Sunday, November 1, 2009

Traditions of the Choctaw Indians: Lighting of the Graves

The summer has faded and the leaves are turning shades of gold and red while the cooler weather provides for lively fall festivals. While most of us find it quite fun this time of year following tradition of creating a festive sometime haunting costume, creating tasty yet very gruesome treats to take to our Halloween festivities, there is a small community in SE Louisiana who devote this time to prepare for the day of Saints, All Saints Day.

LaCombe, Louisiana, a small town lying on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain and surrounded by bayous is home to the descendants of the Choctaw Indians. Now a mixture of white, French, Creole and Choctaw they have continued in the tradition of their ancestors. For the weeks leading up to Nov. 1, you will find the cemeteries in LaCombe filled with people working on the graves and the grounds surrounding. Some whitewash the old stone markers and refresh the painted descriptions of their departed loved ones.

Then as the day turns in to evening on this holy day, they return to the site that holds the remains of their cherished loved ones. Most light candles and surround the burial sight with light and their they sit, paying their respects and holding ritual in honor of the dead, and as the evening turns dark the cemeteries are all a glow as more family join in the ritual. As they speak, they talk of their departed grandparents, mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers and the things they remember most about them. As time has passed, it has become a tradition for neighbors, friends and others to come experience the Lighting of the Graves.

My first experience was very spiritual. Some of the cemeteries are deeply embedded in the woods with the faint glow flickering with the breeze of the remaining leaves and as you approach, the glow is brighter and brighter until you reach the cemetery which has become alive with light and people. As I walked, I stopped to read each marker, some would have the traditional cross while others had the cross known as the Cross of the Choctaw. Family of the departed sit, making sure the candles stay lit and talk to those coming to pay their respects. I recall this one young man who told us all about his grandfather. He spoke with so much love and emotion, I knew the gentleman was greatly missed and I as I was leaving felt as though I had met the gentleman myself, and in a way I did as that young man carries his grandfather with him each and every day.


When visiting SE Louisiana and Woodridge Bed and Breakfast, make plans to visit LaCombe, just 15 minutes west. It is filled with much charm and culture of its own. Visit the LaCombe Museum to get the flavor of the area. Visit the old Catholic Church where miracles have happened by touching the holy water as well as sightings of Mary.

And while there, take in a fabulous meal at John Besh’s La Province or at Sal and Judy’s.

For more information and to book your stay Contact Debbi at Woodridge B&B.