LUTCHER, La. (BRPROUD) — One Louisiana Christmas Eve tradition going back hundreds of years lights a path for Cajun Santa Claus Papa Noel every year along the Mississippi River.

The annual bonfires light up along the levee in St. James Parish on Dec. 24. It’s a tradition that is speculated to have sparked in Europe going as far back as Celtic times, according to the Festival of Lights website. Historical author Emily Chenet Guidry wrote in 1994 that the Christmas Eve tradition is believed to have moved from Europe to Louisiana in the early 1700s after French and German colonists settled.

A St. James native born in 1901 told Guidry in a 1989 interview that the Christmas festivities were celebrated with lanterns decorated in trees and eggnog to drink. The family of another parish native who was born in 1893 told Guidry that their relative recalled watching the sky light up from the opposite side of the river as a child and that she believed the biggest bonfires to be from plantation owners.

Today, bonfires are simultaneously lit by torch upon a signal from fire officials at 7 p.m. Those planning on attending the bonfire tradition are asked to arrive before 6 p.m. Attendees can also drive along River Road for sightseeing.

For more information about Christmas Eve bonfires or driving directions, click here.