Seventy pots of gumbo — seafood, chicken and andouille, and red bean — will be cooking Friday to start the annual Festival of the Bonfires in St. James Parish this weekend.

The three-day festival at Lutcher Park celebrates the holiday season and St. James’ tradition of Christmas Eve bonfires on the Mississippi River levee to light the way for Papa Noel.

The festival is from 2 p.m. to midnight Friday, 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the park, 2545 Louisiana Ave., Lutcher, the festival website says.

Single, traditional tepee bonfires will be lighted on the nearby levee at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The gumbo pots are for one of several cooking contests planned Friday. Others are for bread pudding and potato salad, but Rhonda Lee, longtime festival president, said the gumbo contest has developed into a competitive one.

“It’s a big production,” Lee said Thursday. “This gumbo contest has gotten to be a festival within a festival, is what it is.”

All three cook-offs start at 4:30 p.m., and results are expected by 6:15 p.m. Friday.

The 25-year festival also features carnival rides, performances by bands, and school and private dance and cheerleading teams, a Sunday morning half-mile children’s run and 5K adult race, and a Sunday afternoon car show.

Also, Santa’s Very Merry Forest features 55 decorated Christmas trees, Lee said, with Santa also showing up from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Admission is $4. Children younger than 10 and adults 62 and older are admitted free.

For more information, check the festival website at