Sometimes, the best Christmas lights aren’t found on a tree or in a store window. They’re found on the levees along the Mississippi River in Louisiana.
Christmas Eve bonfires are a unique tradition you probably won’t find outside Louisiana. Typically, they are built on 15- 20 ft. teepee-shaped pyres. If you pass by the area during the month of December, you will most likely see the rows of tall wooden pyramids, waiting for their time to shine. But leave it to good ol’ Cajun creativity and ingenuity to improve on tradition. In past years, among the rows of pyramids, you may have seen a bonfire built to look like a tractor, a beer bottle or a Saints Football helmet. This year’s stand-out bonfire is a crawfish, complete with spring-loaded pincers that can be operated to “pinch” from below. The structure was built by a team of guys who call themselves “Blood, Sweat and Bonfires” and you can tell they didn’t skimp on craftsmanship, even though this piece of artwork was made to be destroyed. I’m actually a bit sad to think of it in flames. It’s really kind of beautiful.
If you’re not familiar with the Christmas bonfire tradition, it’s a ritual that began more than 100 years ago in the “River Parishes” (St. James, St. John and St. Charles parishes). Some legends say the fires were lit to guide Papa Noël as he rides the night sky; others believe they were built to guide the faithful to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. (Read my previous blog for more information). Whatever the origins, it’s become a part of Christmas now for many Louisiana natives whose families have been building the fires together, grandfathers and fathers teaching their sons, who go on to teach their sons (and yes, perhaps daughters too!). Spectators begin arriving in the afternoon to get a good spot for viewing. It’s not unusual to see huge tail-gating parties going on, with people sharing their Christmas cheer with others in the crowd. You can watch the crawfish set ablaze at 7 pm on December 24, along with the rest of the pyramids along the river in Garyville, LA (Google maps directions here).
Wishing Joyeux Noël and Merry Christmas to all our friends in Louisiana and beyond!