I have so many wonderful Christmas memories from my childhood in Louisiana…however, this particular memory is not specific to me or my family alone. This memory is shared with thousands of South Louisiana Families. It is the lighting of the Christmas Eve Levee Bonfires.
Once few in number, the local bonfires were originally a neighborhood or family oriented activity. Now they line the levee for miles and attract thousands of visitors. The event has had local and national television coverage and has been featured in metropolitan newspapers and magazines. Through the years, there has been an intermingling of facts and fantasies concerning the origin of the bonfire tradition.
One of the more recent and increasingly popular explanations is that the bonfires were a “Cajun tradition”, first used to light the way for “Papa Noel”, the Cajun version of Santa Claus. This charming version, although improbable, has been depicted annually in front of a Paulina, LA business establishment where a levee scene shows “Papa Noel” with his pirogue drawn by alligators named Gaston, Ninette, “Te-Boy”, Celeste, Suzette, etc.
The building of the each bonfire takes dozens of individuals and weeks to assemble. There is an official announcement made around 7pm on Christmas Eve giving the go ahead to light the bonfires which happens simultaneously. The bonfires light up the Mississippi River and burn for hours and some will burn into the wee hours of Christmas morning. Friends and family gather together to wait and watch for Papa Noel to make his way along the river making his deliveries to all of the good little children.
I hope this YouTube video will give you a glimpse into the Louisiana Christmas Tradition…Lighting of the Bonfires! Joyeux Noel!!!
Information gathered from St James Parish home page.