Tradition will go up in flames in St. James Parish with around 125 bonfires

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LUTCHER, La. (WGNO) - Forget winter, spring, summer and fall. In St. James Parish, there are three seasons happening at the same time:  hunting season, football playoff season and bonfire season. There are dozens of bonfire frames in various stages of completion atop the levee in St. James Parish -- an area that Councilman James Amato calls "The Bonfire Capital of the World."

Plenty of families have been carrying on tradition and working hard since Thanksgiving time, building towering structures made of wood, wire and paper on the levee in Paulina, Lutcher and Gramercy.

"When you talk to some of the elders of the parish it dates back to the '30s, '40s, I myself can remember growing up in the early '70s with my dad, building bonfires. From then on that tradition just continues," says Amato.

He offers up two reasons for how the tradition started:

"We are a predominantly Catholic community and in the early days they would light bonfires along the levee to light the way for midnight mass. Over time that tradition changed to 'we're lighting the way for Papa Noel, Santa Claus,' so that he can come to St. James Parish and deliver toys and treats to all the good little boys and girls!"

Families usually build in the same spot year after year -- they are given right of first refusal for their location when it's time to renew their bonfire permit. Permits are $30 per year.

This year, around 125 bonfires will be lit on Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. sharp.