Happy New Year’s Eve, Madame Grands Doigts!

Happy New Year

Folks who visit here or meet me for the first time are rather surprised at the blond hair and green eyes, because they mistakenly preconceive that a woman way down in coastal Louisiana who writes about life in the Louisiana wetlands must surely be Cajun.  Well, I’m not, but please let me take this opportunity to clear that up for our newbies and inquiring minds.

I am clearly what I dubbed a European-American several years back.  Both my parents are of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent.  I’ve been married to a Native American, Houma Indian, for thirty-one years and have raised five children, all from this union.

My husband, The Captain, will tell you in a heartbeat that he is NOT a Cajun.  Cajuns, short for Acadians, were French people exiled from Acadiana in Nova Scotia, many of whom ended up down here.  (I don’t need to give you a history lesson, because you can find that history anywhere online.)  Rather, The Captain’s people (Houma Indians) were already settled in these parts and took the Acadians in, taught them how to hunt, trap, fish, and catch shrimp and oysters in order to survive.  It wasn’t long before they intermarried, and the Houmas picked up their language.  (I’m not sure why the reverse isn’t true.)

The French spoken by the south Louisiana Native Americans has Indian words mixed in, making it slightly different from the French spoken west of here, like in Lafayette, for example.  That is what we call Cajun French, or Prairie French.  For many years, the bayou French was not a written language because the Houmas could neither read nor write.

Lest you think I’m a fraud and a fake, maybe I should list my credentials that make me a true bayou woman.  I’ve lived on the bayou over half my life.  I’ve worked in the oil field (literally and not just in an office), I’ve worked on offshore crew boats in the Gulf, I’ve worked on a shrimp boat, I can cook all the traditional bayou dishes, I’ve owned quite a few boats, I fish and take my boys duck hunting until they are old enough to go on their own, I clean fish, break shrimp heads, pick crabs, pluck ducks, shuck oysters and eat them raw.  I live on the bayou and cannot imagine waking up and not being able to look out at the water and see which way the tide is rolling.

What really makes me a genuine bayou woman, though, is my love for the people and their culture.  While it’s true that I will always be that city girl from up north (Bossier City) to the native bayou people, there is no doubt in my mind that the bayou is where I’m supposed to be and where I was to have been all these years.  That may change one day out of necessity due to family dynamics, but no matter where life takes me, my heart will always be “down da bayou”.

So what in the world does all this have to do with Madame Grands Doigts (or Lady Long Fingers)? Well, I’ll tell you.  Capt. John Swallow sent me an email about their upcoming NOLA Pyrate Week and in it he asked me if the Madame was going to pass by our house.  Not having any clue who she was, I immediately went to GOOGLE to find out.

Over in the Cajun prairie around Lafayette, Carencro, and Ville Platte, there are several different versions of the folklore of Madame Grands Doigts; but the one I like best, and the one I assume Capt. Swallow referred to is this one:

If you have been a good little boy or girl, Madame Grands Doigts visits your house on New Year’s Eve, and using her long fingers, places little treasures in your stocking that you left hanging from Christmas.  The gifts would be things like a shiny red apple, a juicy navel orange, a banana or some nuts.

It’s a quaint tradition, and there are still folks today who carry on that tradition for their children and grand children, and I think it’s charming.  It blows my mind that places where this folklore is recognized and celebrated are only a ninety-minute drive from here, yet I’d never heard of it before.

There is one very simple explanation:

This is Cajun folklore, and I am NOT a Cajun.  I am a BAYOU WOMAN, and that’s why Madame Grands Doigts will not be stopping at our house tonight!

As we reflect on all the blessings and perils of 2012 and fret over all the pounds we gained from too much holiday fare, I pray that 2013 will be a peaceful year in your home, in our nation, and the world.  I hope your new year is worry free and full of possibilities for the positive.

Now, tell me this:  What are you cooking New Year’s Day?

Bring on those traditions!

