Christmas in New Orleans: Somber but Hopeful

By Kris Axtman writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Christmas in New Orleans: Somber but Hopeful


Kris Axtman writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Like thousands of others in southeastern Louisiana, Frances and Keith Fawcett are spending the holidays repairing their roof, clearing debris, and hanging Sheetrock.

But inside their gutted home in Slidell, La., there is a Christmas tree - bare since all their ornaments, along with the rest of their possessions, were lost to the tidal surge that accompanied hurricane Katrina. Mr. Fawcett even raised his sunken sailboat and perched a star on the mast, "just to say we're alive."

Those who have returned to the New Orleans area will be celebrating Christmas a little differently this year. They may not hang wreaths or lights, but that's irrelevant, they say.

This year, Christmas in and around New Orleans will feel more like the original: somber, but filled with a sense of hope for the future.

"We are all very cognizant of our neighbors and family who aren't able to be back, and we are praying for them. So for those of us who are able to be back, it's a time of both reflection and gratitude," says Kathleen Alter, head of French Quarter Festivals.

Traditionally, Christmas in New Orleans is filled with tours of decorated antebellum homes, riverboat caroling cruises, and Cajun cooking demonstrations. But this year, celebrations have been curtailed.

Ms. Alter and her group were able to put together only four Christmas concerts at St. Louis Cathedral - though she admits doing so was harder than the 20-plus she normally coordinates this time of year.

Those who are here say they appreciate the efforts put into making things as normal as possible.

Sitting in the chandelier-lit cathedral, Rodney Mach and Harriett Hanshaw say they came to the Christmas concert tonight because it's tradition - and because they needed help getting in the holly-jolly mood.

"We've been replacing shingles and cleaning out refrigerators instead of baking cookies and putting up lights," says Mr. Mach.

Though New Orleans residents are known for their love of decoration, few have had the time to spend on displays. But those homes that do have decorations immediately catch the eye and lift the spirit - and remind others what time of year it is. Big red ribbons adorn historic homes in the Garden District, and the French Quarter is light-filled once again. Even in neighborhoods that were totally devastated, a random wreath or ribbon can be found.

Still, for many New Orleanians trying to rebuild their lives, both here and around the country, getting into the spirit has been hard. The holidays in general seemed to come more quickly than expected.

"I guess it's because we lost a month," says Karen Simone, whose home in Metairie was flooded. She and her sister are wandering through the Botanical Garden at the annual Christmas celebration in City Park.

The two came tonight to buy a few gifts from the local artists who have made it back and set up shop inside the festival. Even though it is raining, they make their way down the brick path to where Mr. Bingle is on display.

The two-story flying snowman, complete with green holly wings, is a symbol of Christmas in New Orleans. …

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