In heavily Catholic New Orleans, All Saints’ Day (November 01) and All Soul's Day (November 02) have been observed for centuries through rituals celebrating life over death.
During the yellow fever epidemics in eighteenth century New Orleans, death always loomed close. Its presence left the lasting impression on this city and its inhabitants that life is a gift - perhaps fleeting - and should be enjoyed to its fullest each day. And so, on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, New Orleanians honor the lives of dead loved ones by painting tombs with brilliant whitewashes, placing yellow chrysanthemums and red coxcombs on graves and ringing statuary with immortelles (wreaths of black glass beads). On these days, cemeteries throughout the city are alive with the flickering glow from fields of candles, as death is forgotten and lives lived are celebrated.
It is one of seven distinctly local traditions we observe annually at International House, and to celebrate, the staff will don stylish black, and place hundreds of candles, chrysanthemums and red coxcombs along the bar, altar and hotel lobby.
Spirit Handlers at LOA - Nick, Ruth Ann, Denise and Adam - will greet the living with homemade chrysanthemum blossom punch and offer a cocktail menu headed "Mixed Blessings", which include such drinks as "Charnel #5" and the classic cocktails "Corpse Reviver" and "Widow's Kiss." The menu is guided by a heightened awareness of the threshold between the realm of the living and the land the dead. Dressed in layers of sheer black, a sartorial nod to the age-old local custom of covering mirrors in sheer black fabric, the creative staff will serve these drinks in austere white ceramic cups, dressed up ever so with an edible flower garnish.
The whimsically named "Reposado in Pace" is the signature ritual libation Reposado mezcal (neat), smoky handmaiden of the Day of the Dead, is paired with a small portion of homemade pecan milk, made from local pecans. Its ashen hue echoes the centuries old tradition in New Orleans of whitewashing above ground tombs and graves, a ritual still practiced on this day in this city’s many cemeteries. The drink is served in vintage crystal and wreathed with (yellow and red) edible flowers.
To balance the playfulness, LOA will light a vast array of more than 200 candles a bit more ceremoniously than usual, indeed at dusk, since the transition from All Saints Day to All Soul's Day in local culture and lore is so significant. Nick, one of LOA's more intellectually curious bartenders, will make a brief formal address about these Holy Days, while lighting a candle made for the occasion byt local Voodoo Priestess Sallie Ann Glassman. During Nick's remarks a solemn instrumental will play.
No other city has turned such tragedy into the joyous celebration of life which permeates New Orleans’ distinctive culture. It seasons the experience here with the appealing joie de vivre that places New Orleans among the nation’s most interesting and exotic cities.