BW

I want to ring in the new year with a CONTEST:  The first person who grew up with this tradition and leaves a comment sharing a story about that tradition with us, will receive an 8 x 10 color photograph, suitable for framing from the BW photo library.


Comments

Happy New Year’s Eve, Madame Grands Doigts! — 68 Comments

  1. I cook cabbage and black eye peas and ham or corned beef. Love your blog! I’m a city girl myself but now I live on Bayou Teche and love every minute of it!

    • Hi Jean! Is this your first time to comment? If so, welcome to this bayou! I’ve been reading James Lee Burke’s “Dave Robicheax” series, which are all on Bayou Teche. I would love to hear more about your life on the bayou, so please write me in one of the contact boxes at the bottom of any other page on the blog, and it will come to me as an email and we can go from there with our conversations! BW

  2. But o’ course I knew that…just figured ye’d been so good all year La Madame might make a side trip! LOL
    The folk who grew up “on da Bayou” might tease ye about being from “up north”, but don’t kid yerself, yer one o’ them through and through – that Bayou water runs in yer veins as if ye’d been born floating down the Mississippi in a reed Pirogue! Even the Captain’s ancestors look down at ye and smile for the grand task o’ raising them such fine Grandbabies – and teaching both them, and others, about Bayou LIFE!

      • PS I know that you knew that, but I had to find some great way of leading into this new folklore to which you introduced me! Lots of folks don’t know I’m not Cajun, though. Now, I’m off to make the galette!

        • LOL…aye, always a pleasure to inspire! Enjoy the day (and the Galette) and pass our best hopes to The Captain, The First Mate and all the family!
          FYI our New Years tradition is…well…none really; short o’ a good smudging out o’ old/negative energy. As it happens we celebrate Chinese New Year (two o’ the QM’s kids – including the one who lives with us – are o’ Chinese heritage on their Dad’s side). Happens February 10 this year and of course the traditions are much the same – lot’s o’ fine food, incense, loud noises to scare off negative energies… 2012 was Year o’ the Black Water Dragon (or Gators as we like to think) – 2013 is Year o’ the Black Water Snake and beginning o’ the “Fire Cycle” which happens to be associated with the direction SOUTH – so hoping for good fortune for those in the Gulf Coast!
          For fun, ye can check yer proper Chinese Horoscope on this website:
          http://www.chinesefortunecalendar.com/Chineseastrology.htm

  3. I grew up within a 100 miles of the Canadian border. We really did not have any New Year’s traditions other than getting together with family and cooking a ham for dinner. Black eyed peas were not part of the festivities. This morning in NM we have about 3 inches of snow on the ground. It looks a lot like MN!

  4. I ALWAYS ENJOY THE KNOWLEDGE YOU PASS ON ABOUT THE BAYOU,BUT WHAT IS A GALLETTE? I HAVE ACTUALLY STARTED LOOKING UP INFO ON THE HOUMA INDIANS AND FOUND THAT YOUR HUSBANDS NAME IS ASSOCIATED WAYYYYY BACK. YA’LL HAVE A VERY DIFFERENT LIFE THAN WE DO IN RANKIN COUNTY BUT I THINK IT IS INTERESTING.

    • Louise, galette is fried bread dough. We flatten it out in sort of oblong fashion and fry it in shallow oil. We eat it with cane syrup, honey, or powered sugar. Some of us eat it plain, dipped in our coffee. If you shape them square, and leave the dough thick, it’s similar to a beignet, just denser. We don’t eat it often because it’s not very healthy, but I treat my family to this during the winter holidays. Mmmmmm!

  5. The tradition @ my house is to cook a Coca Cola Ham (takes 3 days of prep & cooking but oh so worth the time & work), cabbage seasoned with bacon, blackeye peas seasoned with bacon & onion & cornbread. I plan on carrying on the tradition again this year as I have for the last 40 years.

