Eternal hope is the overarching message of Christmas: A child born in a barn changed the world.
Charlie LeBlanc was one of those hope-filled New Orleans Catholics — a regular communicant, a longtime member of the Knights of Columbus and a straight shooter — who for decades ran the Christ in Christmas Committee billboard campaign with deep faith, good humor and back-of-the-envelope math.
When LeBlanc’s home was flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he never lost his faith that someone bigger was in control.
“I don’t know,” he said in 2006 as he prepared to rebuild, shortly before his death. “I’m 85 years old, and I just got approved for a 30-year mortgage.”
LeBlanc was one in a line of New Orleans Catholics who since 1952 have created the most successful Christmas billboard campaign in the country.
This year, more than 60 “Keep Christ in Christmas” billboards sponsored by Catholic schools, Knights of Columbus councils and women’s auxiliaries, businesses and individuals sprouted up after Thanksgiving in the Greater New Orleans area. The billboards, emphasizing the spiritual meaning of Christmas, are put up by Outfront, the company that has been involved in the program since 1952.
Another seven to 10 electronic billboards with the “Keep Christ in Christmas” message will be running around the clock near the city on the Northshore, courtesy of Lamar.
“I’ve mentioned it to people in other states, and nobody’s done it to the extent that we have in the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” said Stephen Hart, who succeeded LeBlanc as committee chair in 2002 and has witnessed the number of billboards grow from the low to mid 20s to more than 60.
“Other areas might have a board here or there, two or three, but nobody’s got the size program that we have,” he told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Hart has fond memories of LeBlanc, who in the old days would scribble notes to himself to keep track of which school or church parish had donated money for a billboard and also where each billboard would be placed.
“Charlie always used to put in his letters — ‘The Christ in Christmas Committee’ and then in parenthesis he’d put ‘(The best in the country)’” Hart said, laughing. “He was dealing with all these printers and the billboard people. He knew that nobody was doing it to the extent that we were.”
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Besides billboards, you can also purchase car magnets and lawn flags.