Another New Orleans Christmas tradition involves a different type of light from Celebration in the Oaks. Feux de jois, or “fires of joy,” is a local Christmas Eve pastime that involves lighting bonfires along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Legend has it that the bonfires guide Papa Noel—or Santa Claus—downriver in his paddleboat, through the dense river-rolling fog, to help his late-night, present-filled journey along.
Since the 1720-30s, these Christmas bonfires have caught the attention of thousands of visitors to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Gramercy, Lutcher, Reserve, and other Louisiana towns. Another explanation for the founding of this custom—brought over by the first European settlers—was that long ago, before the levees were ever built, these bonfires used to serve as lighthouses that helped to guide friends and family, who were visiting the area for Christmas Eve, down the river to their landing destinations.
On Christmas Eve, you can take a “Bonfire Adventure” with Gray Line New Orleans, which includes a narrated motor coach tour of bonfires built by local communities, a River Road Plantation Tour, and a Cajun Country Dinner. On this tour—or your own personal tour—you’ll see giant structures resembling teepees lining the levees of the Mississippi—more than 100 in all. They’re constructed out of trees, bamboo, sugar cane, and any other flammable product, covered in kerosene, and lit simultaneously around 7pm.
You can stand back to admire the unique spectacle of a line of bonfires set against the backdrop of the mighty river, or you can huddle closer to stay warm through the cold New Orleans night. If you’re planning to visit New Orleans for this holiday season, this is a time-honored tradition you won’t soon forget.