By Devonna Edwards, Columnist
My Grand-Mere, Mary Jane Angelique Broussard, was born in 1891 in Upper Pomquet, Antigonish County in a house near Dragger’s Brook. The old house built by my great-great grandfather in 1867, still stands today. She grew up on a large farm in a close French Acadian community. Christmas at that time revolved around Christmas Eve Mass, family, and food, similar to Christmas of today, minus the frantic Christmas shopping.
Grand-Mere awoke early every morning to the sound of the rooster’s cock-a-doodle doo. In the winter, the floors could get very cold before the heat from the old wood stoves started to travel up to the second floor, where the bedrooms were located. The upstairs bedrooms were heated by the heat from two wood stoves, located in the kitchen and living room, which travelled up through the circular shaped openings located in the ceilings and into the same openings in bedroom floors. Emptying the chamber pot under her bed was her first chore, no indoor plumping at that time, so a quick dash outside to the outhouse was made. On returning to the house, she entered the porch, where a large sink was located with a red hand pump on the side. She then manually pumped water into a pan, which she took upstairs to empty into her wash basin in her bedroom. By the time she washed and dressed, her mother had breakfast on the table.
A large breakfast was served every day, which was needed to keep up one’s energy for the hard work on the farm. Breakfast consisted of eggs collected from the hens in the hen house; bacon or ham which came from the slaughter of the pigs in the fall and salted in brine, to preserve the meat; delicious fresh home-made bread toasted on the stove, smothered in butter that was churned on the farm, and jam made from the bountiful harvest of fresh strawberries, blueberries and fruit from the many trees on the property; fresh milk from the cows provided the beverage, along with tea or coffee that had to be purchased on a visit into the town of Antigonish.
Christmas was an exciting time for her, although most French Acadian had large families, she was the only child, born to Nathalie (Deon) Broussard and Charles Broussard, her cousin Bertha along with Bertha’s father moved in with her family when she was in her teens, and she became her best friend. Attending mid-night Christmas Eve mass at St. Croix Church in Pomquet, with all her family and friends was one of the highlights of the holidays. The family travelled to the church by horse and sled, hardly feeling the frigid air as they were covered by buffalo furs, making them warm and cozy. As the sled glided through the snow on this special night, the tingling of the bells on the horse’s harness echoed in the crisp air.
St. Croix Church was aglow with many lit candles (no electric lights then), which gave an overall magical atmosphere, and each family had their own reserved pew which was also well lit by candles. The Broussard family had a Church Shed located near the church and after the drivers let the women and children out at the church, they put their steaming horses in the shelter.
After mass, relatives and friends gathered at Grand-Mere’s large house to celebrate the season with a grand display of traditional French dishes such as: Chicken Fricot (a soup containing chicken and potatoes). Traditional Acadian meat pies (Tourtieres) of pork, beef or rabbit have remained a consistent dish for hundreds of years in Acadian homes. Acadian children especially enjoyed a particular treat called a Naulet, which was a large biscuit shaped like a little man, made from bread or cookie dough, and decorated with raisins. My cousin Colleen Doiron said that they still bake the Naulet biscuit during the Christmas season in Pomquet.
The smaller Acadian children did not attend Midnight Mass or the afterdinner, because they would not have been able to endure the long night, so an older child would remain at home with them. Before bed, the children left their shoes filled with carrots and treats by the fireplace for Pere Noel (Father Christmas) or in English words, Santa Claus. After removing the carrots and treats, Pere Noel would then fill their shoes with candy, money, or small toys.
The Acadians from Pomquet came from Saint-Malo, France and brought many of their traditions with them but other traditions were added over time, such as catalogue shopping from Sears and Eaton’s, which began there in the 1920s.
New Year’s Day was a day of great celebration among the Acadian people, who loved to sing and dance and tell stories. Large gatherings of family and friends assembled many playing instruments such as the fiddle, accordion, and violin. Large tables of delicious Acadian food and beverages were set up around the room, to feed the happy crowd.
Acadian Christmas celebrations were kept remarkably simple and joyful.