It could be just wishful thinking brought on by the heat of the summer, but it seems that the holidays are beginning to be on people’s minds. More than one person I’ve spoken to recently is planning ahead, thinking of holiday traditions and perhaps a holiday cruise.
‘Tis Almost the Season
By Christopher Kyte, President
As most of the nation swelters amid stifling heat and a record drought, it’s hard to believe that we’re just a few months away from the holiday season with crisp, cool weather. Believe it or not, you will be looking forward to wearing sweaters once again! But, as we all know, the holidays are a time for much more than cozy sweaters, eggnog and carols. It’s a time for the warmth that comes from family and friends and the comfort of established traditions.
The American Queen offer a number of Old Fashioned Holiday voyages in December and I’ve had a number of people ask us just what makes these cruises so special other than the magical time of the year and delightful ports where the weather is cool enough to be refreshing but warm enough to be enjoyable.
Let me answer with one word: Plenty!
You’ll enjoy Cajun and Creole traditions such as a Réveillon Christmas Dinner with all of its sinful culinary treats and a stunning array of delectable desserts. There will be brass bands, caroling and prizes for the best decorated stateroom door. There will also be special Christmas shows and even a visit from jolly Saint Nick and his elves. The American Queen sails by Gramercy’s spectacular bonfires on the levy. Sip hot wassail on deck. Don your pajamas and robe and join Boudreaux by the tree in the Grand Saloon for an enthralling reading of “The Cajun Night Before Christmas”. Other time-honored traditions include eggnog and festive tree-trimming parties. You can also watch a world-famous wood carver create his amazing Papa Noel statues and you might just be the lucky winner of one.
As you can see, Christmas in the South brings with it some unique traditions inspired by the Cajun and French culture of the region. If you know me, you know I love good food and our Chef de Cuisine, Regina Charboneau, won’t disappoint on these special voyages.
In the 19th century, the Creoles celebrated the “Réveillon”, or “awakening” during the Christmas season, a custom inherited from the Europeans. The most traditional is Christmas Eve after the families went to Midnight Mass together. There would be an elaborate meal consisting of chicken and oyster gumbo, game pies, soups, egg dishes and desserts, brandy and coffee. The celebration would go on until the early morning with the opening of gifts. The second Réveillon came on New Year’s Eve, and was as festive if not more so with no church involved!
Regina’s great Aunt Nan Marie shared many recipes and food memories with her and she learned about Réveillon from her. Aunt Nan Maire told stories about Christmas Eve at the house she grew up in which Regina referred to as “the big house.” She admits that now, as an adult, it doesn’t seem so big. Regina’s great aunt told her about Daube Glace and how it was always served Christmas Eve at the house on Court Street. Many years later she was most surprised and delighted that her “French Mother” Arlette knew the dish just the same in France, exactly as it was prepared in Louisiana. The big house was the culinary center of a family of good cooks and Regina was introduced to some of the best dishes of her life in that house. “I can only hope that the generations that follow me continue with the celebrations that were perfected by the generations before us,” she told me recently.
A typical Réveillon menu had Daube glace or veal grillades, egg dishes, breads, and puddings, and would often include turtle soup and oysters. Naturally, there was an abundance of wines, cordials, and other fortified drinks. We all love this tradition and think there is something magical about Christmas Eve night. Even as adults, we feel the excitement and want to stay up late.
The Réveillon dinner slowly began to disappear like many of the Creole traditions on the river, but many of the New Orleans restaurants have revived it to bring more visitors to New Orleans during the holiday season. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing aboard the American Queen. You can look forward to Sazerac and Classic Champagne Cocktails and entrees such as Tomato Aspic with Fried Oysters, Deviled Eggs with Lump Crabmeat and Caviar, Pheasant Gumbo (my favorite), Daube Glace, Pork Grillade and, naturally, Savory Grits. Almond Tarts and Buche de Noel are the perfect endings to the perfect meal.
The beauty of the Réveillon is it is all about “awakening” the senses with food and celebrating all that the joy of Christmas and the New Year bring. It does not matter what your menu is, as long as it is plentiful, flavorful, and brings your family together. At the American Queen Steamboat Company, we consider our guests to be family and we look forward to celebrating the holidays in unforgettable style with all of you.
Our Old Fashioned Holiday voyages are among our most popular so if you do have an interest, now is the time to make your reservations. Forget about the brown lawn, hot sun and summer malaise. Imagine the cool breezes and warm spirits of the upcoming holidays and make your plans today.