    • Coca Cola Ham? Seems like I heard about that a few years back but don’t recall ever having it. Cool tradition, though! Everything is better with bacon, right? Forty year tradition and counting! Isn’t that great!!! So, have a happy one, War Horse!

  6. Guess I am just like most, Ham, Cabbage, and Blackeye’d peas, cornbread. Definately throw in a bit of tasso in the peas and cabbage.

    Anyone else have trouble finding a whole ham? Seems most of the hams these days are spiral cut, yes convienance I understand, but they always end up dry and on sandwichs whereas a whole ham is juicier and just tastes better!

    But tonight is the ball game, rabbit and quail jambayla! West Texas blue quail (as big as a partidge) and swamp wabbits! Oh My!

    BTW Hope everyone has a safe and happy new year.

    Whatever will we do this year without Dick Clark?

  7. No I never did hear of the long fingered lady. But being brought up here on the river I had never seen or heard of a Courir till I left for college (I did enjoy them though and made up for lost time). The long fingered Lady would seem to fit right in with that.

    My parents are/were not coonass even after living here 50 years. You just can’t wash that West Texas sand off. I was raised so far from civilization our mail came by alligator. I was happy to go to school, there was other kids there, TOYS! I spent most of my time as a kid outside hunting, fishing, and working the garden. I wasn’t abused, I was happy, it was what there was to do.

    Since my parents were not cajun, I missed out upon some of the traditions which I learned of later. Lousiana is rich in its customs and tradition too. Most though you never think of until you run into a tourist/transient.

    So many traditions are localized, and so many are fading. Seems a shame. They need to be saved and passed on to another generation.

    • I’ve heard of and read about the Courir but never attended one. Maybe this will be the year I introduce our friends to this regional event? Hmmmm . . . .

  8. Blakeyed peas, cabbage, cornbread, and smoked ham are the standard here. Every year I usually fix a new dish I’ve eaten somewhere else during the previous year. This year it’s a cabbage casserole which is topped with crushed Ritz crackers and cheese. Like the bacon, cheese makes everything better too!
    Foamheart, although I like Ryan Sechrest (sp?) I know how you feel about Dick Clark. We’ll be watching LSU on ESPN and taping ABC’s 2 hr. special about Dick Clark. I’ll watch it after the game.
    Happy New Year everyone!

  9. Capt. Wendy, in St. James parish we have Papa Noel who brings presents to all the good little Cajun boys and girls. We build bon fires atop the levee to light the way for him. I’ve never heard the story of Madame Grands Doight but a very interesting piece of folklore. Heres wishing you and all of your readers a wonderful and Happy New Year! We’ll be having cabbage, black-eyed peas, and pork roast for New Years day.

  10. Buried in the inner folds of my brain is a memory the stockings in my grandmothers family were hung on New Years eve. They were French with accents I believe. I was born as they were dying so no first hand knowledge. I thought it stemmed from the 12 days of Xmas thing but who knows.

    blu got invited to a party next door and is bringing blackeyed peas, Poches Andouille, and rice with a bit of the trinity etc. something about bringing quarters cause cards to be played got my attention too.

    We are going to be making serious fishing ice next 48 hours.

    Take care.

    • Blu, that almost sounded like the sharing of a story. It’s too bad you couldn’t have dug around a little and found some living relatives who could expound on that tradition for you. Now, I’m curious!!! And WOW! Blu got invited to a party! Have fun, Blu, and have a fulfilling 2013!

      • I find this bit of my grandmother’s family odd but it is maybe a reflection on prejudice or something. Even the kids talked about them
        like they were odd unusual or something. I may have to do a bit of poking around. Pretty sure they had like an amish reputation of all work no play and rest of her siblings left area. It was a very German settlement from mid 1800′s.

