Acadians in Louisiana are Cajuns, Acadians in Canada are still called Acadians. Both celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, or National Acadian Day, on Aug. 15.
In the 17th century, a hardy group of French citizens sailed from their homeland to settle land they called Acadie or Acadia. Today, this area is called Nova Scotia and is part of Canada. These pioneers built dykes to hold back the massive tides from the Bay of Fundy, and they constructed forts, homes, and churches. Because they were isolated in the wilderness, they became good friends with the Micmac Native Americans and developed a distinct identity.
They became known as “Acadians.”
But there were constant wars between France and England in the New World, and the rich land that the Acadians farmed passed back and forth between England and France. Beginning in 1755, the English seized the farms of the peaceful Acadians, burned their villages, put them on ships, and sent them all over the world.
They went to the 13 English colonies (America was not a country then), the Caribbean, English prisons, and later, back to France. Almost half of the deported Acadians died from disease and exposure aboard the ships during what was called le grand dérangement. Many more died in poverty while living in exile.
We all think of Louisiana as being French, because it was founded by the French and most of its citizens spoke French. But at the time of the Acadian deportation, in 1755, the Louisiana colony was owned by Spain. Both France and Spain were friendly to one another and both were mostly Catholic and disliked the English. The Spanish governor of Louisiana encouraged Acadians living in exile to come to Louisiana and settle because they were Catholic and would fight for Spain should England try to take over Louisiana.
Hundreds of Acadians came to Louisiana to create farms, homes and churches. Many lived in the swampy areas of Louisiana, where they fished and hunted, but they also lived in the vast southwestern prairies where Lafayette and Opelousas are today.
They made their own clothes, held dances with music at each other’s homes, and came together to help build each other’s houses or to butcher a hog for meat.
Today, there are almost a million people in Louisiana descended from these Acadians. But they aren’t called Acadians anymore. When the Americans took over Louisiana in 1803, they heard Acadians calling each other by their nickname, “Cadjin,” (Cod-Jen). It sounded like Cajun to them and from then on they were called Cajuns by the Americans. Today, Acadians in Louisiana are “Cajuns” but the Acadians who remained in Canada are still called “Acadians.”
The area known as Cajun Country, where people of Acadian descent live in Louisiana, stretches up like a triangle to the middle of the state and reaches from near the Mississippi state line to the Texas border. We call this the “French Triangle.”
In both Canada and South Louisiana, there is great pride in being Acadian. The Canadian provinces where Acadians live today have a special Acadian flag. In South Louisiana, we have an Acadiana flag. The blue with fleur de lis is for France, the Cajun’s home country; the red with the castle is for Spain, the country that took them in, and the yellow star is for Our Lady of Assumption, which is Mary, the mother of Jesus and the patron saint of the Cajuns and Acadians.
Every Aug. 15 is the National Day of the Acadians. It is also the feast of the Assumption because in the Catholic Church, it is believed that Mary, the mother of Jesus, ascended into heaven on this day. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” That is why it is called the Day of the Assumption.
In Canada, Acadians celebrate the Feast of the Assumption or National Day of the Acadians by hosting the tintamarre, which consists mainly of a big parade where people dress up with the Acadian colors of red, white, and blue, and make a lot of noise to show the solidarity of Acadian society. The word tintamarre in Acadian French means “clangor.”
Cajuns celebrate this day as well. In St. Martinville, which is about an hour from Baton Rouge, Cajun residents sometimes celebrate with food, live music, and a procession of families and then end with a special Catholic Mass, or church service, at St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church.
Cherie Claire is the author of the Cajuns series of historical romances and the Cajun Embassy of contemporary romances. She also pens the Viola Valentine paranormal mystery series featuring amateur sleuth and psychic Viola Valentine of New Orleans.