Cajun Christmas, a tradition in West Orange

Published 2:30 pm Thursday, December 6, 2018

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


WEST ORANGE — Neighbors greeted neighbors as families arrived at the West Orange Community Center on Monday night for the 30th annual lighting of the Christmas tree.

It was standing room only as children gathered around West Orange Municipal Judge Carl Thibodeaux to hear him read A Cajun Night Before Christmas. The story is a long-standing tradition with the event.

The narrator in “Cajun Night Before Christmas” spies St. Nick with his flying skiff and eight flying alligators. Historically, though, only some inhabitants of Louisiana have referred to Santa Claus as St. Nick. For the people of German descent, he was Kris Kringle or St. Nick, while the descendants of French settlers called him Papa Noel. Cajuns celebrated a visit by a woman they called La Christianne, according to

Forget Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Blitzen in this story as St. Nick does not have reindeer but eight alligators named Gaston, Tiboy, Pierr, Alcee, Ninette, Suzette, Celeste, and Renee.

First published in 1973, it was written by penned by J.B. Kling Jr. and illustrated by James Rice. Rice is originally from Texas.

As Thibodeaux read the delightful tale, children sat mesmerized, some with blinking Christmas light headbands.

After the last page was read and the book closed, families left the Community Center to meet at the Christmas Tree in the city park next door.

In another tradition, West Orange Mayor Roy McDonald, with the aid of the children, counted down from 10 and the lights on the tree and throughout the park came on as they all shouted out ONE!

Gathering under the glow of the lights upon the tree, the community joined in singing Christmas Carrols as the children awaited the anticipated and promised arrival of Santa Claus himself.

Afterward, neighbors and residents meet in the community center once again to enjoy hot chocolate and refreshments while visiting.