BREC hosts Creole Christmas

Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- Spanish students from the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet School sing Spanish holiday songs Sunday under the direction of music teacher Emcarnita Somoso at BREC's Magnolia Mound Plantation Creole Christmas celebration.
Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- Spanish students from the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet School sing Spanish holiday songs Sunday under the direction of music teacher Emcarnita Somoso at BREC's Magnolia Mound Plantation Creole Christmas celebration.

Bailey Homa, 9, watched Sunday afternoon as Babeth Schlegel, a cook who works at Magnolia Mound Plantation on Nicholson Drive, placed hot coals from an open flame oven on the brick floor of the detached kitchen and placed an iron pot of food on top of them.

“They would have to cook a lot of different meals for the family,” Schlegel said of the slaves who once worked on the plantation.

By placing hot coals on the brick floor, Schlegel said, the former slaves were able to prepare additional food that wouldn’t fit above the open flame in the oven.

Bailey along with other children and their parents toured the nine-acre plantation, including the slave cabin, the overseers house, the pigeonnier house and the Hart House during BREC’s Magnolia Mound Plantation’s Creole Christmas.

BREC has hosted the French Creole Christmas Bonfire Celebration for more than 10 years with about 300 to 500 visitors attending the event each year, said Magnolia Mound Executive Director John Sykes.

The event began as a way to introduce the French culture of the Duplantier family, who once called Magnolia Mound home, to the public, Sykes said.

The plantation house, dating back to 1791 and slightly remodeled in 1810, is the oldest, framed surviving structure in East Baton Rouge Parish, he said.

BREC’s mission, Sykes said, is to teach people about the French Creole culture in Louisiana.

The idea of the celebration is to show visitors the many contrasts between modern-day Christmas and Christmas 200 years ago.

“They made things,” Sykes said, pointing to people making a variety of crafts. “There was natural greenery, simple pleasures, family gatherings and food. There was a lot less tinsel.”

“It’s just part of the Christmas spirit,” Donna Rogillio said.

She and her husband, Scott Rogillio, both of Baton Rouge, try to make the Creole Christmas an annual event.

“We love the house and the history,” she said.

Across from the historic plantation home, Julia Hooker, of Jackson, stirred a pot of lye and vegetable oil over an open flame.

The homemade soap maker said she has been creating the additive-free soaps since 2001 when she learned her mother was allergic to the formaldehyde found in many store-brand soaps.

She began selling her wares at the Creole Christmas event about seven years ago, she said.

“There’s an eclectic group of people that come through here for this occasion,” Hooker said.

“It’s very family-oriented, and it’s fun. I can’t see how some one walking around here can’t learn something about Louisiana’s heritage.”

After stirring the mixture for three hours Sunday, Hooker said it will “set” for a month and should produce about three pounds of soap.

“It’s pretty incredible that they figured this out,” she said. “This is like living history and that is what this place is. It’s kind of interesting to show the kids how much harder it was to survive back then.”

In addition to touring the historic home and watching open-hearth cooking and soap-making demonstrations, visitors listened to French and Spanish Christmas carolers from the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Immersion Magnet Choir, ground sugarcane and watched the lighting of the bonfire.

Tours of Magnolia Mound are offered seven days a week, Sykes said.

To learn about Magnolia Mound and its visiting hours, go to http://brec.org/magnoliamound.