Tonight at 7 PM the levees along the banks of the Mississippi River in St. James Parish will begin to light the way for Papa Noel's ride into the bayou. Some 130 bonfires will be lit as part of the celebration of Christmas Eve. It's a tradition that is so Louisiana that anywhere else in the world there would probably be arson charges filed.

This incredible Christmas spectacle is expected to draw thousands of visitors to the levees. Many of those in attendance will be local, still, there will be a considerable amount of visitors along the river tonight too.

All 130 bonfires light off at 7 o’clock, which is pretty unique, and of course there’s fireworks going off and horns blaring and music playing. I guess it’s St. James Parish’s version of Mardi Gras.

St. James Parish- the Festival of Bonfires spokesperson Jason Amato tells the Louisiana Radio Network that the bulk of the bonfires will be in the Lutcher-Gramercy area. He went on to say that the beginning of the tradition of lighting the bonfires is not exactly clear.

One of the stories is years ago they used to build bonfires on the levee to light the way to Midnight Mass. The other version, which is the one I kind of like, is that we build the bonfires to light the way for Santa.

Amato suggested that the way the tradition began is not really that important. He says most people just pick the story that they like best.

While most of the bonfires will be the traditional four post tee-pee style they have seen some very unique structures created just for the festival.

We’ve had anywhere from shrimp boats to plantation homes to firetrucks. This year, there’s one that looks like a crawfish and another one that was built to honor the Cajun Navy.

If you plan on making the drive down the bayou tonight Amato suggests that you try to be in place by 5 PM. The fires won't fire until 7 PM but such a large crowd is expected you'll want to make sure you're in place ahead of time so you don't miss any of the celebration.