She emits a foreboding energy to those standing in her presence who have done wrong, and a feeling of safety and security to those for whom she has come to assist. She's a daughter of the Mississippi Delta, born in the city of New Orleans, stronger than any man and a hero to every woman.
It is said she walks with a swagger, displaying a confident knowing of who she is and where she's going. But, she walks without the arrogance of haters and bullies because she is one with righteousness. And no one doubts that every ass she woops is more than justified.
Annie Christmas is a spirit who has not gotten the kind of attention she deserves; yet, I am quite certain she could be of assistance to many people in a day and age where bullies are rampant both online and offline. So if you have not heard of this incredible woman who has been elevated to the status of loa in the New Orleans Voudou pantheon, allow me to introduce you.
Annie Christmas is the epitome of woman power, often referred to as a female Ogun because of her traits. Though she is not an Ogun, she is another of the unique Spirits of New Orleans Voudou with roots in the folklore of the city. She walks alongside Joe Fer (Iron Joe) in the New Orleans Voudou pantheon.
One of the original characters in African American folklore, Annie Christmas is said to have been a woman who worked the docks along the Mississippi River doing many activities typically saved for men during her time. Defying the norms of both a male-dominated workplace and society, Annie Christmas became a well-respected keelboat captain. A keelboat is a shallow riverboat that is poled or pulled along the river. Poling a keelboat is a job that requires a tremendous amount of strength as the boats typically carry people and heavy supplies such as bales of cotton and other items. But, Annie Christmas was a woman with superhuman power. She was stronger than any man and feared no one. She was completely self-reliant and could protect herself and others better than any man could. She was reportedly six feet eight inches tall, and weighed 250 pounds. It is said she dressed in men's clothing typical of the day while at work on the docks, but in the evenings she wore a red silk dress and wore a hat adorned with with turkey feathers. She also wore her hair in an updo into which she would stick peacock feathers. Like Marie Laveaux, she could get away with not wearing the law enforced tignon required by all women of color and if she did wear one, it was because she wanted to and not because some racist society told her she had to.
She was dark as midnight, with beautiful ebony skin and eyes sparkling with Spirit, effectively representing the Motherland. She had the reputation of being an annihilator of bullies; just let her hear or see a man act a bully and he never acted or spoke that way again. She would not only call out the bullies and haters, she would beat them down and make them sorry they ever thought ill about anyone.
Annie Christmas defied social mores by rejecting the usual plaçage arrangement popular during early nineteenth century New Orleans. Wealthy White and Creole men arranged common law households with women of color. These women were not legally recognized as wives but were known as placées, the word deriving from placer meaning "to place with." Plaçage relationships were recognized among the free people of color as left-handed marriages or mariages de la main gauche. A placee could be a girl 15 years old or even younger, placed in a "suitable" relationship after making a social debut in a very elegant ball (Miller, 2013). There were numerous financial and economic benefits from plaçage arrangements, including freedom for enslaved family members. Annie Christmas, however, rejected such an arrangement, viewing it as another male-dominated, racist social institution. Instead, she ran away to the frontier of the Mississippi River.
Annie was a three-barrel flatboat unloader. She could walk a gangplank with a barrel of flour under each arm and one on her head. Once in a fit of impatience she towed a keelboat all the way from New Orleans to Natchez, making her feat the origin of the saying in the river towns, "As strong as Annie Christmas."
Her necklace is a story in and of itself. It is said that Annie had a pearl necklace which she wore to parties. Every bead in it represented a man whose ass she whooped, an eye she'd gouged out in a fight, or an ear or a nose she had chewed off. When she died, the necklace was thirty feet long-a true momento-and it could have been longer, only some of the fights were so easy Annie didn't feel it was honorable to record them.
Annie was never married but had twelve children, all of them boys. Annie was a mean fighter and could hold her own with any man. She was known to have kicked many a bully's ass on the river. Her reputation was punctuated by the red turkey feather she wore in her hat that signified her status as a champion fighter. She even scared off the big, strong patronizing Mike Fink from the docks of the lower Mississippi. She told him in no uncertain terms that if he were to return, she would tie him to the bottom of a keel boat and send him on down the river. In fact, this is how that story went down:
Back when our country was still young, there was a woman named Annie Christmas. Annie lived in the city of New Orleans beside the Mississippi River. People say that Annie was as strong as an ox. She was at least seven feet tall. When she yelled, the ground started shaking. But she did not yell very often. No one dared to bother her, so she didn’t have much to yell about.
Annie Christmas had a boat on the Mississippi, and she worked harder than any ten men. She loaded things onto the boat and took them where they needed to go. Then she’d come back for another load. Night and day she worked, and she hardly ever stopped.
One day, a man named Mike Fink came to town. When he saw Annie Christmas, she was picking up a bale of hay to load onto the boat. Now Mike was a big strong man, but he was not very smart. He looked at Annie and laughed. “Why, Miss,” he said, “you should be home making socks and not trying to do a man’s work.” Well, the whole city went quiet, waiting to see what Annie would do.
Annie stood up slowly and looked at Mike Fink. “Mister,” she said quietly, “you seem to have a lot to say about who should do what and where.” Then she lifted that bale of hay over her head. Everyone thought she would throw it at Mike Fink, but she didn’t. She threw it into the river so hard that it caused a tidal wave ten feet high. That tidal wave picked up Mike Fink and carried him all the way to Natchez, more than 150 miles away. Annie went back to her work, and Mike Fink was never seen in New Orleans again.
Miller, B. (2013) Big River's Daughter. Holiday House.
Labels: African American folklore, Annie Christmas, bullies, haters, keelboat, Mississippi River, New Orleans Voodoo, plaçage, Voudou
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