December 27, 2019
In Cedarfield tradition, the Pastoral Care Team created this compilation of holiday memoirs by team members and residents. We will share one a day through the holidays. Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Florence Brooks, Team Member
When I was in the 5th grade, my mother and my brother and I went to live in Inverness, a small town in the Mississippi Delta with a beautiful tradition of luminarias on Mound Bayou on Christmas Eve.
Apparently, the tradition began in the early 60’s when one of the residents of Inverness, Thelma Catlette, was perusing a magazine at the family insurance agency and came across a picture of luminarias in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where there was a rich tradition of using these warm lights to light the way for the spirit of the Christ child to one’s home. Mrs. Catlette was so taken with the image that she went home and started to experiment. She got some small brown paper grocery bags, rolled down the edges of the bags a bit, poured in a little sand, and nested a long-burning candle in the sand. It worked! But she needed help. She recruited the Methodist minister and the mayor, and the three of them began to assemble luminarias in a large back room of the mayor’s office for a portion of time each day. The plan was to place the luminarias every 10 feet or so alongside Mound Bayou which ran through the center of town. As Christmas Eve approached the group of three began to expand to include children, cousins, and classmates. On Christmas Eve the paper lanterns were placed on both sides of the Mound Bayou for about a ¼ of a mile. Everyone loved it!
In the years to come, more people began to be recruited to assist with the project, and it became a true community event with the number of luminarias increasing each year. When we moved to Inverness in the 1970’s I joined the luminary team. It was a fun way to spend Christmas Eve. And I am sure that my mother was grateful that there was something that would occupy me for a large part of the day. I would head out first thing in the morning on foot, since we lived only a block or so from the bayou, to find out the plan.
By the time I became involved, the luminarias were no longer assembled in the back of the mayor’s office, but a large pile of sand would be dumped on the bank of the bayou and we would all gather at an appointed time and begin rolling down the edges of the bags, using old coffee cans to scoop and measure sand, and finish with dropping in a candle. We would then place the little bags into the back of a pickup truck to distribute. A couple of folks sitting inside the bed of the pickup would hand off bags to runners on the ground. Late in the afternoon just before dark several of us would spread out to various areas and light the candles. Some years rain would stall our efforts. Other years wind would impede the lighting and a few would catch fire. One year only a small group of us showed, but we assembled and placed as many bags as we could, albeit sporadically. I can remember riding around that evening after nightfall and seeing patches of light knowing that our little group’s efforts had punctuated the darkness.
Eventually, the community began to realize that this was a key event not only for the town, but the region. Families began to assemble luminarias and place them on their driveways and sidewalks. People from all over the Delta would travel to Inverness to see these little lights which now stretched beyond Mound Bayou all the way through town guiding travelers from Highway 49.
It has been a long time since I have scooped sand with my friends into paper bags on Christmas Eve, but folks still gather in Inverness to continue the tradition. Now there are many volunteers, along with a large tractor shed where the luminarias are assembled days in advance and then placed onto numerous flatbed trailers to be distributed at the appointed time. This last Christmas over 2,100 luminarias lined the streets and the bayou of that little Delta town on Christmas Eve.
At a time of year when the nights are the longest and the flat barren land stretches out across wide open spaces this little gift of light is a true delight. Light in the night is so compelling. Perhaps, we could all let our brighter sides shine a bit more this Christmas and bring unexpected joy into the places we are and the lives of people we are with this holiday season.