Cheré Dastugue Coen
Bonfires on the Levee
Every Christmas Eve folks along the River Parishes, what we call counties outside Louisiana, build massive wooden bonfires along the Mississippi River levee upriver of New Orleans, then set them afire to guide the way for the arrival of Papa Noel (Santa Claus). The event attracts thousands who admire the artistry of the bonfires before they are lit, then the massive fires that warm our bodies and souls.
This year, like many holiday traditions, the celebration was canceled due to the pandemic. But here’s two ways to enjoy this unique Louisiana holiday tradition.
First, grab the adorable children’s book, “Bonfires on the Levee: A Louisiana Christmas Tradition,” written and illustrated by New Orleans musician, author and raconteur Johnette Downing. Downette has published several Louisiana books explaining the state’s unique celebrations using her trademark collage illustrations. “Bonfires on the Levee” tells the story in numbers, from “one festive bonfire made of timber” to 10 that light the way “for Papa Noel until Christmas day.” It’s a delightful way to showcase a fun Christmas tale while teaching numbers. Be forewarned: Adults will enjoy this sweet book as much as children.
We highly recommend all of Downing's delightful books — including some that come with music! — and you can check them out here.
...visit the Louisiana River Parishes Tourist Commission office in LaPlace, right outside New Orleans, to view Saint, a 50-foot bonfire alligator who won’t go up in flames this year. Saint was designed by Garyville’s Bonfire Builders “Blood, Sweat, and Bonfires,” and made his debut in 2019 as a 78-foot bonfire structure in Garyville. This example is on display to entice visitors to return in 2021 when bonfires will happen once again. Visit the Parishes' "Bonfire Country" website to learn more about the tradition, the festival and ways to visit at lariverparishes.com/bonfirecountry. To plan a trip to Bonfire Country, visit lariverparishes.com/bonfirecountry for more information.
Want to see how Saint was built?