Papa Noel – Cajun Santa and His Alligators!

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Christmas Tradition in Coastal Louisiana

If you’ve ever been to Louisiana, you know that visiting the state can be like traveling a foreign country. The language, food, music, and traditions are so distinctive and unlike anything you will find elsewhere in the United States. That culture is on full display in Coastal Louisiana where you will feel like you’ve ventured into a different land … and in a year like this one, when international travel is pretty much off the table, Louisiana could fill a void.

The state even has its own Christmas traditions. You know about Santa Claus – aka St. Nicholas or Kris Kringle – but in Louisiana even HE is a little different. Here the kids wait for “Papa Noel,” a modification of a character that the Cajuns brought from their homeland, France. In France he’s called “Pere Noel” – Father Christmas – and he leaves little gifts in children’s shoes as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day.

photos from the Cajun Encounters’ Honey Island swamp tour in Slidell, La. on 4-2-07.

In Louisiana, Papa Noel has become an extra-special part of local holiday traditions. He’s Cajun and lives in the swamps, not the North Pole. And because the weather is warmer here and there’s no snow, Papa Noel can’t have reindeer or a sleigh. So, he loads gifts into his pirogue – a special Cajun canoe that’s great for navigating the waterways around these parts – and gets pulled through the swamps by a team of eight alligators. On Christmas Eve he travels the rivers and bayous of Louisiana, guided by bonfires that residents have lit along the shores to help him find the good little boys and girls.

If those children are inclined to leave out a plate of cookies for Papa Noel, they might want to try the recipe below (the alligator cookie cutter can be ordered online).

The Cajun Kringle is made by Haydel’s Bakery in Jefferson Parish. It’s a take on the popular Danish Christmas treat. Image: Haydel’s Bakery

For now, though, we want to share with you the story of a similarly flaky, buttery pastry that’s made by Haydel’s Bakery in Jefferson Parish. The “Cajun Kringle” is a take on the popular Danish Christmas treat, but this one has the true taste of Louisiana: a praline filling, caramel icing and plenty of pecans.

            As with anything else from Louisiana, the Cajun Kringle comes with a back story … and as with most things from coastal Louisiana, that story involves alligators.

Here’s the scoop: An old baker named Alfonse was legendary for his kringles, which he’d start making each morning at 4 a.m. and then load into his little pirogue and deliver them up and down the bayou. All went well until one day a big alligator jumped into his boat and demanded all the kringles. Alfonse refused, beat the gator over the head with his push pole (which is used for steering the pirogue) and was able to escape. The next morning, he got up earlier than usual to start his baking, and he saw that big alligator lurking outside his window … crying. All the gator wanted were some kringles, and Alfonse had foiled his attempt at a great snack. Alfonse felt sorry for the critter and made this deal: If the alligator would be kind enough to pull his pirogue down the bayou and help him deliver all the baked goods quickly, Alfonse would reward the reptile with a special kringle every day.

            Here’s a link to the recipe that’s guaranteed to attract alligators and humans alike. It results in a delicious baked good, but it does require some work. If you don’t feel like going to the trouble of making one of these at home, you can order one to be shipped direct from Haydel’s. Please note that no alligators will be harmed in the making or delivery of your kringle.


Article courtesy of Mindy Bianca Public Relations.

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