The Cajun Nutcracker
Children's Holiday Books by local authors, but for us grown folks too
Christmas on a Bayou
A foke tale
Andrew M. Hebert 2011
Author, creator, inventor, retired architect
(note: in the inside back cover it says he's also illustrated the activity book)
A product of Earth Tools
How the Tale came about
The "Tale" is a mixture of my childhood memories that included trips to my mom's parents, Gaston & Beatrix LeBlanc.
(note: Gaston is the name of the alligator in a Gaston the green nosed alligator, instead of the red nosed reindeer, if I remember correctly & here I thought someone just made the name up for that alligator...Beatrix is a name I've only heard once & the creative gal makes jewelery that she sells online or brings to festivals...)
They lived in the "rice country" of South Louisiana.
On our ride to their home we would pass fields & fields filled with water for growing rice, along with migratory ducks & geese.
The roads passed through patches of cypress swamps.
Their house was around the corner off of a main highway in a small community called Iota.
(note: I have driven on the hwy pass the sign that says Iota - thinking one day I might pull off & see just what makes Iota a city, now I have some further incentive to find out more...)
We approached the house from the rear where we would see the "china ball" tree & "wash house" in the backyard.
We would run through the picket fence gate on to their front porch.
Their Christmas tree stood on the wood floor in the living room opposite the fire place.
My "rice growing" cousins would either go hunting that morning or later in the afternoon.
We often ate wild duck or goose with our Christmas dinner.
We would return home as the sun set and the night sky took over.
We would lie down on the rear dash board and watch beautiful sun sets and star filled nights.
At my parents house we would to my dad's mother's property in Parks, Hubert Sr. and Rita Hebert, to cut a cedar tree along the fence line about 2-3 weeks before Christmas.
We would sometimes add holly berry and moss to decorate the tree.
We would sit with my parents, Henry Sr. & Loucille Hebert, and search through a "Sears and Roebuck" mail order catalogue.
We would pick out pictures of gifts we wanted "Santa" to bring.
(note: we did this, though with different catalogs & when the boys came along they would circle not just pictures in catalogs but also in all the newspaper ads that would show up during the holidays...at school sometimes too I seem to recall they would get to make a wish list by cutting out the photos of things they saw in newspaper ads/catalogs that either the teacher had brought in or were donated to the school/library for just those kinds of arts & crafts projects...it was for sure something to help with the excitement of Santa coming, that use to start after Thanksgiving, & it also helped Santa's Elves to figure out the kid's wishes for gifts that year...)
It is a local tradition to build bonfires along the Mississippi River which are lit Christmas night to guide Santa Clause on his journey south.
We always had a fire of some sort during the holiday season.
(note: living in Southern Louisiana/Lafayette, LA 3 different times I have still not managed to witness bonfires along the river or any bayou - tho I've been told it is still being done...it would of been difficult for us in the city to make out way out to the river for this on Christmas night & still make it home to bed & up for Santa on Christmas Day - but even now this 3rd time I keep reading about them but have never seen them nor have read clear enough information to find out where they are--these bonfires for Christmas...I have to settle for lights at Acadian Village or The Zoo of Acadiana for my holiday lights fix rather than fires?!)
The original story was part of a local holiday contest.
The front cover photograph is actually decoration of our river property for a "Christmas on the Bayou" Event held in 1989.
While hanging the bottles, a young boy ask, what I was doing.
I told him the story.
Three days later I had an extra bottle hanging from the tree with a long list in it.
It gives me great pleasure to share this "Tale" with you and my family.
With the greatest of love for....
(note: here following that sign off I'm guessing are kids & grandkids names listed)
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I won't give the "Tale" away after this introduction - but I'll list what they use to put on their Christmas tree, which was a Cedar Tree...
Link to an Exotic Christmas Tree Plantation in Louisiana - where you will find the Deodar Cedar Tree & this photo...
Nature elements from the swamp were collected for the tree, so...
photo credit: Wiki
(note: none in my backyard at present, trees are not big enough/old enough)
wild holly branches with berries (for garland)
UL's Cypress Lake or aka the swamp on campus
(note: closest I've been to a swamp here, unless driving over the Atchafalaya bridge between Lafayette to Baton Rouge)
cypress wood &
(note: now folks farm birds, save their feathers - the organic, green, free range, friendly way...which may or may not how they did that way back when--in Louisiana, on the Bayou...)
feathers made into colorful stars (for ornaments)
(note: can't seem to find a photo of one, so I may have to just make one...even on Instructables I don't find a photo of a plain feather star...nor by looking up natural ornaments either...so on to DIY, tomorrow - like I need another Christmas project...)
as a tree topper...
a small carved wooden cross
You'll have to read the lovely Folk Tale to find out how the Bayou Children let Santa know what their wishes were & when/where he would collect them & more about the bonfires on Christmas Night
Having lived here in Lafayette, LA off & on for years I still had not heard this particular holiday Folk Tale - there are so many old stories passed on by word of mouth that I'm hoping someone in the family like this man have saved them & written them down to pass on to their families & for us all who live here or not to still be able to enjoy the old stories & traditions, so they're not lost forever with parents & grandparents
Note: too it's not just a story book it's a coloring activity book - so each page can be colored & in the back children can add their own pages
And this 2nd edition is being dedicated to a lost grandson at 7 weeks old - also in memory of his there's an annual Cooper Toys from Heaven Drive to benefit infants, children & teens at Children's Hospital in New Oreleans, LA
Link to their Facebook page...
note: this year was their 3rd annual toy drive
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The Cajun Nutcracker
written by Chara Dillon Mock
illustrated by Jean Cassels
from the cover flap on the hardback book
It's Christmas Eve on Bayou Teche and young Merrae is celebrating with PawPaw, MawMaw, and other guests.
As she eats steaming gumbo and dances to the sounds of Zydeco, Merrae's excitement grows when her godfather Comeaux arrives with gifts--including a precious Nutcracker.
But Merrae's brother breaks the toy out of jealousy, so her godfather bandages the Nutcracker and carefully places him in a crib for the night.
That night, Merrae finds her home under attack by a swarm of nutria and the Alligator King.
As the creatures begin to close in on Merrae, the Nutcracker and his soldiers come to her rescue!
The Nutcracker then turns into a prince and takes Merrae on a magical journey through the swamp.
Whimsical illustrations capture the ballet scenes that follow when the two arrive in New Orleans, where they meet the Sugarcane Fairy, waltzing magnolias, and twirling beignets.
Cajun words and French phrases celebrate Louisiana culture in this imaginative take on the classic ballet.
Note: after reading this I realize that if you're not from here nor aware of Cajun culture or language then a whole bunch of these words you might have to look up (of course with an illustrated book you can just look at the picture & guess--then if you're really curious you can look it up online on Wiki or in a dictionary webpage...or imagine this, a real paper dictionary too)
Quick Made up Dictionary...
(note: for my foreign friends, or even ones that just happen to live in another state & still don't have a clue)
PawPaw/MawMaw = Father/Mother
Nutria = beaver size rat
(note: so if you know the orig story it's the Rat King,
here in this one it's the Alligator King)
Bayou = like a river
(note: Teche would be the name of this one)
Magnolia = a large white flower found on Magnolia trees
Beignets = powered sugar covered donut square puff with no hole in
(note: best served with cafe au lait, coffee & milk)
Sugarcane = plant they make sugar from, it looks like a cane
(note: they harvest sugar cane in many a field in
Link to Pelican Publishing - The Cajun Nutcracker...
Children fiction - Fairy Tales & Folklore