- Associated Press - Saturday, December 23, 2017

GARYVILLE, La. (AP) - A snapping turtle that can stick out its neck and snap its jaws was built to burn along with scores of teepee-shaped bonfires on Christmas Eve in Louisiana.

Every year, miles of levees between New Orleans and Baton Rouge are lit up in a tradition said to help Pere Noel find his way to homes in Louisiana’s River Parishes. Tens of thousands of tourists come to watch.

Joshua Weidert tells news outlets the 24-foot-long snapping turtle was built of plywood and crab traps.

Last year, he and a group of friends who call themselves “Blood, Sweat and Bonfires” made a crawfish that opened and closed its claws.

He said that many people tell him it’s a shame to burn the turtle. But, says Weidert, people make beautiful wedding cakes to be eaten.

“A lot of people say it’s a shame to burn it, but they make beautiful wedding cakes to eat them,” Weidert told WWL-TV . “We just build what we like to have fun, and if nobody else likes it, well we still get to burn it.”

The fires are lit at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve - though a couple of smaller bonfires get touched off weeks earlier, during a Christmas bonfire festival.

The tradition may have its roots in the 1800s or even before. In the 1980s, some towered 40 or 50 feet. Environmental and safety regulations passed since then limit the height to 15 feet, and the fuel - which once included tires - to wood and cane. The cane, wired around the outside, pops like firecrackers.

The laws also bar lighting the fires if winds are likely to blow sparks onto nearby homes and businesses.

Officials in St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes tell Nola.com ‘ The Times-Picayune they’ve issued 158 permits this year.


Information from: WWL-TV, http://wwltv.com

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