The Emotional Rollercoaster that is New Orleans Part 2
My friend Mary has been attending this event ever since she can remember. In the years since I’ve been joining her sometimes there are eight or ten of us and other times there are just two or three. Sunday night it was just Mary, E, and I. We met at Café du Monde to enjoy our beignets and café au lait while people watching. Seeing the French Quarter filled with holiday shoppers was uplifting after seeing so much of the rest of the city still in ruins.
We were early enough this year to be amongst some of the first at the gate so when they opened at 6 pm we were surprised to find that we could sit right up front. In previous years, we’ve always sat behind the stage, unable to see the goings on but happy to be there singing anyway. Being up front was a definite treat for us.
We set up our chairs along the taped barricade as if we were waiting for a Mardi Gras parade to come. We had an hour to visit and get to know the folks surrounding us. There was a chill in the air but nothing like the damp, extreme (for Louisiana) cold that we experienced last year. Fortunately, E had thought of everything – gloves, scarves, and even makeshift candle holders made of the top halves of water bottles. I’d brought a quilt to wrap up in and my camera to get some crowd shots.
Almost immediately, a man began setting up a television camera just to our right on the other side of the tape. We began talking with him and found out he is a CBS network cameraman from New York. He is missing being home for the holidays this year because of his New Orleans assignment. He told us of all the places they’d been earlier in the day taking “Christmas in New Orleans” footage for the evening news. We told him about New Orleans and how much fun caroling was. He asked Mary several questions about the surrounding buildings – the Cabildo and the Presbytere.
Just before caroling started, the reporter Trish Regan, along with our cameraman friend, came over and interviewed Mary about how it felt to be there this year and how it felt to be in New Orleans this year. Mary did a fantastic job and we both had tears in our eyes as she told her story.
Finally, the archbishop and other from the cathedral made their entrance and the caroling began. Several thousand voices sang of the joy of Christmas and comments were made as to how this year was different. There were cameras on us several times. We’re not sure where all they were from.
Traditionally, the final song is “Silent Night”. They plan for one hour of caroling and we always finish the songs on the sheet before 8 pm and wind up repeating one or two before the finale. This year the lead singer asked how many locals were there, how many out of towners were there, and how many relief workers were there. All three groups were well represented. He then asked us to sing a song that didn’t appear on the sheets – “God Bless America”. The crowd sang with candles raised above our heads and there wasn’t a dry eye in the area. We finished with “Silent Night” and went off in our own directions.
I hadn’t been feeling Christmas this year. My heart had been pretty numb what with E not working and the financial struggles that brings with it as well as the storms and other trials we had to deal with this year. E had grumbled about going at all that night but I’d made him come along. Mary admitted that she had been torn about going at all since she’d be meeting us alone. In the end, sitting in that square, singing Christmas carols with people who had lost so much more than we have this year brought a sense of hope – hope that we can celebrate our lives on Christmas then put 2005 behind us able to look toward 2006 with great anticipation. We left with tears in our eyes, warmer hearts, and the knowledge that this year was the most special of all. None of us would have missed it for the world.
If you want to see the highlights from Christmas in New Orleans and possibly Mary’s interview, watch the CBS Evening News tonight at 5:30 pm Central time. If they show her, look just to her left and I should be there, looking like crap but happy nonetheless.