FRENCH SETTLEMENT — For many in this small town, it wouldn't be Christmas without a visit to Father Jason's Christmas Village.
The Rev. Jason Palermo obliged his congregates and neighbors by displaying his massive Christmas display collection during the annual St. Joseph Catholic Church festival Dec. 3.
St. Joseph Catholic Church, a fixture in the historic village since 1839, hosted the ninth “Winter Wonderland Food Festival: A Taste of French Settlement.” The festival brought together hundreds of residents of the southern half of Livingston Parish to share food and fellowship and to raise funds for the church and its ministry which stretches back more than 175 years.
Rosemary Brown, a volunteer at the festival, called the event “a family day.”
“This is our opportunity to bring the community together in a day of fun and celebration of the good life that we enjoy here," Brown said.
Another volunteer, Karen Berthelot, said the event has been well-received by the community since its inception. She said the organizers try to have something for everybody in the family.
"We offer home-cooked and restaurant-cooked food, sweets, many booths and activities for the children," Berthelot said. "This is a big occasion for us and we look forward to welcoming about 500-600 visitors here today.”
For $8, patrons could go through the “home-cooked foods” line where they could enjoy chicken and andouille gumbo, seafood pistolettes, seafood gumbo, fried fish, jambalaya, pastalaya, chicken tenders, hamburgers, mac and cheese and other items. Several restaurants also offered their specialties in the patio area behind the food building.
Members of the Youth Group from St. Joseph and St. Stephen the Great Catholic Churches sold cakes, cookies, other pastries and candies to raise funds for their churches.
At the heart of the festival were dozens of craft booths selling handcrafted items, including paintings by local artists, holiday wreaths, jewelry, clothing and other items with LSU and New Orleans Saints themes, gift baskets and more. Admirers of vintage cars could peruse about 30 models that were brought to the festival by restorers.
For the children, visits with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, a hay ride, and rides on a miniature train were popular activities.
At the heart of the festival was the presentation of Father Jason’s Christmas Village. The Rev. Jason Palermo, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, along with his mother, Yvonne Palermo, has been collecting Christmas village pieces since he was a boy, and the collection is now one of the most extensive in Louisiana.
Yvonne Palermo said her son began collecting village pieces as a boy when his great aunt, Sedonia Louviere, decided he needed a Christmas village. “She made the original pieces using needlepoint,” Yvonne Palermo said. The collecting never stopped, she added.
Today, the huge display, which fills a large room, has grown to more than 500 pieces. The village contains miniature versions of New York City, Walt Disney World, London and many other locales.
“It takes more than 10 days of family teamwork to assemble the village and involves a mile of electrical wiring," Yvonne Palermo said. "Besides the buildings, several trains and trolleys run through the display. Almost all the buildings and attractions are lighted.
“The collection was made with all pieces having to be on a certain scale. Every piece has a box, and when the collection comes down, Father Jason makes sure each piece is vacuumed and cleaned. This collection originally started at my home in Plaquemines with a few pieces, and you can see what it has grown to today."
Yvonne Palermo greeted visitors to the display and was eager to answer questions about the extensive Christmas village that has become something of a focal point in French Settlement during the holiday season. “People really enjoy visiting the Christmas village, and they appreciate the beauty of it and the amount of work that goes into preparing it for the public," she said. "I'm glad that so many people appreciate the family’s efforts to have something like this for the people to see."
In the booths section, Tommy Cousson and his wife, Lisa, had a wide variety of pepper sauces, jellies and related products on sale. Tommy Cousson said the two grow their own peppers and make all the pepper-related items themselves.
“This is a nice place to do business. … The people are very friendly and when we come here, we do well,” Cousson said.
Duffi Lawless, of Prairieville, who was selling children’s chairs made with colorful cloth seats set on PVC pipe, said she brings her chairs to the festival every year and enjoys brisk sales.
“People here are nice and friendly. … There is always a good crowd and good food. It’s a fun place to be,” she said.
Berthelot called the festival a special time for French Settlement residents and other communities in the area.
"It’s a great way to start the Christmas season," he said.