Ladies Altar Society keeps tradition alive

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 1999

By MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / March 17, 1999

LAPLACE – A group of ladies at Ascension of Our Lord Church is helping keep a long-standing tradition alive.

The Ladies Altar Society, whose number averages from 11 to 20 every day, has spent the last month and a half preparing cookies for the church’s St.

Joseph’s Altar. Once a popular tradition in southeast Louisiana, the onlyplace in the United States to hold it, it is slowly becoming a dying art.

The tradition got its start in a small town in Sicily. In the midst of afamine, the townspeople prayed to St. Joseph that if the famine broke,they would erect an altar to give to the poor. When the next harvest wasan abundant one, the townspeople kept their promise. To this day, altarsare still erected in answer to favors done by St. Joseph.The Ladies Altar Society at Ascension of Our Lord has erected altars at the church since 1980. This year they started work on making the pastriesfor the altar Feb. 2, volunteering their time every day from 8:30 a.m. to2:30 p.m. The first step in making the cookies is to clean the figs that willgo into the fig cookies and mixing the raisins and oranges that will go into the filling. The mixture of figs, raisins and oranges is then ground up andmade into ropes that will rolled up into the dough. The cookies are thenbaked and decorated. It is a process done entirely by hand.A year ago the group of ladies prepared over 1,800 pounds of cookies.

Some of the cookies will be placed on the altar. The remaining are soldwith all the proceeds after expenses going back to the church. Sevenvarieties are prepared – fig, anise, cocoon, seed, chocolate, cherry and wine with the cocoons and gig being the most popular.

A group of the ladies will put the altar together Thursday night in the school’s cafeteria. Lucille Crayon, one of the ladies who will erect thealtar, said a green skirt will be placed around the altar and red bows on it.

Each table will have a white cloth. The colors green, red and white arethose found on the Italian flag.

The food stuffs will then be placed in baskets on the altar. The foodincludes fruit and vegetables and canned goods donated by the school children as well as baked goods. No meat will be found on the altar.The altar will be blessed Friday at 2:30 p.m. in a ceremony that includes aprocession of the school children. The altar will be open for publicviewing Friday from 3:30-6 p.m.; Saturday from 9-11 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.;and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The altar will be dismantled at 1 p.m.,with the food going to the poor and needy in the area.

For the ladies involved in preparing the pastries and erecting the altar it is a labor of love, one that they hope more young people will get involved in in order to keep the tradition alive.

“Most of the ladies do it for the love of the church,” Elaine Stein, president of the Ladies Altar Society, said.

The Ladies Altar Society will be selling the cookies during the public viewing of the St. Joseph Altar and at the Holy Family House at Ascensionof Our Lord on Saturday.

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