  11. BW, Prairie Femme wrote a good post about Madame Grand Doigts. She’s mainly good to us in Evangeline Parish but some will have their Christmas presents taken away if they’re bad. http://prairiedesfemmes.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-legend-of-madame-grands-doigts.html

    I recorded my parents talking about the character and uploaded it to YouTube. PF transcribed it. In case you missed it check it and good stories are to be found. (P.S. in Evangeline Parish galette means something else, a certain part of a woman’s body;-)

    See Amanda Lafleur’s Cajun French site about that:
    http://appl003.lsu.edu/artsci/frenchweb.nsf/$Content/Cajun+French+False+Cognates?OpenDocument

    Happy New Year! Bonne Année! (To you too Captain Swallow!)
    –Mike

    • Mike, I found Prairie Femme’s blog in my research, and also Amanda Lafleur’s. (She helped me with some of the language in my children’s picture book!) And I knew that about galette, too, but my non-Cajun readers would NEVER know that unless someone like Mike Hebert came along and told them!! There is also some confusion between y’alls French and bayou French with the words for turtle, I believe. Why don’t you put the YouTube link to your parents?

      • lol. I think so with the turtle word but i’m not sure. Your padna Rocky would know for sure. He’s an expert on all areas of Louisiana French.

        Here’s a link with Madame Grand Doigts featured.

        https://www.youtube.com/user/HebertditMilan

        I’ll change it soon for Mardi Gras. I like listening to Bayou French too and made a playlist with a variety. I showed my parents this and they easily understand Terrebonne or Vermilon, etc. Not too much difference they said.

        Enjoy your blog a great deal and especially hearing from people around the state with different traditions. Black eye peas and cabbage is same here.

        Have a good one BW:-)

        • Mike, Thanks for the link but I’m still not able to view it because Shockwave Flash keeps crashing on my computer. I don’t know what the problem is, but it’s very aggravating. I really want to see it!

  12. What an intriguing custom and one I’ve never heard before. Madame apparently does not visit the Lowcountry but we do have our traditions.

    Hoppin’ John, collards, cornbread and pork (pork chops, pork roast, pulled pork, BBQ ribs, whatever floats your boat) must be served on New Year’s Day for money and luck.

  13. I was raised on the black eyed pea tradition too. So, since about 10 family members, including myself and hubby, have verified cases of the flu, I am following tradition for all the luck I can get. So, black eyed peas w/salt jowl, southern style collard greens (have on hand since I couldn’t get to the store for cabbage), pork cutlets and a big pan of cornbread and lots of butter.

    And I did get my flu shot. Doc said I was lucky to have only a “lighter” version. :) Happy New Years to all of you.

    • I’m so sorry you have the flu. I hate being sick, and the flu is the worst. How can you even cook when you have the flu? Get well soon and be well the rest of the year, Cam!

      • I wondered the same thing. ‘She’s got the flu and she’s cooking?” I’d be lying in the bed, like something the cat dragged in! Hope everyone gets well soon and no one else gets sick.

        • I’ll tell you the truth, those collards w/a few dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce sprinkled in them, cleared my head up faster than any spray! Course it didn’t last long but, sure was nice while it lasted.

          As for cooking when I am sick, hubby can cook pinto beans and that is it. I did miss one night. But, I enjoy my food too much to let the flu get me down.

  14. I’m enjoying all your posts with my first 2013 cup of coffee and my sweet potato pie! Down on da bayou, not only do we eat cabbage for money, but we put a leaf in our wallets. Yep, today is the day to throw away the cabbage leaf from last year and add a fresh one!!! I’m cooking Chinese cabbage from the Landry’s garden, seasoned with the ham bone from Thanksgiving. Or maybe I’ll make cabbage casserole in honor of my mother. Reminds me, I have to email LilSis that recipe tout suite!

  15. What an interesting post Wendy! I didn’t know (or remember) the history of the Acadians and the Houmas Indians. And I have never heard of Madame Grands Doigts! Where have we been?? I did get a good laugh over you being “northern” being from Bossier City and all-lol! Great read. Happy New Year to you and all your family!
    Monica

    • Happy new year, Monica, and great hearing from you! Many of us didn’t pay too much attention to Louisiana History in eighth grade, right? And I just gave the abbreviated version! Hope all is well in your world! You look great!

