NATIONAL NEWS

This 78-Foot Wooden Alligator Will Go Up In Flames Christmas Eve

Dec 24, 2019, 1:55 PM
Josh Weidert, 33, and his group of friends have been building Christmas Eve bonfires in Garyville, ...
Josh Weidert, 33, and his group of friends have been building Christmas Eve bonfires in Garyville, LA, for about 20 years now. This year they built a 78-foot alligator bonfire from raw lumber on the Mississippi River levee. (Josh Weidert)
(Josh Weidert)

(CNN) –– A group of friends in Louisiana have been following a longstanding tradition of building massive holiday bonfires that are big enough to stop anyone in their tracks. But instead of going tall with their build, they went long with a 78-foot alligator display.

Josh Weidert, 33, and his group of friends have been building Christmas Eve bonfires in Garyville for about 20 years now — something he said he hopes to continue and pass on to his own children in the way that his family did for him.

Tradition dates to the early 1700s

Christmas Eve bonfires are part of a tradition that Cajuns like to call “lighting a way for Papa Noel,” Weidert told CNN. Who they call, the Cajun Santa Clause.

“A little folklore we tell the kids is that the bonfire is to guide Papa Noel down the foggy Mississippi River,” Weidert said.

But the truth is, the tradition came about in the early 1700s when German and French settlers came to the area and brought the tradition with them, according to River Parishes Tourist Commission. Weidert. On the way to midnight mass, churchgoers would light fires so whoever was coming back and forth from mass could see and over time that grew and evolved into the Papa Noel story that is told today.

From A-Frames to animals

Weidert started building when he was 13 and said they designs started simple with a traditional A-Frame style bonfires. As his group become more experienced, they had the urge to break out of the mold and transition to atypical builds.

Together the group has constructed guitars, state banks, a memorial to breast cancer, turtles, crawfish, and a pelican — the state bird of Louisiana.

In 2013, Weidert created a Facebook page, Blood, Sweat and Bonfires to showcase each year’s creation.

“Whatever rings a bell with everybody” is how a design is typically chosen, Weidert said. The crew will get together, swap ideas and start putting pen to paper with mockups.

This year, Weidert said he started building the alligator’s head at his own home and later transported it to the bonfire site to complete the rest of its body. It was completed on December 18.

Christmas Eve countdown

Weidert said the goal is to finish the bonfires within three weeks with the team working on the project in their free time. This year’s alligator design took about 21 days with time to spare before their deadline.

The materials the team uses are simple — raw lumber.

“We try to use a lot of dead trees because they burn a lot better, Weidert said. “We’ll go out in the woods and harvest our own materials by hand.”

In order to continue this annual tradition, every year the team has to apply for a permit from the St. John the Baptist Parish and get an approval before the crew can get to work. This typically happens mid-November.

Weidert recognizes that the bonfires may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but those who do appreciate the tradition flock to the area every year in anticipation just to see what the team has created, which he said brings him gratitude and joy.

This year, the alligator bonfire is scheduled to be burned at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, weather permitting.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

NASA has carried out its first commercial spaceport launch outside the United States. (Equatorial L...
Kathleen Magramo, CNN

NASA launches first rocket from Australian space center

NASA has successfully launched a rocket from Australia's remote Northern Territory, making history as the agency's first commercial spaceport launch outside the United States.
8 hours ago
Catherine Martin, Austin Butler, Olivia DeJonge, Baz Luhrmann and Tom Hanks attends the Australian ...
JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer

‘Elvis,’ ‘Top Gun’ tie for box-office crown with $30.5M each

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic “Elvis” shook up theaters with an estimated $30.5 million in weekend ticket sales, but — in a box-office rarity — “Elvis” tied “Top Gun: Maverick,” which also reported $30.5 million, for No. 1 in theaters.
8 hours ago
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 26: Bleu speak onstage during the 2022 BET Awards at Microsoft Theat...
JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr. AP Entertainment Writer

Stars use BET Awards stage to criticize Roe v. Wade ruling

Big stars used the BET Awards stage to strongly criticize the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strip away women’s constitutional protection for abortion.
1 day ago
police, crime, police tape...
Tina Burnside and Jarrod Wardwell, CNN

3 children dead after 911 caller said mother tried to stab them during a house fire in Georgia

Three children are dead and their mother is facing murder charges after allegedly trying to stab her children during a house fire in Georgia.
1 day ago
FILE PHOTO (Idaho State Police/Facebook)...
Michael Houck

Kearns woman killed in two-vehicle crash in Idaho

A Kearns woman has died after being hit by a car while on a motorcycle in Idaho Saturday.
1 day ago
A passenger looks through a window at Dubai International Airport on January 01, 2022 in Dubai, UAE...
Chuck Johnston, CNN

More than 700 flights canceled Sunday

At least 730 flights were canceled across the United States on Sunday evening, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
This 78-Foot Wooden Alligator Will Go Up In Flames Christmas Eve