Most of America celebrates Christmas Day by getting up early, opening presents, going to church, then sitting down to a midday meal that’s not all that different from the one they had a month earlier on Thanksgiving.

Holiday traditions are different in New Orleans and so are the season’s foods.

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To understand what makes Christmas so different in New Orleans, it’s important to remember that for centuries nearly everyone in New Orleans was Catholic. This religious root reached back to France, Spain, and the Caribbean, with equal amounts of faith, devotion, and mischief.

The rules of the Church specified that the faithful had to fast from midnight on Saturday night until after Mass if they wanted to receive Holy Communion. The residents of New Orleans solved this problem early by having Mass at midnight! Once Mass was finished, the “awakening” – the Réveillon – could begin. Let the good times roll!  And the “Good Times” meant oyster dishes one after another.

New Orleans’ famed restaurants still carry on the Réveillon tradition today with a broad sampler menu offered to all at both lunch and dinner seatings. And of course, oysters are a menu must.