St. Joseph's Day Altar


Ritual, Festival, & Religion

The association of ritual and festival occasions is found in cultures worldwide. Louisiana with its mingling of Catholicism, African religions, Protestant traditions, and Native American sacred practices is known for numerous ritual and celebratory activities.

In predominately Catholic southern Louisiana, traditional celebratory occasions are linked to special dates on the liturgical calendar, such as All Saints Day (November 1) and Mardi Gras (variable, always forty days before Easter). Folk Mardi Gras is celebrated in a vast array of ways from the Cajun style involving clowns on horseback begging for chicken for use in communal gumbo, to New Orleans black neighborhood groups parading over their turf in elaborate Indian costumes. There are also days for St. Joseph (March19) and St. Rosalie (September 4) celebrated by Sicilian Italians, as well as a variety of local blessings of the shrimp fleets and sugarcane fields. Folk Catholicism is equally evident in the construction of home altars, the placement of statues of the Virgin Mary in yards, and the erection of shrines throughout French Louisiana.

The joining of African, European Catholic and Protestant, and Indian sensibilities in the West Indians and Louisiana accounts for the presence of Mardi Gras Indian tribes and spiritual churches in New Orleans. Voodoo also survives from Afro-Catholic sources while jazz funerals appear to stem from West African traditions of heralding the departure of acclaimed individuals.

North Louisiana Anglo and Afro-American Protestantism is focused more on the "word" of God through the rhetoric of preachers and the Bible. It has less of the Latin icon orientation of the Catholic south. However, many family and community ritual and festival occasions survive in North Louisiana such as graveyard memorials, community sings, and river baptisms.

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