Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Christmas Eve - Bonfires on the Levees

We're talking about Christmas Eve a little early this year, as the latest novel in Ellen Byron's excellent Cajun Country mystery series hits the book store shelves today. It's called A Cajun Christmas Killing and Ellen dropped by today to tell us about the tradition of Bonfires on the Levees.

At 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve in Louisiana, giant bonfires on the Mississippi suddenly explode with fire and sound. It’s an experience that’s been in my personal zeitgeist since I was a college student at New Orleans’ Tulane University, but I didn’t get to experience it firsthand until two years ago. And it was everything I’d dreamed it would be.

There are a variety of theories about the tradition’s origin. The most popular explanation is that the bonfires guide Papa Noel’s way to the homes of Cajun children. Families, friends, even co-workers spend the weeks after Thanksgiving building the bonfires. Most are pyramids made of logs. Some people get whimsical and build bonfires shaped like a plantation home, or rope together stacks of cane reed that go off like firecrackers when lit. 

On Christmas Eve, both sides of the river roads in several parishes north of New Orleans are lined with enthusiastic onlookers who take turns viewing the bonfires and celebrating at potluck parties. The weather was bad on the Christmas Eve that my family and I visited the bonfires, and my husband, daughter and I were afraid the event would be postponed until New Year’s Eve when we’d no longer be in town. In a holiday miracle, the celebration went on despite a light rain.

At 7 p.m. on the dot, bonfires up and down the river burst into flames. Fireworks exploded in the sky above them. I ran from one bonfire to another like a kid, getting drenched from the rain. The smoke haze became so thick I couldn’t see the person next to me. I became covered with a thick coating of ash. I shared every aspect of this adventure with my protagonist Maggie Crozat in A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING, my third Cajun Country Mystery.  It was one of the most exciting events of both our lives - although mine didn’t involve being chased by a murder suspect!  

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