I spent this Christmas Eve on top of the levees of the Mississippi River. In the towns of Gramercy and Lutcher, Louisiana, local residents light hundreds of bonfires every year all along the River Road south of Baton Rouge. The tradition comes from the Cajun French, to light the way for Pere Noel (Father Christmas or Santa Claus), and to guide parishioners to midnight mass.
Families gather to eat and drink, set off fireworks, have a good time. Historians trace the custom back more than a hundred years, and like much of Louisiana culture, it is relatively unpolluted by the commercialism and tawdriness of contemporary American life. The “folk” here isn’t just a “festival” — artificially preserved and organized by corporations or government — it’s real and alive still, passed down from one generation to the next, even if some get a bit boisterous from drinking too much!
I was hungry, and a local family was offering fried chicken, potato salad, bread, and a drink, all for $5.00. Another had sausages and jambalaya. It may not have been the most formal or fancy Christmas dinner I ever had, but I drove back to New Orleans feeling good.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us at BagNews!
PHOTOGRAPHS by ALAN CHIN / facingchange.org
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