Cultural Crossroads
Travel Ideas

CULTURAL TRADITIONS | Christmas Bonfires

Bonfires are an important part of regional customs associated with Christmas.

Christmas in Acadiana
In parts of Louisiana, bonfires are lit along the bayous to celebrate Christmas Eve. Many of Louisiana's rivers and bayous are bound by levees. The bonfires are often constructed on the tops of the levees, where they will be most visible. For the most elaborate bonfires, construction can take most of the month of December.

Many of the bonfires are meant to attract only local interest, but some attract travelers to the state. Bonfires on the banks of the Mississippi, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, relect across the water and light up the foggy night sky on Christmas Eve. The spectacle is bringing more outsiders to St. James Parish each year.

Though the bonfires are said to guide Papa Noel, St. Nicholas may be looking for them too, around Gramercy and Lutcher. Much of this section of the Mississippi is known as the "German Coast," for the Germans who settled in southern Louisiana. The origin of the bonfires may be more a German tradition than Cajun, as many believe.

The Christmas bonfires are, however, found thoughout southern Louisiana and east Texas, in places where Cajun culture is most prominant. Some of the bonfires are lit in early December, as the Christmas season gets underway.

Natchitoches lights up with brilliant Christmas light displays as La Fete des Lumieres, festival of lights, attracts thousands of visitors to the Cane River early in December. Call (800) 259-1714 for more information.

Feliz Navidad
In many New Mexico communities, bonfires are also an important part of Christmas Eve, as are farolitos, which line the streets and sidewalks.

The farolitos, candles burning in thin paper bags, define snow-covered sidewalks of parks and houses, and the bonfires glow in parking lots and along highways. In Española, farolitos, which are often referred to as luminarias, line nearly all of the streets in town and even the highways leading into town. Old New Mexico towns along the Camino Real, like Santa Fe, Taos, Socorro, La Mesilla and Las Cruces, have been lining the walls, roofs and windows of adobe churches with luminarias since the early days of Spanish settlement.

The fires that line the streets and sidwalks of the plazas are lit to guide the Christ Child to the community, according to the traditions of the largely Catholic population of early New Mexico.

Indian dances at many area pueblos on Christmas Day and New Years Day are also an important part of the season. Contact the tribal headquarters at each pueblo to get information if you wish to attend.

Christmas Bonfires on the Louisiana Bayous
Get information from:
Louisiana Travel
Louisiana Department of Tourism
New Orleans Christmas Events
(an extensive list)

Christmas Lights (La Fete des Lumieres)
November 23 - January 6
Natchitoches, LA
For information, call 318/352-8072, or 800/843-1872

Festival of Bonfires
December 10 - 12
Lutcher, LA
For information, call 225/869-4303

Luminarias on the Plaza
December 24
Old Mesilla Plaza
La Mesilla, NM
For information, call 505/524-3262

Get more information from these valuable links.

Regional Music | Texas Music Hall of Fame | Historical Music
Scenes of Texas Culture | Texas Regional Humor
Regional Events | Regional Links
Tour Texas

Houston InstituteTravel IdeasWorld Music