Creole Christmas in Natchitoches

Known as the setting for Steel Magnolias, this charming Louisiana town boasts one of the biggest celebrations in the country.

Cassandra M. Vanhooser
Creole Christmas
Fireworks explode over the Church Street Bridge every Saturday night in December.
John O'Hagan

Community Pride
But then trailblazers have always been drawn to Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-a-tish). Founded by the French in 1714, it's the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Today, the city, located 70 miles south of Shreveport, retains much of its Creole character.

Residents jealously guard the buildings that make up the 33-block National Historic Landmark District. Many of those along Front Street feature galleries encased with exquisite cast-iron grillwork, a look reminiscent of the French Quarter. The ground floors house shops, with offices and townhomes on the upper levels. Old bricks, handmade with local clay, pave the street. It's said that early preservationists lay in the street to protect these same bricks from city officials intent on covering them with asphalt.

"We're just a little bit proud of our city," says Mayor Wayne McCullen with a wide smile. "This town is a melting pot of Louisiana citizens."

Meat Pies and Marching Bands
Festival Saturday dawns bright and clear, ushering in a crisp, sunny day. Visitors begin pouring into town to stake out a slab of concrete along the parade route or a strip of green at the edge of the lake.

At Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant, people have been lined up out the door since breakfast. From Thanksgiving through this first week of December, they'll sell some 16,000 fried meat pies.

"People come to get the meat pies," says Angela Lasyone. "We serve them breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We try to keep a friendly atmosphere. It's really homey. Nothing fancy, but people love our pies."

The parade is a long, winding affair. Cavalcades of police motorcycles shriek their sirens. Shriners ride in circles. Tiny tots dressed as angels adorn the big floats. Marching bands bang out Christmas songs.

"Christmas is a special time everywhere, but it is really an exciting time in Natchitoches," says Northwestern State University president Dr. Randall Webb, as he watches the school's band entertain the crowd. "I've never lived anywhere that celebrates Christmas the way we celebrate it here."