New Orleans might be well known for Mardi Gras season, but there is no shortage of celebrations when it comes to the winter holidays. Get your calendar app out, because #FrayLife is here with the Top Ten activities you won’t want to miss. With so many ways to celebrate, even the grumpiest Scrooge will turn into Buddy the Elf by Christmas morning!
1. Celebrate in the Oaks
The day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, City Park becomes a Winter Wonderland as hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights and illuminated displays deck the halls of the Botanical Gardens, Storyland, and most of the South end of the park. In its 32nd year, Celebration in the Oaks is known as one of the best holiday light festivals in the country. Walking through the Gardens and Storyland is magical in its own right, but the pièce de résistance is definitely the Train Ride which takes you on a tour of light displays all through the park, and, you guessed it, under the ancient Oaks!
2. Get Toasted at the Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Levee
While there are varying explanations for how this Christmas Eve tradition originated, Cajuns will tell you the fires are lit so that Papa Noël can find his way to all the good girls and boys. All along the Great River Road, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, huge bonfires are lit along the levees. Most are shaped like 20-foot high pyramids, but some get creative and make pyres as elaborate as plantation homes and paddlewheel steamboats. The most bonfires can be found in St. James Parish and the best way to see them is by walking the levees.
3. Be Amazed by the Acro-Cats Meowy Catmas Special
Ever heard the idiom “like herding cats?” Imagine not only herding them, but also actually training them to perform tricks in front of a live audience! That’s exactly what Samantha Martin has done with her traveling troupe of talented tabbies. The Acro-Cats are making their annual stop at the AllWays Lounge in Bywater to perform their Christmas-themed spectacular with plenty of show times December 7 – 23. Cat Ears and Ugly Christmas Sweaters highly encouraged!
4. Watch the Lights at LUNA Fête
Only in its fourth year, Light Up NOLA Arts, or LUNA Fête, has already become a not-to-be-missed winter tradition and is the longest consecutively running light festival in the United States. LUNA Fête, produced by the Arts Council New Orleans, exemplifies their mission to demonstrate how “Art Transforms Communities” and features city-wide large-scale outdoor lighted art installations. The highlight (see what we did there?) is the video mapped projection on Gallier Hall, which includes new pieces every year. This year’s Fête is December 6 – 9 from 6-10 pm in Lafayette Square, the Piazza d’Italia, and the New Orleans Jazz Museum.
5. Collect Some Beads at the Krewe of Jingle Parade
If a holiday doesn’t have a parade, does it even count as a holiday? Not in New Orleans! The annual Christmas parade route travels through the CBD and features floats, marching bands, dancers, and, of course… SANTAAAAA! (I know him!) This year’s parade rolls on December 1 at 1:00 pm.
6. Indulge in a Réveillon Dinner
Few take food quite as seriously as New Orleanians, and what better season to indulge in traditional fare? Réveillon Dinners, an old Creole custom from the early 1800s, began as meals served after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Modern day Réveillon Dinners, revived in the 1990s, have evolved into elaborate holiday prix fixe menus at many of the city’s most famous fine dining restaurants. Go ahead and treat yourself, it’s the holidays!
7. Join in the Caroling in Jackson Square
Jackson Square, one of the most iconic spots in the city, is often full of musicians, but on December 16, you’re invited to join in when residents and visitors come together for an evening of candlelit caroling in the Square. Candles and song sheets are provided, free of charge, and all are welcome. Gates open at 6:30 pm and the caroling begins at 7:00 pm.
8. Take a Holiday Home Tour
If you’ve always wondered how the other half lives, this is your chance for a sneak peek! The annual Holiday Home Tour by the Preservation Resource Center tours historic Garden and Lower Garden District homes that are all dressed for the season. There will also be musical performances and a holiday boutique. This year’s tour is December 8 and 9.
9. Have a Spot of Christmas Tea
A warm steaming cup of tea and a couple of crumpets amongst lavish holiday lights and decorations will “nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives!” Several downtown hotels, including the Windsor Court and Ritz-Carlton, host high tea throughout the year, and for the holidays many feature seasonal additions to the menu. If you’re looking for the full Christmas experience (and don’t mind having kids around), the Royal Sonesta and Roosevelt hotels both host an annual Teddy Bear Tea, which include visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
10. Catch a Holiday Show
There’s nothing like watching some of your favorite seasonal stories brought to life on stage or screen to give you the warm and fuzzies. You can see A Christmas Carol live at Le Petit Theatre from December 7-23. The New Orleans Ballet Theater’s annual Nutcracker performance at the Orpheum Theater has multiple shows on December 15, 16, 22, and 23. If you’re more of a Cinephile, check out the outdoor Movies on the Mississippi film series at the Convention Center. The Santa Clause is playing on December 7 and Elf is playing on December 12.
What are your favorite NOLA-style holiday traditions? Let us know how you celebrate by tagging #FrayLife and #NOLAFray in all your social festive photo ops!
Looking for more opportunities to get out and explore NOLA? We’ve put together a list of some awesome date spots for a night out on the town.
View More Articles By Katie Baer