15-foot bullfrog coming to levee this Christmas Eve

Published 4:25 am Wednesday, November 30, 2022

GARYVILLE — Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires is back for the 2022 Christmas season with another iconic creature from the Louisiana swamp.

A 15-foot-tall bullfrog will be set ablaze to light the way for Papa Noel’s sleigh at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Until then, thousands of people from near and far will come to the Mississippi River Levee at 3228 Highway 44 in Garyville to marvel at the unique holiday tradition.

In recent years, the men behind Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires have combined their talents in design, woodworking and engineering to create bonfires that are a far cry from the traditional teepee structures, from an alligator snapping turtle with a moving jaw to a Louisiana blue crab with pinching claws.

Group member Josh Weidert said Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires is taking a step back from the animatronic features this time around to pour time and attention into a new structural challenge.

“We are scaling back a little this year to focus more on the overall presentation and detail work. There will be a few moving details. The eyes might blink or something, but it’s not going to be hopping off of the levee or catching flies with its tongue, that’s for sure,” Weidert said.

The team spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving chopping trees to get the process started. Once the interior structure is complete, the bullfrog’s head and back legs will require a lot of attention.

“It’s similar in some ways to other bonfires we’ve built like the turtle and the alligator, but the frog’s legs are a lot longer, and they need to bend and curve a little more,” Weidert said. “This bonfire stands upright instead of laying on the levee, so it’s going to be kind of a challenge to figure out the shape of it.”

The bonfire is expected to reach completion roughly one week before Christmas Eve. The first pieces of wood were laid after Thanksgiving as scheduled despite some challenges with the weather, which Weidert said isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

“We are moving along pretty well. We’re kind of faced with this challenge every year,” he said. “Some years are better than others, but we’ve had years where it rained 90% of the time and we just had to get it done. As long as it’s not freezing cold, it’s manageable.”

Members of the bonfire building team also include Sammy Clement, Troy Torres, Darren Caillouet Jr., Brandon “Buggy B” Jones, Sonny Kilburn III, Darrell Button, Brandon Ledger, John Trosclair, Will Brignac, Aaron Sparks, Cody Roussel, Cavin Richmond, Wayne Weidert, Gator Millet, Bubby Hotard, Chase Hotard, Jay Comeaux, Steven Accardo, Joey Boe and Bubba Polo.

Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires’ annual creation is just one of the countless bonfires that line the levee between St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes each December. The annual tradition is commemorated with the Festival of the Bonfires, scheduled for December 9-11 at Lutcher Recreational Park.

Jay Robichaux, director of Louisiana’s River Parishes Tourist Commission, said “Bonfire Country” is a major factor in local tourism.

“We travel the world promoting the River Parishes all year long, trying to get tourists to come here. The one thing everyone wants to hear about and talk about is bonfires. It’s an amazing event, and we do Christmas here different than anyone else,” Robichaux said.

In past years, Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires has put a guest book out by the bonfire, recording the many states and countries people have visited from. While tourism took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, Weidert expects more people to return now that the world has settled into a new normal.

Food and refreshments will be served during this year’s lighting.

Parking will be tighter, as a piece of property adjacent to the bonfire has been barricaded off. Weidert recommends visiting outside of peak traffic times leading up to Christmas Eve.

“St. John Parish has been great about helping us out with directing people and keeping everyone safe,” he said.