Bonfire fest a holiday tradition

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 6, 2002


LUTCHER – The tradition dates back more than a century, lighting bonfires on the Mississippi River levee during the holidays. On Dec. 13-15, the tradition will continue with the Festival of the Bonfires in Lutcher.

Some say the bonfires were used as navigational lights to guide antebellum parishioners in their small boats to cross the river for midnight mass.

Some say the bonfires were a celebration of Twelfth Night, when the Christmas trees were taken down and burned.

Still others link the origins to the Marist priests who, in 1864, assumed the operation of Jefferson College in Convent as holiday entertainment for the students.

However, it’s the tale of lighting bonfires to guide Papa Noel in his pirogue to the River Parishes which has taken firm hold of the imaginations of young children.

Whatever the reason, during each weekend between Thanksgiving and up to Christmas Eve, bonfires blaze atop the elevated levee in St. James Parish.

In the past, the bonfires were erected in elaborate shapes ranging from battleships to plantation houses. Recent fire safety regulations strictly enforce a common teepee shape, not more than 25 feet in height.

The Festival of the Bonfires began in 1989 as a community-wide event where thousands of visitors, many on tour buses but many more on foot and in vehicles, view the fiery levee beginning at 7 p.m. each night.

Besides the bonfires themselves, the Knights of Columbus Hall at 1905 W. Main St. plays host to Cajun cookery, crafts, rides and other attractions.

On Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., the Festival of the Bonfires Queen pageant is held at Lutcher High School, and on Dec. 15 at 1 p.m., the annual Christmas parade strolls along Main Street.

Other attractions include the “Millon Mutt March,” a benefit dog-walk; a benefit poker run for the Lions Club; the Very Merry Christmas Tree Forest for photos with Santa; magician David LeBoeuf; and live music by Rodney Thibodeaux and Tout Les Sari, Snazz, Misbehavin’ and Bits ‘n’ Pieces.

Hours are 5 p.m. to midnight on Dec. 13, 9 a.m. to midnight on Dec. 14 and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Dec. 14.