December 30, 2010


In the countryside throughout the south, the New
Year has traditionally been rung in by the sound of shotguns and firecrackers at
midnight on New Year's Eve. Some Cajuns remember that Tit Homme Janvier
(some call him Bonhomme Janvier), a snowy-bearded bearer of good tiding,
would pass and leave fruit and nuts in the children's shoes and stockings. For
many families New Year's was the time for trinket exchange, not
An interesting French tradition is the running
of La Guignolee (Gaie Annee). This is a long standing New Year's Eve
custom in French communities of the mid-Mississippi Valley such as Old Mines
(Les Vielles Mones), Missouri, and Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. Of note
because it is closely related to the Cajun courir de Mardi Gras the
intent of La Guignolee is to gather pledges of food and money for a
king's ball held between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras. On New Year's Eve, the
men dress in disguise as Indians or in old clothes turned inside out. The gang
of revelers travels afoot from house to house in the countryside with lanterns
as their only light. Today, trucks provide the transportation. In the quiet of
the night, they sneak up on the porch of each house and sing La Guignolee
accompanied by a fiddle.
"Bon soir le maitre et maitresse et tous le
monde du logis. Pour le dernier jour de l'annee, c'est la Guignolee vous nous
devais. Si vous voulais rien a nos donnais, ditez nous le. On vous demandez
seulement, la fille ainee..."
The song begs entry to the house, a 96-foot long
sausage, and a dance with the eldest daughter, then apologizes to the
inhabitants for any mischief caused and asks for an invitation next
For South Louisiana Cajuns, New Year's day used
to be a time for visiting from house to house to wish bonne annee. A
traditional French Creole song sung by Canray Fontenot wishes:
Bonjour bonne annee, belle heureuse
Heureuse annee que je souaite a tous.
Bonjour bonne annee,
In a recollection from the Anonymous Breaux
(1901), the author observes "people who have long been enemies
seizing the opportunity which the day presents to be reconciled and to wish
other good fortune and prosperity. A young man who wishes to marry often asks
his sweetheart's parents for permission to marry."
A traditional New Year's dish, black-eyed peas
and cabbage, symbolizes the promise of good luck and money in the coming year.
It is still prepared and eaten diligently by many every year.
Today, recently created community festivals have
become the calendrical markers of cultural identity. They have taken the place
of many deeply rooted rituals which once served to reinforce the concepts of
community and family.

"A people without a past are a people without a future."


Gina said...

I grew up in Lafitte, La. The custom was to hang stockings and we were told Mrs. Santa, who we called Christina filled them. They were filled with nuts, fruit and candy. But no one knows where it originated.

Lynn said...

Thank you for your comment, Gina!

Have you done any research on your
family's roots?


Shersart said...

Thank you for this. I live in Northern Ontario Canada and we always hung our stocking on New Years Eve. Interesting to see where the custom may have come from and must be from our distant Acadian line via the Hebert's. Merry Christmas to you and best in the New Year!