One of Louisiana’s favorite Christmas traditions is the Bonfires on the Levee, a niche staple of the River Parishes’ culture. The tradition of lighting bonfires on the river levees dates back to the earliest Cajun settlers of the regions of southern Louisiana to the west and north of New Orleans.
Bonfires on the Levee, often called Christmas Eve Bonfires, is a centuries-old holiday tradition just a short drive from Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Louisiana’s River Parishes. During the weeks that follow Thanksgiving, families, and friends come together atop the Mississippi River levees to construct nearly two hundred 20-foot-high wooden bonfires that celebrate and honor the region’s storied past. Parades, festivals, and open houses during Bonfire Season build anticipation for the spectacular Bonfires on the Levee on Christmas Eve.
What are the Bonfires on the Levee?
These massive bonfires on the river levees are intended to light the way for “Papa Noël,” the Cajun Santa Claus. Louisianans gather to watch these spectacular bonfires and enjoy a free show, and, in some locales, free bowls of hot gumbo are served up by local residents. The blazes are often accompanied by displays of fireworks, set off by the fires themselves.
The earliest bonfires on the levees were relatively simple in design and assembly, with long logs arranged into a pyramid-shaped cone, some as high as twenty feet. Shorter horizontal logs holding the structure in place gave it a ladder-like appearance. – NewOrelans.com
The Christmas bonfires are mostly pyramid-shaped, but some can be more fanciful assemblages paying tribute to each area’s culture and heritage—shapes ranging from replica paddlewheel steamships to local critters like alligators or pelicans. Bonfires are built by families, friends and co-workers who visit, cook and mingle between the fires. It’s a local celebration with an environment akin to football tailgating, and the practice has continued for generations. – Louisianatravel.com
When are the Christmas Eve Bonfires on the levee?
At dusk, usually around 7:00 p.m., the structures are doused and set ablaze, lighting the sky and the surrounding area with towering flames that would be impossible for Papa Noël and his reindeer to miss.
Where are the Christmas Eve Bonfires on the levee?
Just drive down state highways 18 and 44 on Christmas Eve, and you’ll notice long lines of spectators’ cars parked at the foot of the levees.
The best viewing is by car along the east- and west-bank River Roads and by walking along the levees. Private Bonfire gatherings are held along the river, but onlookers passing by on foot will likely be offered a smile and some holiday cheer.
You can see the bullfrog come to life when it’s lit up on Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. sharp. The group is located on the levee in Garyville, with a big, wooden #1 marking their spot.
LIGHTING OF THE BONFIRES FOR PAPA NOEL
It is recommended that you get into the area before 6:00 PM. The fires will be lit at 7:00 PM. Try spending the afternoon, walking the levee, taking pictures and touring the museum. Parking is available in lots along LA 641. Please do not park in lots that are roped off! There will be a 3 to 4 block walk to the levee. If you are interested in driving through, take LA 3213 to LA 44 (Exit before the bridge). This will take you to the first bonfire. Drive along River Road through Gramercy & Lutcher.
From Baton Rouge, Take I-10 East to Gramercy Exit, Travel South on U.S. Hwy 61 (Airline Hwy.) to LA Hwy. 3274 (approx. 7 miles on right), Turn Right on LA Hwy. 3125 to LA Hwy. 3193 (Lutcher Ave.) to festival site.
Algiers’ biggest annual holiday celebration and New Orleans’ only official holiday bonfire, the Algiers Bonfire is the neighborhood’s largest public event and pays tribute to Louisiana’s river parish bonfire tradition. Listen to musical performances, eat food from local vendors, and shop at the holiday craft market. The star of the event however, is the 30’ sculptural bonfire, designed by NOLA Burners, which is then set ablaze. Easily accessible via the Algiers ferry, and with the New Orleans’ skyline as the perfect backdrop, this event cannot be missed!
This event is free and open to the public! However, in order to improve on this event every year, as well as to track where attendees are from, they ask that you register here!
December 3, 2022
4:30 PM – 8:00 PM
200 Morgan St. New Orleans, LA 70114, which is the land immediately down River from the Algiers Ferry Terminal