I love sharing this. One of the days we were on winter break -- it was Christmas Eve -- we left New Orleans to spend time in Baton Rouge. Specifically, we planned to take the River Road up and back so we could show the boys the bonfires that are built, then lit for the evening. What a fantastic experience.
Each Christmas Eve at 7p, the bonfires are lit as tradition to help Papa Noel (who, if you know your Cajun Night Before Christmas like even this Jewish girl (me) does, has his pirogue led not by reindeer but alligators) find his way along the river. One had Papa Noel as described just previous, in front of their bonfire.
Everyone who wants to build a bonfire pays $30 for a permit. A committee provides $2MM in liability coverage so that the tradition -- begun back in the 1800s and revived in the 1950s, to the spectacle it is today -- can continue. They, 100+, are built at the crown of the levee around Gramercy and Lutcher in St. James especially although they appear for miles around these communities.
Most are built in a teepee shape, although a few were built like little cabins.
Most certainly, tons of tourists come through and the road is very slow going Christmas Eve especially from 7p on. You can buy miniature of the bonfire teepees as souvenirs to take home, and you can for instance get gumbo along the way too from a fire department fundraiser. But these bonfires are built as part of tradition, feu de joie, just has been done in France for ages. This is done for the community by members of the community, for the holiday just as it should be. And it's beautiful.
***What's really beautiful? This one, with a special message to Newtown, Connecticut. It says 'To: Newtown, CT from Newtown, LA' and 'Our Prayers We Share' with a sweet angel.*** The last pic below shows this one, lit:
A few people at some bonfires, large crowds at others...
...and the one for Newtown, with a candle lit at each sweet star:
The original Cajun Night Before Christmas: