Levee lit with dozens of bonfires on ‘Christmas Eve Eve’

Despite the last-minute schedule change, thousands gathered to watch the fires light the way for Papa Noel Saturday night.

ST. JAMES PARISH, La. — Saturday night, dozens of massive bonfires were lit along the Mississippi River in St. James and St. John Parishes. The old Cajun tradition is meant to light the way for Papa Noel. In a break with tradition, it was held on the day before Christmas Eve this year because of rain in the forecast Sunday. 

Bo Bourgeois and his family adjusted to the change. They spent two days building a 15-foot tall bonfire on the levee near South David Street. That may seem like an impossible deadline, but “when you get on the phone, you text everybody, you get 20-30 people, few beverages,” it is easy, said Bourgeois.

He told WWL Louisiana he has been building a bonfire in that spot for “as long as [he] can remember.” The tradition started with his grandfather and was passed down to his father then himself. “Now my grandsons are coming up here,” he said. 

Though unlike the bonfires of years past, which would be stuffed with sugar cane reed for the popping noise it made, the masterpiece sitting on the levee Saturday was draped in 128,000 firecrackers. “Now the kids got money, they spend it,” he said with a laugh.

The schedule change did not stop thousands of people from showing up to watch. For some, it even helped. “We had an opening in our schedules that allowed us to be able to come do this,” said Michelle Traylor, who was seeing the bonfires for a second year in a row. 

Another family is reviving a long-lost tradition. “I used to come when I was a child and a teenager with my family, so I just get to carry on the tradition with my son,” said Jennifer Hunley.

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