It’s Christmas time and Benny Cenac, Houma native and CEO of Cenac Marine Services, Main Ironworks, Houma Machine and Propeller, and other local businesses have been celebrating for several weeks already. People in Houma pay respect to the more traditional aspects of Christmas, as well as the assorted fun festivities and traditions Houma natives have practiced for years with friends and family. Lights, holly, mistletoe, and decorations are all prominently visible on Benny Cenac’s Golden Ranch, but in Houma, there are also remnants of the generations-old practices that reflect the true meaning of Christmas.
In the Catholic faith, the four weeks preceding Christmas are called advent—a time to prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s birth. The season is one of the most holy in the liturgical year and in Louisiana—the area’s Spanish and French cultural origins are still evident today, most obviously the dominant Catholic influences and practices still observed by many state residents.
Cajun Christmas traditions for Benny Cenac’s family include feasting on their family gumbo recipe, and
other delicious holiday dishes like oyster dressing, boudin, bread pudding, and duck. Christmas Eve is also different in Cajun areas: people in Houma read the “Cajun Night Before Christmas” – which follows a similar storyline to the “Night Before Christmas” but the sugar plums are replaced by gumbo and Santa, clad in muskrat pelts, is pulled by alligators atop his skiff or little boat used on the winding bayous. Even the names of the alligators that pulled Santa are French in origin: Gaston, Tiboy, Pierre, Alcee’,Ninette, Suzette, Celeste, and Renee’! Like the story we are all familiar with, the red-nosed ‘St. Nicklus’ in the Cajun Night Before Christmas scoots down the chimney with a pack on his back, the mother in the tale is up preparing ham and yams for the Christmas feast, the kids were asleep, and the house was all quiet and you couldn’t hear a thing—not even a mouse.
Benny Cenac of Houma Celebrates Christmas By Giving Back
Giving is synonymous with even the most secular parts of Christmas. Across the nation, people use the holiday season to look out for their fellow man and give to those in need. But Arlen “Benny” Cenac, Jr. takes this to heart—using his ranch and assorted business ventures to support his local parish, Houma residents, and other important causes. Every year, to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas, Benny Cenac picks various organizations, programs, and individuals to help and deliver blessings to: funds for a church restoration, the Terrebonne Foundation, Terrebonne Foundation for Excellence, his alma-mater Nicholls State University, conservation, a charitable hunt, and more. The Houma needy population, educational causes, and health have all been matters of interest for Cenac that he hopes to continue contributing to in the new year to come.
Christmas Day – the culmination of the advent – is the most spirited and holy day of all. Houma residents and their families first attend Christmas Mass and then often spend much of the day cooking. In Cajun Louisiana and France, Christmas dinner doubles as Reveillon, or “ the awakening.” Reveillon originally was a meal served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. In predominantly Catholic Louisiana, the entire community would participate and set upon a multi-course, hours-long feast to celebrate the birth of Christ and the Christmas holiday. Today, Reveillon is a fixture of the New Orleans restauraunt scene. During the holiday season, famous restaurants throughout the city serve lavish and indulgent meals in the name of Reveillon, inspired by the original Creole dishes served but with a modern twist.
Benny Cenac plans for days for the giant food-fest, scouring his family cookbook for his grandmother’s gumbo recipes and other Cajun dishes. The Christmas spirit is evident when the lights are up, the ornaments on the Christmas tree sparkle, and delicious smells waft from the Reveillon meal. Benny Cenac ensures that every aspect of Christmas is “done right”—from the religious aspects, to maintaining his Cajun and Cenac family traditions, giving to the less fortunate, and best of all: celebrating with loved ones.
“Christmas here is a long celebration and can be a lot of work,” Cenac says. “But I would not trade it for the world. This is the most magical part of the year and it’s always rewarding to give and celebrate the birth of our Lord.”