    • Hi Ashlee, I certainly did read your article and found it very enlightening! And it’s a small world, because it appears, Mike Hebert knows Capt. John Swallow, and Mike Hebert knows you, and you might know Amanda Lefleur who helped with the French in my children’s picture book! I was drawn to the name Prairie Femme, also! Welcome to the bayou and let’s stay in cyber touch! And one more person I know whom you might be connected to here somewhere, my very best Bayou French consultant Rocky McKeon! HNY – BW

  16. Un-related question? Was the bayou scene in your photographs taken on the bayou on north shore of Lake DeCade? I fished the Marmande Shell Pit just above the bayou for the nine years I was “Down the Bayou.”

  17. Bayou Woman, I certainly know all those mentioned (except Capt. “Swallow”?), especially Amanda. Our families owned a store together in Ville Platte for years, and Mike, well, he’s just my padna. I am very happy to be in “cyber touch” and would love to see your children’s book, hear more about it. Merci- Ashlee

  18. Oh, my goodness! It’s not just coming time for King Cake, it’s nearly time for Courir de Mardi Gras! One of the most accessible celebrations for people who want a sense of things but who don’t have a horse or live in the neighborhood is up northwest of Lafayette at Church Point. And there’s a wonderful film called “Dance for a Chicken” that gives a wonderful sense of a celebration that’s so far removed from NOLA’s Mardi Gras it’s – well, unbelievable.

    And just to get everyone in the mood, how about a little Cleoma Breaux (yes, from those Breauxs!) and Joe Falcon? Whether its zydeco or Cajun or swamp pop, there has to be a little music! Happy New Year!

    [youtube="http://youtu.be/JTQrXj-aT5g"]

    • Isn’t Shoreacres amazing? Not only does she write an amazing blog of her own, she also helps others, like me, get a jump on their next holiday blog posts!!! Nothing like jumping from the New Year to Mardi Gras! King Cakes are already out in the markets here!!!! Thanks for the fodder, Linda!!!

  19. Seems the house now has the flu, was thinking Nyquil but decided upon hot buttered rum toddy’s!! Why not enjoy what you can while sick. Tastes better than Nyquil! LOL

    • Flu here too! No rum here, we’ll just have to settle for taking Tamiflu. Just not fair…this is one anniversary Hubby and I won’t forget.

  20. Oh and if you haven’t noticed it is owl mating season now even in the frozen tundra……

    I might be fleeing prosecution up here soon. Anybody need me?

  21. The Who Dat family is back? Cool.

    I’ve been watching the Potted Plant Owl cam again. I missed the incubation period and the hatching but the chick hasn’t fledged yet. It looks like a big ball of dryer lint! It hops from the planter to a limb placed on the balcony for it’s convenience.

    It’s in Johannesburg, South Africa, so the time diff is tricky. The cam was down all afternoon but is back up this evening. I don’t think they leave it on 24/7.

    I’ll be waiting to see how the Who Dat family fares this year.

    • I’m sorry to say that for some reason, although it’s the same nest, the owls are not as visible as they were last year. But if I can snap some shots, I surely will do that just for you!

      • The owls probably added to the nest making it larger…thus deeper and that makes them sit further into the nest and less visible. But, I’m happy they are back! I noticed one of the eagle nests is not occupied this year. Probably too much activity around it. Soon, they’ll be fetching food so they’ll be coming and going a lot. Let me know when I can make a trip down to take photos!

        Oh…here it is cabbage rolls, black-eyed peas and rice and a piece of raw cabbage in the wallet too!

        • Darlene, sorry to say that shortly after I posted about the owls, they tore the nest up and left. I have no clue why. So, no owl pics! The eagles are definitely inhabiting the nest north of my house, just off Highway 315, very close to the road.

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