By: Chris Waddington, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
December 08, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Christmas Eve bonfires have guided Papa Noel through the Louisiana night for generations. Those bonfires also signal that 1,300 pyre-building friends and neighbors have rolled out the red carpet for anyone who wanders from blaze to blaze, seeking holiday cheer on the levees of St. James Parish.
Can’t make it on Christmas Eve? The organizers also sponsor the annual Festival of the Bonfires, which opens Dec. 14 and runs through Dec. 16. My colleague, Angel Thompson, has posted all the Festival details on nola.com. The Festival, which takes place at the Lutcher Recreation Park on La. 3193, includes most of the fun things you expect from this kind of Louisiana gathering: a gumbo competition that draws about 50 participants, live music, pageants, car shows, a 5K run, and much more. Of course, the Festival of the Bonfires has something you don’t get anywhere else: a preview of Christmas Eve on the levee. On Saturday (Dec. 15) the party moves from the Park to the levee where a single bonfire will be lit at 7 p.m. (Free shuttles are provided).
Those towering bonfires, tall as some houses, make a pretty impressive site from any angle, though the best view was probably from the now-defunct Vacherie Ferry. The crossing took visitors from the cane fields and calm of the Mississippi’s west bank to the heart of the miles-long party. As the fires were lit (always at 7 p.m.), boat horns let loose, smoke drifted over the water, and all those blazes were reflected on the river.
To approach by car from the east bank take a bit more planning. Lee recommends getting to the area by 5 p.m. at the latest. (There are scattered bonfires in neighboring Ascension and St. John Parishes, but Lutcher and Gramercy are ground zero).
“I think everybody in town has a big, open-door house party that night,” Lee said. “I’ve had to miss it a few times, but that was like Christmas without presents, a tree, or Santa Claus. It’s not the same at all.”
Looks like fun? Read more for the where and when?
Festival of the Bonfires
What: A classic Louisiana festival with music, parades, gumbo cook off, and more. A single bonfire will be lit on the levee at 7 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 15)
Where: Lutcher Recreation Park, Lutcher Ave. (La 3193), Lutcher, La. The Park is a block from the St. James Parish Hospital.
When: Dec. 14, 2 p.m. to midnight; Dec. 15, 9 a.m. to midnight; and Dec. 16, 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Admission: $4 for festival; free for Dec. 24 bonfires. For details about both events, go to festivalofthebonfires.org
Christmas Eve: 110 bonfires will be torched at 7 p.m., Dec 24 on the Mississippi River levee in Lutcher and Gramercy.