The Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Levee
The towns of Lutcher and Gramercy, fifty miles upriver from New Orleans, throw the best Christmas party in the state of Louisiana. Although the towns are situated along the Mississippi River, they have no view of the water. Instead they abut the levee, a steep, grassy mound that rises some fifty feet above the River Road. In the weeks preceding Christmas, families, local businesses, and community associations construct wooden pyres along the crest of the levee, at intervals of approximately thirty feet. These enormous structures, which resemble pyramids more than pyres, stand sentry along the levee for miles and miles—as far as the eye can see. Each one seems larger than the next. The size of one’s ziggurat is a point of pride.
On Christmas Eve the streets close down and residents open their homes to the public. It is not uncommon to be invited by a generous stranger to try his buffet, where members of his family will offer local delicacies like pasta-laya, a miraculous combination of jambalaya and spaghetti Bolognese. There is also plenty of beer to go around.
At 7:00 PM sharp the fire chiefs give a signal and the bonfires are ignited. Many of the wooden towers contain within them all types of flammable (and non-flammable) garbage, and have been doused in gasoline, so they tend to burn brightly. Some of them contain fireworks; these explode from the mouth of the pyre, so that it resembles an erupting volcano. Children run from bonfire to bonfire, the town on one side of the slope and the black river visible on the other. Legend has it that the fires are intended to light the way for Santa Claus, so that he can navigate the winding river when he swoops down later that night.
For more information, please call the Saint James Parish Tourist Center at (225) 562-2525.
2437 Louisiana Avenue,