Review of "The Legend of Papa Noel" in The Examiner
Christmas is celebrated around the world in hundreds of ways. Even in the U.S. the December 25 holiday that Christians celebrate as the day of Christ’s birth may be celebrated one way in California, another way in Maine and even another way in Louisiana. A Cajun Christmas is the theme of a children’s Christmas book from 2006.
In “The Legend of Papa Noel,” Santa Claus of the North Pole becomes Papa Noel, a man who lives in the swamps of Louisiana. Instead of reindeer to pull his sleigh through the snow, he has alligators to pull his pirogue down the Mississippi. Children get a taste of the tales Cajun children may hear on Christmas Eve.
This delightful picture book illustrated by Laura Knorr and written by Terri Hoover Dunham, is a great way to introduce children to the various ways Christmas is celebrated across America. Everyone knows the story of Santa trying to deliver his gifts to boys and girls through the dense fog with the assistance of Rudolph and his glowing nose. In this story the pirogue (canoe) of Papa Noel is pulled down the Mississippi by nine alligators. At the front is Nicollete; she is “as white as powdered sugar and her eyes [shine] green like kerosene lamps.” But on one particularly foggy night, even Nicollette’s magic isn’t powerful enough to light the way.
Peppered with Cajun phrases and bits of French, the story is charming. Although different than the traditional stories of Santa and Rudolph, enough of the generalities remain so that the story is easy to follow. The illustrations make the reader feel as if they are traveling down the Mississippi River with Papa Noel and his alligators and the voice of a Cajun storyteller can almost be heard as one reads page after page of this non-traditional Christmas story.
To thoroughly enjoy celebrating Christmas in Cajun style, here are some suggestions for welcoming Papa Noel and having a Joyeux Noel.
- Light a bonfire. Bonfires are lit along Mississippi River levees to light the way for Papa Noel.
- Bake a King Cake. On the twelfth night after Christmas, families enjoy a cake with a figurine of baby Jesus baked into it. Who ever gets the piece with baby Jesus, makes next year’s King Cake.
- Serve some traditional Cajun foods like Dirty Rice, Jambalya and Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce.