Saturday, December 24, 2011

Three Miles of Bonfires

It was after 3:00 on Christmas Eve and already there were other early arrivals for the celebration that would begin in less than four hours.

We drove down David Street. On the north side of the intersection with Highway 44 was a sign reading "Welcome to Lutcher" and on the south side was another sign reading "Welcome to Gramercy."

Both towns of similar size had a combined population of approxi-mately 7000 people. In the next four hours, the total would climb sixfold, if past years' attendances were equaled.

We found a place for sustenance and then drove around the towns looking for the best viewing location. By 5:00, we had found a place to park.

The Kettle Korn vendor and the Funnel Cake sales people were set up by that time, and parking spots were becoming scarce near the levee.

We walked up the levee to get a closer look at the completed pyramids (shown below).

It has become a tradition in St. James Parish to set the pyramids afire to light the way for "Papa Noel," the Cajun version of Santa Claus.

"Some have also offered the theory that the bonfires served as navigational signals to guide ships along the river, or were used to light the way for the faithful to attend Midnight Mass.

"In South Louisiana of old, Christmas was a strictly religious observance, and it was New Year's Eve that was marked by the exchange of gifts and the "reveillon" to see the old year out and to greet the New Year. Lillian Bourgeois, tells of this custom of celebrating New Year's Eve with a gathering of family and friends who enjoyed a gumbo supper...and the burning of huge cone-shaped bonfires on the batture, the land area between the base of the levee and the water's edge (see photo, right). With the passage of time, these activities gradually moved to Christmas Eve" (Emily Guidry, Bonfires on the Levee,

And the bonfires moved from the batture to the top of the levee.

Today, the batture near one section of the levee had boxes arranged neatly in rows. An inspection of the boxes showed names like "Fighting Rooster," "Widow Maker," and "Daisy Cutter" appearing on these boxes of fireworks.

Many visitors took the time to walk along the levee for closer looks at the pyramids, the typical shape of the structures that would soon be set on fire.

I took this photo of a family recording their visit to the bonfires of 2011.

While the pyramid shape is the form that the great majority of the structures took, there was at least one other form in the stretch we saw. I don't know is this is a Hummer, an SUV, or other similar vehicle, but it was unique.

At all structures there was a distinct smell of gasoline or kerosene, so the stops at any structure were brief.

The pyramids shown here and below are one relatively small section of the roughly 3.5 miles of structures that will soon be set on fire.

As sunset neared, the pyramids stood in silhouette against the last signs of daylight.

And the visitors continued to arrive on Highway 44.

It was 6:55 and prepara-tions for guiding Papa Noel to the children along the lower Mississippi River were about to begin.

(You can check our entry of December 9 for a summary of our visit to Gramercy earlier this month.)