LUTCHER, La. (AP) — With Christmas approaching, Lutcher residents spent the weekend putting the final touches on their holiday bonfires.
The bonfires, which line the levees of the Mississippi River, are set to be lit at 7 p.m. Christmas Eve.
While the big event is on Christmas Eve, many locals enjoy the weeks leading up to the holiday the most.
“We have fun from the week before Thanksgiving to Christmas,” said Jimmy Luquette of Lutcher. “That’s really our party.”
Luquette and Todd Carter of Convent spent Sunday evening enjoying music, food and drinks beside the bonfire they build each year. The only interruption came from those wanting to talk about and take pictures of their construction.
“This is all day,” Carter said. “They’ll stop in the middle of the road and take pictures.”
This year the pair’s bonfire included a giant yeti covered in Spanish Moss.
The animal topples over a 12-foot by 7-foot “ice chest” complete with handles and a drainage plug built to scale.
“A few years ago we built an ice chest and we called it an igloo. Now you know the YETI ice chest? Since it’s a YETI ice chest we got to thinking, let’s put him up there,” Carter said. “At night you can see him way down on the street because he’s got reflectors for his eyes.”
Mike Duhe was also on the levee Sunday cooking a pot of jambalaya for his family.
Duhe said the tone of the town changes on Christmas Eve as visitors pour in to see the bonfires.
“They might have a dozen tour buses that come and this whole levee is crowded with people,” he said.
“We light them at 7 and probably by 9 it’ll fall down. But you still have a heap of embers burning. It’ll burn until the morning of Christmas.”
Jason Amato, a St. James councilman and parish native, said a record 137 bonfire permits were given out this year.
Amato’s family bonfire, a pyramid made of willow and topped with an LSU flag, was almost complete.
The final touch was to wrap the entire structure in wild cane reed, which pops as it burns.
Amato said he’s started building bonfires with his family when he was 8 years old. Builders now need a permit, but little else has changed 42 years later.
“All my brothers and a lot of their children are helping build now too,” he said. “Pretty much everybody’s been building in the same spot for years and years. It’s a family tradition.”
Amato said there are two prevailing stories about the tradition’s origins.
One version of the story has the bonfires lighting the way to midnight Mass.
“And of course the most popular version is it lights the way for Santa Claus. That’s the version I like,” Amato said.
Now Amato said he enjoys passing on the tradition.
“Part of the fun for me now is when someone comes for the first time and gets to experience our tradition and how much they enjoy it,” he said.
Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com