ST. JAMES PARISH, La. (WAFB) - It’s a tradition in the River Parishes of south Louisiana: to light up bonfires on the levee to guide Papa Noel to the Bayou State.
'Twas the night before Christmas, and throughout the River Parishes, bonfires, fireworks, and families lined the levees as far as the eyes could see.
“To celebrate Jesus’ birthday, Papa Noel coming in, and that’s what it’s about, right?” said Scott Jenkins, a Luling resident.
The bonfires always bring these communities together to celebrate the holidays.
“We come out here several hours early just so we can walk and visit with everybody, eat all the good food, and experience all the traditions,” said John Muriloo, who’s from LaPlace.
“I grew up here, so I’ve been doing this for the past 21 years of my life. It’s super fun. It’s awesome,” said Heidi Schexnayder from Lutcher.
While it’s a tradition for some, for others, it was their first time seeing the bonfires lit up on the levees.
“I am from New Jersey. Coming for the bonfire festival that we’ve been hearing about, and I’m glad we came,” said Chim Anuncha.
"We seen it actually on the news and we decided to come and check it out. It's great, we love it, it's awesome," said Ashley Smith of Baton Rouge.
Smith says now it'll be a tradition for her and her family to attend.
"Absolutely. Yes, definitely, every year," she said.
The Bourgeois and Brock families, with help from others, make a bonfire together every year.
“I’ve been doing it all my life and my son right here, Hunter, I’m passing down the torch. He took the helm tonight. He said he wanted to light it tonight, so he did good,” said Billy Bourgeois from St. James Parish.
“Whenever you get all our family together, we got about 30 of us, so it takes like a day to put the bonfire up. Everybody coming on the levee having a good time, drinking a couple of beers, all having fun,” said Hunter Bourgeois.
And for many, they couldn't imagine Christmas Eve any other way.
"I actually proposed to my wife here 14 years ago, so we come back here every year with the kids as a family tradition," said Craig Clark.
With all the light from the bonfires, Papa Noel is sure to find his way to south Louisiana.