Festival of the Bonfires lights up for 16th year

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 5, 2005


Managing Editor

LUTCHER — The 16th annual Festival of the Bonfires will light up the skies next weekend, Dec. 9-11, over the East Bank of St. James Parish.

Besides the hundred or more bonfires, which will brighten the evening skies, the festival itself will be held at Lutcher Park, 2545 Louisiana Ave. (next to St. James Parish Hospital), opening at 4 p.m. that Friday.

Friday’s events will include the Gumbo Cookoff at 4:30 p.m., the bonfire lighting on the levee at 7 p.m., and music by Chee Weez from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Saturday’s events include the 5K run/walk at 8:30 a.m., Breakfast with Santa at 9 a.m., the festival opening at 10:30 a.m., the Cheer for a Cure for cystic fibrosis at 1 p.m., bonfire lighting at 7 p.m., and music by Misbehavin’ from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Sunday’s events include the Million Mutt March at 10 a.m., festival opening at 10:30 a.m., Texas Hold ‘Em tournament at 1 p.m., Washerboard tournament at 1 p.m., bonfire lighting at 7 p.m., and Music by the No Idea Band from 6-10 p.m.

Free bus shuttles will take attendees from the festival grounds to the levee for the bonfire lighting. Admission to the festival itself is $3 for adults, with under 10 and over 62-year-olds admitted free.

According to festival chair Rhonda Lee, the bonfire-building tradition dates back at least to the 1880s, its origins shrouded in mystery. Some say it was begun to light the way for Papa Noel to bring presents to St. James Parish children. Some say it was begun to provide navigational lights for the faithful to attend midnight mass. Some say it began when Marist priests at Jefferson College lit bonfires as a holiday entertainment for students.

The teepee-shaped willow wood structures cannot exceed 25 feet in height. They are usually adorned with cane reed, which make a popping sound when on fire

Additionally, each town is permitted one theme bonfire, which usually remains a secret until the last minute. Within a six-mile stretch of the levee, more than 100 bonfires will be alight.

In 1989, local citizens organized the Festival of the Bonfires to celebrate this unique tradition. Thousands of local people, joined by guests, stroll the levees, enjoy Cajun food and Cajun hospitality.

For more information, call 1-800-367-7852 or seethe website at www.festivalofthebonfires.org.