“Just as all Y’at Orleanians know dat a true miracle is a Catlick family wid less than five kids, and da priest’s benediction is da starting block for da mad dash to da parking lot, now dey’ll know dat if dere’s ever an archbishop of Y’ats, it’ll be Earl Higgins—excuse me, Oil Higgins.”
—Angus Lind, New Orleans Times-Picayune
New Orleans culture is a fusion of secular and holy. From the earliest days of the community founded on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Catholic faith has been an influence on, and inspiration for, daily life. To be sure, religious rites such as weddings, funerals, and feast day festivals transpire elsewhere in the country. In New Orleans, however, they are celebrated with a zeal and verve that speaks to the uniqueness of the community.
Earl Higgins amuses us with those quirky, sometimes paradoxical, customs that define modern New Orleans life. He humorously explains why the answer to the question “Where did you go to high school?” is a better identifying characteristic of a New Orleanian than a thumbprint. What’s in a name? Many New Orleans streets and one local bayou bear the names of Catholic saints. Louisiana’s civil districts are parishes, not counties, bearing testimony to the strong congregational life of the region’s founding fathers.
Holidays take a twist as New Orleanians observe Christmas, but just as importantly, Twelfth Night, which ushers in the Carnival season and ultimately Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Meatless Fridays and the Creole culinary tradition of Holy Thursday’s gumbo z’herbes hail from religious observances connected with Lent.
The term y’at is an affectionate nickname proudly worn by some New Orleanians. Higgins, a proud Jesuit High School blue jay and y’at, explains how all these Catholic customs and traditions have blended throughout history to create a unique lifestyle and shorthand language found only in New Orleans.