The year was 1985. I was 8 years old, and I vividly remember that bitterly cold Christmas morning. We were at my grandmother’s house deep in the country of Central Louisiana. Her radio was blaring “Feliz Navidad” while she cooked bacon, eggs, homemade biscuits and pain perdu (“lost bread” or “French toast”). Sometimes, when I get a whiff of bacon cooking, the memories of that morning still come flooding back. I remember clambering into her living room to find the bounty that Santa had left. My loot included some clothes (which got ignored!), a Casio keyboard, a boombox, and lastly, a peculiar looking little stuffed snowman toy with an ice cream cone head, holly wings, and a candy cane in his hand. At the time, I didn’t know what to think of this little guy and I cuddled him, but at that moment, he wasn’t as interesting as the boombox or the keyboard!
After we filled our bellies with my MaMa Flora’s delicious breakfast, we packed up our 1981 Blue Pontiac Bonneville to head across Avoyelles Parish to spend the day with my dad’s side of the family which included lots of aunts, uncles and cousins! I remember climbing into the car to leave, cuddling my new little snowman in my arms, and carefully reading the little booklet that came with him; wondering if he and Santa had brought along the chilly temperatures that morning. Mr. Bingle was my new companion; a step up from the Cabbage Patch doll I had gotten a year or two before.
It was just as my older sister got into the car that I heard a flood of curse words fly from my dad. I knew something was wrong, and then we discovered that we had a flat tire. As my grandfather helped my dad change the tire, my mom told me “Santa must have landed his sleigh on top of the car and given us a flat tire!” I totally believed her, even wondering if the little snowman, Mr. Bingle, played a part in Santa’s antics.
As we pulled into my MaMa Boot’s house, (yes, I know, strange name, that’s a whole other post!) I was thrilled to see that we had my first “white Christmas” : the bayou in front of her house was frozen over! (No, there wasn’t snow, but back then, I still hadn’t seen any type of snow event… that came a few years later.) As soon as all of the grandkids were given the ok, we all headed over to the bayou to “ice skate” in our shoes. It was brutally cold and we didn’t have the appropriate coats and shoes, but we didn’t care, we were just excited to actually experience something we had only seen or heard about on TV! One thing is for sure, though, throughout that whole day, I had that little snowman, Mr. Bingle, by my side, and as we made the 3 hour drive home and I lay on the floor of the car and slept, I clutched that furry little snowman tight and surely had happy Christmas dreams. That Christmas was one for the history books and those memories are always refreshed when I come across that first Mr. Bingle I received from Santa every time I unpack my holiday decorations.
Many years have passed and I have grown out of the keyboard and the boombox, but thirty years later, one of those gifts has stood the test of time, and that is my Mr. Bingle. To this day, I collect his stuffed dolls and if you come to my house, you will see versions of him from throughout the years on shelves, in the tree, and on the sofa; now I share him and his story with my son.
I am thrilled that my parents chose to introduce me to Mr. Bingle; I consider him the most significant New Orleans holiday tradition! Because he’s been around since the 1940’s, I am sure that many of our parents and grandparents still have fond memories of shopping on Canal Street and seeing his giant figure on the building or seeing his puppet shows in the store windows. I’d say, with certainty that he is the “Christmas Mascot of New Orleans” and still, to this day, I call the Target in Metairie “Maison Blanche” because that’s where we used to shop and where I’d see him. I am sad that there is no longer the opportunity to have breakfast or take pictures with Mr. Bingle, but at least I can continue to add a new Bingle to our collection each year.
So if you find yourself singing that song … “Jingle Jangle Jingle … Here Comes Mr. Bingle …” Remember, you can still see him at Celebration in the Oaks at City Park and you can tell his story to your kids! Let Santa bring them their very own Mr. Bingle and sing the song with them. Let his legacy live on in the hearts of the next generation! I know my kid loves Mr. Bingle and I hope your kids will, too.