Ghost Of Christmas Past
12/01/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Gallery: Old Time Christmas At Vermilionville [2 Images] Click any image to expand.
Old Time Christmas At VermilionvilleBy Wynce Nolley
Neighbors from near and far are invited to experience the most wonderful time of the year at the Vermilionville Living History and Folk Life Park as the simple warmth and beauty of Christmas past comes to life at historic village by recreating the holiday traditions of yesteryear during Vermilionville’s Old Time Christmas.
The program begins from Dec. 12 - 17 and resumes again on December 19 - 23 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., with a family day on Saturday, Dec. 16 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. where everyone can experience the historic village during the holidays.
Visitors will have the chance to take a self-guided tour with a special event program to see firsthand some of the Christmas and New Year’s traditions from the 1700s and 1800s like making santons (“little saints”), candles, soap, Victorian paper ornaments, citrus pomanders and more.
The first stop along the tour is La Maison des Cultures where you’ll meet Chief John “Sitting Bear” Mayeux of the Avogel Tribe and Janice “Morning Sun” Mayeux of the Mississippi Philadelphia Choctaw Tribe who will be offering Native American storytelling and telling guests about Native American gift giving traditions.
In La Cabanage de Piégeur (the Trapper’s Cabin), visitors will meet Papa Noël, the French Santa Claus, who was actually a trapper who would deliver presents such as candy, money or small toys. You may also spot Papa Noël checking out the bonfires down by Le Petit Bayou where children would light a bonfire and leave their shoes by it so Papa Noël knew where to stop. They would also leave carrots for Papa Noël’s donkey Gui (French for “Mistletoe”), who will be making trips throughout the village. Artisans will also be making wooden toys in the Trapper’s Cabin.
The next home to visit will be Beau Bassin where guests will learn about how the Acadians decorated for Christmas using natural materials. Early Acadians would bring in evergreen clippings from the woods outside to brighten things up since the weather was so dreary in the winter. Here, visitors can learn about how the local cotton spinner’s family has prepared for Papa Noël’s arrival while giving a demonstration on their textile tradition.
The tour will then continue to l’École (the schoolhouse) where visitors can learn about and sing along to Christmas Carols from the time period of 1765-1890 including “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells” along with “Bonne Année,” which is a New Year’s Eve song.
Next, guests may stop inside of la Maison Mouton where they will learn about the differences between Christmas in the modern day and the Christmas of yesteryear. Here, they can meet Cliff the woodcarver and see the toys he has been working on.
Exit through the Mouton Kitchen to learn about soap making, which was a wintertime staple. Ingredients in soap making of the old days include lye, which comes from leaching water through wood ash, and hog lard, which is the fat from the pig. Soap making was done in the winter after the boucherie when a hog was slaughtered that offered copious amounts of hog lard byproduct from the process.
The tour will then head over to Maison Buller where Vermilionville’s gardener, Michael, will teach tourists about candle making. Candles were a very important tool because there was no electricity, so they could only be made in the winter when it was cold enough for the wax to keep its shape and not melt.
From there the tour will head to la Chapelle des Attakapas (the chapel) for storytelling. While there, visitors will also learn about the French Christmas tradition where figurines, or santons, were made to represent saints or nativity scenes, but eventually expanded to represent people in the towns. This tradition started during the French Revolution when churches were forcibly closed and large nativity scenes were prohibited. In la Chapelle, artisans will be reading from the Cajun “Night Before Christmas” and making popcorn garlands.
The next destination is Maison Boucvalt where visitors will learn about citrus pomanders, a Victorian era air freshener made with citrus fruits decorated with cloves. This house will be the only one decorated with a Christmas tree since most of the elements of modern Christmas are products of the Victorian era. Here, artisans will be making paper wish chains and citrus pomanders. Guests may also stop by the Performance Center as well to make their own Victorian paper ornaments.
The final stop on the Old Time Christmas Village Tour is Maison Broussard, where tourists will learn about Le Réveillon, which was a tradition practiced by families who would gather for a nice dinner after midnight mass on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Le Réveillon comes from the French word reveil, which means “waking.” The smells of a delicious gâteau de sirop (syrup cake) wafting through the air will lead guests to the Broussard kitchen, where artisans will tell them about this old-time treat that they make over an open fire.
Vermilionville’s Old Time Christmas celebrates this holiday season from Dec. 12 - 23, from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. at 300 Fisher Road in Lafayette. Regular Admission is $10 per person Adults (ages 19 – 65), $8 per person for Senior Citizens (age 65+), $6 per person for Students (ages 5 – 18), and free for children under age 5. Admission on Dec. 16 will only be $5. For more information, call 337-233-4077 or visit www.Vermilionville.org.