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Benedictions and Bounties

When the parish priest visits the shrimp fleets, everyone gets to share in the blessing. All that and a country band too.

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Ah, shrimp. Glorious shrimp. It's intoxicating just thinking about consuming heaping piles of succulent, spicy boiled shrimp. Of course, this being Louisiana, it is not enough that we merely enjoy this bountiful harvest -- we feel the need to celebrate this lucky gift of nature. The first of the two shrimp harvest seasons takes place during the months of May, June and July and begins with the presence of brown shrimp. Traditionally, the third Monday in August begins the fall "white" season, lasting until the hauls exhaust themselves in December.

Part of our Louisiana culture includes about a dozen local blessings of the shrimp fleet, which take place at the beginning of each of these seasons. Dating back at least to the 1930s, fishing communities have set aside a special day near the start of each shrimp season for a blessing of the shrimp fleet. The local priest, in full regalia -- usually with a golden staff, a tall miter hat and a supply of holy water -- blesses elaborately decorated boats as they pass by. He asks for a bountiful shrimping season and for the fishermen "to be kept safe, happy and healthy."

The spring season includes blessings in such coastal areas as Chalmette, Lafitte, Violet, Chauvin, Dulac, Golden Meadow and Westwego, most of which take place at the end of April or beginning of May. As a spectator, you can stand on the banks of the waterway watching the parade of boats festooned with strings of triangular colored pennants. As a boat stops by the priest for the blessing, a pole with a net is reached out to receive a donation for the church, and the boat proceeds down the bayou. After an hour or so of this procession, there's usually some kind of gathering at the local church for food, drink and music.

The fall season of blessings tends to be a little more involved, often taking place during an actual festival. A beautiful drive along the bayou just east of New Orleans brings you to the San Pedro Pescador Blessing of the Fleet in Yscloskey one Sunday and in Delacroix the next. After the 1 p.m. blessing, everyone drives to the church to enjoy heaping plates of freshly fried fish, shrimp, oysters and gumbo. Under the pine trees, a band -- usually country -- plays until dark, while kids enjoy a few carnival rides.

The town of Delcambre, located about 20 miles southwest of Lafayette, is home to one of the region's most productive shrimp fleets. As such, the town devotes not just one day but an entire weekend to celebrate this local livelihood during its Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet. Held directly adjacent to Bayou Carlin, the August festival is made up of the usual blend of music, carnival rides, arts and craft booths, and food booths, with the blessing on Sunday. On Labor Day weekend, the popular Shrimp and Petroleum Festival takes over the downtown of Morgan City. You gotta admit it's fun to go to this festival just to say you've been to a "Shrimp and Petroleum Festival" and to snag a hat emblazoned with its name. Four days of festivities feature lots of music and local food in the pretty town-square park. Under the somewhat industrial canopy of the major highway overpass, more than a hundred craft vendors set up alongside carnival food vendors and a large carnival ride area.

A decorated boat lines up at the San Pedro Pescador - Blessing of the Fleet. - JULIE POSNER
  • Julie Posner
  • A decorated boat lines up at the San Pedro Pescador Blessing of the Fleet.

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