a Gumbo Cook-Off, a Potato Salad Showdown, and a Bread Pudding Bake Off. Saturday, kids can have breakfast with Santa. Each night will feature one bonfire lighting in a prelude to the famous Christmas Eve lighting of the bonfires along the levee in Lutcher. This long-standing tradition, which helps Papa Noel find his way up the Mississippi River, is unique to St. James Parish. It’s a sight to behold.
The Festival of Lights (www.christmasfestival.com) begins November 18 and lasts into the New Year. The Natchitoches (that’s “nack-a-tish” for all you Louisiana newcomers) Christmas festival has been held on the first weekend in December since 1927, with mini-festivals held every weekend of the month. The best eats, without a doubt, are the Natchitoches meat pies—generously spiced meat enfolded in a flaky golden crust; it’s just not Christmas without meat pies.
The Orange Festival (www.orangefestival.com) is early, December 1 and 2, in Belle Chasse. Gorgeous Louisiana citrus is the focus, and there’s plenty of fruit to eat and buy. This festival is a lot of fun and holds a number of contests (not all fruity), including Shrimp-Peeling and De-Heading, Catfish-Skinning, Oyster-Shucking, Duck Calling, Orange Eating and Orange Peeling (for the longest, most unusual or decorative peel).
Hanukkah is a big part of my life, and this year it begins at sundown December 4. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the cleansing and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, when the triumphant Maccabees returned and found enough oil to last for only one night. Miraculously, the single day’s supply lasted eight days and nights, hence the importance of oil and the traditional fried foods that honor and remember the ancient miracle. At my house latkes rule, and I make an enormous pile to go with the slow-cooked beef brisket (my grandmother’s recipe) and green beans with butter and slivered almonds. Sufganiyot (fried jelly-filled donuts) are also traditional, as is pretty much anything fried in oil. For the past few years, there has been a big Hanukkah party at the Riverwalk (http://neworleans.ujcfedweb.org/page.html?ArticleID=160992), and this year is no different. Sunday, December 9, from 4 to 6 p.m., the Chabad House brings New Orleans a Hanukkah celebration that includes a giant Menorah lighting (it will be the fifth night of Hanukkah that night) in Spanish Plaza at the Riverwalk. There will be food from Casablanca Restaurant, a hot latke bar, chocolate gelt and dreidels. Enjoy the season. I wish you good cheer, a full belly and a merry, happy and peaceful ChristmaHannaKwanzaakah!