Thanksgiving Day Festivities in Early Twentieth Century New Orleans

Peacetime, Festivities, and the Role of Catholicism in Early 20th Century New Orleans.

On November 16th, 2018; The Knights of Columbus and several high-ranking catholic religious authorities announced a Thanksgiving Day mass celebration with an accompanying military parade of “More than 5,000 soldiers and sailors”. Notable attendees would include the Bishops of Natchez, San Antonio, and Lafayette; the Mayor of New Orleans, and other prominent government officials. Given the ranking of the mentioned individuals, the number of newspaper articles that appear in the weeks following, and the emphasis on the fact that Audubon and City Park were anxious for it to be held, it is evident that this festival would become a spectacle of great proportion.   

download 1

One unique aspect of this story is that instead of city government organizing the celebration, it was planned primarily by the Catholic church and The Knights of Columbus. In the present day, The Knights of Columbus are nowhere near as influential in New Orleans, but at the time, the group was much more prominent in city affairs. Overseeing all committees was Grand knight of Council 714, Albert J Laplace, who served as general chairman and took charge of planning and executing the event. An article in The Times-Picayune mentions that the celebration invitations were extended to the Governor, Mayor, foreign officials, and other ranking government officials, showing the significance of catholic influence at the time. New Orleans in 1918 was a culturally diverse and thriving industrial port city. With nearly half of its population identifying as catholic, the city of New Orleans stood out as the most catholic city in a heavily protestant south. Given the prevalence and influence of Catholicism at the time, it is understandable why the prominent government officials and regional religious authorities would desire to attend this event. Overall, the Thanksgiving Day Mass serves as a representation of the strength of the Catholic Church in early twentieth century New Orleans.

victory-mass-parade-louisiana-digital-library-e1542121320360.png
Photo from Louisiana Digital Library; Priests in Parade on Victory Mass Day

The distinctive factor that made this Thanksgiving Day Mass truly an event embodying the spirit of New Orleans was the scale and coordination involved. The parade went from the St. Louis Cathedral to Audubon Park via St. Charles Avenue, where more than 5,000 soldiers proceeded to march while followed by crowds of celebrants, onlookers, and citizens of the city. The parade would continue from the St. Charles Avenue entrance of Audubon Park to a designated place where an altar stood. The order of procession following the marching soldiers would continue with the vested choir and choral club of The Knights of Columbus, all the catholic clergy in the city, and end with the bishop and archbishop. Overall, the celebration took place over the course of a day and a total distance exceeding five miles from the St. Louis Cathedral to Audubon Park. The amount of participation of the general population makes it one of the most spectacular thanksgiving day celebrations in New Orleans history and a true display of the festive side of New Orleans which has been ever present since its very founding.   

 

Works Cited:
“Plan Great Mass Of Thanksgiving Knights of Columbus to Be Assisted by Bishop and Entire City Clergy; Gay May Take Seat December 2.” The Times-Picayune. November 16, 1918. NewsBank/Readex.
“Will Celebrate Thanksgiving Day In Victory Mass,” The Times-Picayune. October 25, 1918.
Rousey, Dennis C. “Catholics in the Old South: Their Population, Institutional Development, and Relations with Protestants.” U.S. Catholic Historian 24, no. 4 (2006): 1-21.
“Bishop John Edward Gunn”. Natchez City Cemetery. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14
“Between Two Wars: 1918-1941”. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. Archived from the original on 2010-02-25.
“JEANMARD, Jules Benjamin”. Louisiana Historical Association.