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The story of New Orleans' Festival of Bonfires started hundreds of years ago when the first Cajun settlers arrived in Louisiana. Settlers did not have much to celebrate the holiday season with, but they did have tools, spirit, and plenty of local wood to work with. Using their classic Southern creativity, they devised a plan to both honors the Christmas holiday and start an original New Orleans tradition. This continuing celebration that endures as a popular New Orleans holiday event shows us the unique history of our own special Christmas Eve traditions, inherited from our ancestors, that are still alive today.
In the Cajun tongue, Santa Claus is known as Papa Noel. He brings the seasonal joy, but this jolly man needs a means by which to see where he's flying! As Papa Noel flies throughout the night skies of Louisiana and beyond, the hundreds of bonfires roaring on the levee help to direct him from town to town. Historically, settlers made their homes along the rivers and waters so as to facilitate easier travel, trade, farming, and more. Therefore, when the bonfires were first built generations ago, one could see a trail from the sky stretching the length of New Orleans!
These magnificent bonfires are typically over 20 feet tall and are made to resemble a log pyramid. For weeks, locals work together to construct their fair share of bonfires so as to help Saint Nicholas along his cheery route. Eventually, on Christmas Eve at nightfall, the fires are all lit at once, creating a beautiful scene along the levee. It's not uncommon for the lighting to serve as an informal ceremony leading up to a midnight mass church service for the local religious organizations. Of course, many people simply use the Festival of Bonfires as an excuse to congregate with family and friends, share some gumbo, and get started celebrating Christmas.
In modern times, people have gotten creative with their bonfire constructions, often making them into shapes such as small cabins and even pickup trucks! The Festival of Bonfires in New Orleans has always been a family-friendly event that's resulted in countless smiles and happy memories. It allows a chance for everyone, old or young, to pitch in and help make the holiday season a bit of their own while also participating in an age-old tradition honoring the patron of the season.
The next time you're down in New Orleans in December, and a bit of winter fog seems to be moving in, don't fret if you're going to get any presents under the tree or not. The good folk of Louisiana band together to make sure that Papa Noel can't miss his Cajun-inspired target!
Also, swing by Manny Randazzo King Cakes for our special Christmas king cakes this holiday season. To learn more, contact our staff today!