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).
Things are a little wilder on December 24, said Festival president Rhonda Lee.
“We’ll have 110 permitted bonfires on the levee that night. It’s like a little Mardi Gras, with tour buses and bumper-to-bumper traffic on River Road from the Gramercy Bridge to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Paulina,” Lee said. “It’s a really good time, especially if you walk from fire to fire and talk with people. In St. James Parish, the bonfires mean Christmas. We anticipate it all year long. It’s a tradition that excites us and we love sharing it.”
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?
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.