Steeped in Christmas tradition unique to the area, this weekend’s Festival of the Bonfires is the 23rd annual celebration in St. James Parish. St. James Parish is home to the three small Louisiana towns of Lutcher, Gramercy, and Paulina. In local folklore the bonfires along the levees light the way for Papa Noel as he visits the homes of all the good children on Christmas Eve, but more historical research sees the celebration as an evolution of early European customs that were brought over by the French and German settlers long before Papa Noel was known.
Starting at 2 pm on Friday December 14th the festival kicks off three days of celebrating this beloved tradition with local food, music, crafts, and rides. The good times carry on until midnight Friday and Saturday, and finally bring the festival to a close Sunday at 8 pm. Each night will feature the lighting of one bonfire at 7 pm, of course weather and wind conditions are always taken into account for safety, so times are tentative. The rest of the bonfires are not burned until Christmas Eve when local residents turn out in big numbers for the burning of the bonfires at 7pm.
The festival features the bonfires as the main attraction but there are many events throughout the weekend. Cook-offs for gumbo, bread pudding, and potato salad happen along with gingerbread house contests and a children’s pageant. Local school and groups perform, and there is even a car show. Head out to the festival this weekend to pass a good time and take part in a Cajun Christmas celebration.