What could be more fitting a cause for celebration than the tall, green, sweet sugar cane which has done so much for the economy of South Louisiana? And so it is, that the last full weekend of September, as the growth of the succulent sugar cane reaches its pinnacle, residents and visitors are exhilarated with a feeling of excitement, as New Iberia enthusiastically hosts the twenty-four sugar producing parishes of Louisiana.
Sugar, the honoree at this festival, and the sweetest commodity on the market, has the magic power to turn ordinary dishes into productions worthy of a gourmet’s taste. To the Jesuit Fathers goes the distinction of introducing sugar cane to Louisiana. Because of its rapid growth due to the semi-tropical climate and the ingenuity of a young Frenchman, Etienne De Bore, who discovered the secret of granulated sugar, the entire economy of South Louisiana was changed and the era of large plantations came into existence.
At the conclusion of a successful harvest, the planters rejoiced with a celebration called “apres la roulaison”, meaning to grind or to roll as in crushing the cane to extract the juices. In its infancy, the festival took place “after grinding”, and although the celebration now comes at the end of September, the spirit of the occasion is the same …. one of prayerful thanksgiving and joyful anticipation of fun filled, carefree days.
The Sugar Parishes participating in this event have long been noted for their hospitality and genial way of life; therefore, as the sugar industry expanded, far thinking individuals decided in the true spirit of “apres la roulaison” to combine the serious reflections of thanksgiving with the fun and festivity worthy of royalty. It was the dream of one man, developing and expanding over the years, that molded the Sugar Cane Festival into the annual success it is today. Charles Stevenson, a native Californian came to New Iberia, drank of the bayou waters and remained. Realizing the economic value of the sugar crop and the zest of life of the people in the sugar parishes, he launched upon the idea of a Sugar Cane Festival. The festival was born in 1937. The people of the area combined all efforts with the Chamber of Commerce to make the fourth festival of the state, a lasting and successful one.
In the beginning, the festival was limited to New Iberia and the selection of the queen was by popular vote of the townsfolk. Miss Alberta Mestayer (Mrs. Marlin J. Nereaux) reigned as the first Queen Sugar. Her King Sucrose was the late Governor Earl K. Long. Today, twenty-four sugar parishes actively participate in the contest and the queen’s coronation is the highlight of the festival. Queen Sugar is chosen by a panel of judges for her popularity, beauty, poise, and intelligence. Parish Queens of the twenty-four Sugar Parishes vies for the coveted title. King Sucrose is chosen for his contribution to the sugar industry and the list of kings is long and impressive, each one bearing his title with dignity and yet a delightful touch of “joie de vivre” endearing him to his loyal subjects.
The Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival and Fair Association, Inc. was formed and chartered in 1940. Other sugar cane parishes were invited to participate and the Sugar Cane Festival entered another stage of development. The festival has been held every year since 1937 except during World War II, along with absence in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID Pandemic. Many changes have taken place throughout the years. Some of the events have been eliminated for practical purposes but other gala events with far reaching versatility have been substituted.
The festival opens in grand style with something for everyone! The festival kicks off with carnival rides, followed by the art and photography show and the livestock show on Thursday. Then comes the typical religious devotion of this area with the traditional Blessing of the Crops on Friday morning. Friday is the day of parades with the Farmer’s Parade followed by the Berry Queen’s Candy Toss parade. Saturday morning kicks off with a 5k run and the Children’s Parade. The main event, the Fais Do Do, where you can find food and entertainment, lights up downtown New Iberia on Friday and Saturday night.
Receptions in honor of King Sucrose and Festival Honorees continue throughout the weekend with choosing of the new Queen Sugar and the Coronation Ball on Saturday evening. The last day of the festival is indeed the sweetest, with the new Queen Sugar and King Sucrose reigning over Sugarland in the Royalty Parade on Sunday to give a final touch of pomp and ceremony to yet another Sugar Cane Festival.
The Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival and Fair Association is still proudly guided by its Officers and Directors, and the many long-faithful enthusiastic volunteers who promise that all upcoming festivals will surpass in splendor and excitement, any previous celebration.