Christmas in Old Detroit

Untitled, photo by BareBonesDetroit

The Detroit News has a fantastic feature titled Christmas traditions in Old Detroit: Pigeon pie, horse racing, tapers on trees that is a wonderful look at the history of the Christmas holiday in Detroit. They begin:

Although Protestant churches in Detroit did not embrace the Christmas holiday until the 1840s, it was long celebrated in the French Catholic Churches such as Detroit’s oldest parish, St. Anne’s. (pictured above)

Before Christmas trees became the rage, the French holiday tradition in Detroit was represented by yule logs, reveillon feasting, and horse races. Yule logs were enormous logs or sometimes entire tree stumps that filled the hearth along with a half cord of wood to get it started. Holiday feasting began on Christmas Eve in a tradition called reveillon (pronounced Ray-veh-yon), which is still celebrated in Quebec and New Orleans (at least for the tourists).

In Detroit, families would carry a lantern to midnight mass and leave it with a beggar at the church door. When the Christmas mass was over, they would pick up their lantern and give a Christmas tip to the beggar. They then would go home for the feast that would last until 8 a.m.

The reveillon supper was a sumptuous menu that included la tourtiere — a meat pie made with pigeons in the 19th century and later with pork, veal or other game. Other dishes might include a stew of meat balls and pork, minced pork pie, turkey, pumpkin pie, mince pie and new cider.

There’s a whole lot more including holiday menus, toys, the hazards of decoration and even holiday horse racing through the streets of the city by the French and Ulysses S. Grant! Definitely read the rest and check out the photo gallery which includes some great old photos! About this photo from December 2010, BareBonesDetroit wrote:

Day Six: During the holidays, many of us end up donning our Sunday best and heading over to our local place of worship. Lucky for us here in Metro Detroit, the city overflows with churches, and even has a synagogue. Ste. Anne’s is the oldest church in Detroit. It’s massive structure is a beacon from both sides of the International border we share with Canada. For the season, it’s facade becomes even merrier. If you’ve never visited, for the history lesson and stained glass alone, it’s worth a visit.

View this photo bigger and see more in his Twelve Days of Christmas slideshow. Also be sure to check out for a cool photographic tour of the D!

More Christmas traditions on Michigan in Pictures…


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