Sunday, February 16, 2014

New Orleans - Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Mississippi Levee

Before Frankie and I left for New Orleans we did some research on things to do and see.  One of the things we found was the Festival of the Bonfires in St. James Parish that happen every Christmas Eve.  The little we learned about it was that it was a 200 year old tradition for the towns of Lutcher and Gramercy in Louisiana and it included over 100 bonfires that were lit on the Mississippi levee.

It sounded interesting enough for us to make the 40 mile drive from New Orleans to St. James Parish. So off we went. According to the website linked above, it was suggested that we arrive before 6:00 PM and that the bonfires would be lit at 7:00 PM.  We got there by 4:30 PM. I didn't want to miss anything!  (Not that I really knew what I was in for, but still!)

We drove along River Road, starting in Gramercy on through Lutcher, looking at the different bonfire setups.

There were some that looked like this:

Hay Stack for Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Most looked more like this:

Tall Structure for Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Just to give you some perspective, these were not little structures.  Many were 20 feet tall!

Close up of Structure for Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

I made Frankie be a measuring tool. He is 6 foot 1 inch, so you can compare!

Frankie Showing Height of Structure at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

There were some bonfires that had extra decoration or statements.

This was back when Phil Robertson from the show Duck Dynasty said some controversial remarks in a GQ magazine interview.

Duck Dynasty Support at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Blue Dog! If you read my last post, then you know my love of Blue Dog.  If you didn't read it......well.....just go read it now and I will forgive you.

Blue Dog on Structure at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

People in Louisiana love their Louisiana State University!

LSU Structure at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

This one shows the reason for the bonfires.

Cajun Santa in Boat with Alligators at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Apparently, the bonfires were to show Papa Noel the way to the Cajun country. Now maybe he really does come by boat pulled by alligators down there, who knows. Who am I to bust the dreams of little children and say a sleigh and reindeer are the only way??  I mean after all, it is not like a sleigh will help Santa in south Texas, now will it?  He could however, use a truck with a lot of horsepower so it can pull the trailer full of presents.

It was now about 5:00 PM and we had toured just about all of St. James Parish that was worth touring, so we decided to grab a bite to eat and wait out the rest of the time until the lighting of the bonfires at 7:00 PM.

There were not a lot of choices of places to eat on Christmas Eve in the little towns of Lutcher and Gramercy.  I was thinking we were going to have to eat at the gas station, but as it turned out we got to eat at a true Louisiana kitchen, Popeye's!  Mmmm...fried chicken!

After eating, we parked the car and walked along the levee among the bonfire structures and multitude of people that had descend on the town for this event.  (I am talking huge tour buses and loads of them!)  It was now getting dark and was about 47 degrees out there, which to us is cold.

Waiting. Waiting.

While waiting we heard a man who had build one of the structures say that most people start right after Thanksgiving building their bonfires and it takes them all the time to get it just right.

More waiting.

At 6:37 PM I texted my mom the following:
We are sitting on a hay bale in Lutcher, LA on a Mississippi River levee waiting for them to set about 100 twenty feet tall or less pyramids of wood on fire.  Some of them wrapped in fireworks...
Here we are.

Frankie and Jennifer at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Oh and yes, I said fireworks!  I am talking, black cats in bulk!

Wrapping Firecrackers around Structure for Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

At 7:00 PM, true to their word, the bonfires were lit.  

Bonfire at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA


Bonfire 2 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA


Hundreds of them all up and down the levee!

Bonfires on Levee at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

As I mentioned before, we really didn't know what to expect.  Before we got there we were thinking, "Ok, we will see them light the bonfires.  We will stare at them for a few minutes, go, 'Oh! Ah!', and then leave."  We were not prepared for the size of the bonfires AND the amount of fireworks!

The bonfire structures that were wrapped in black cats were so loud when they were lit.  It was mesmerizing and so many of them started at the same time.  Others started a little later to let the festivities linger.  Then they started shooting off the aerial fireworks behind the bonfires.

It was AMAZING!  Let me just share a few of the still shots.

Fireworks and Bonfire at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA


Fireworks and Bonfire 2 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA


Fireworks and Bonfire 3 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA


Fireworks and Bonfire 5 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA


Fireworks and Bonfire 8 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

And my absolute favorite shot of the entire trip!

Fireworks and Bonfire 9 at Festival of the Bonfires St James Parish LA

Since the still photos do NOT do justice to the ceremony, I do have two videos to share.

This first one is of the black cats going off when a bonfire was first lit.


And the last one is of the fireworks going off behind one of the bonfires. Breathtaking!


I am really glad that we went.  It is something that if you are that close to it, you should go see it at least once in your lifetime!

I have two posts left on New Orleans; the food and the music!  I hope you will return for those.

Until then!



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