New Orleans knows how to celebrate the season. Be there.
Twinkling Christmas tree lights, snowman-printed gift wrap, local radio stations blaring traditional carolsﾐ it’s no surprise the holiday season is dubbed “the most wonderful time of the year.” Bring yourself down to New Orleans and that most wonderful time gets even better. You almost certainly won’t have a white Christmas in New Orleans (or a day under 60 degrees, for that matter), but the city’s rich history and variety of events and activities more than make up for it. The city is like a cultural puzzle. Divided up into the Garden District, Mid City, the Central Business District, the Warehouse District, Downtown, and the French Quarter, each area offers something different and exciting during any and every time of the year, whether it’s an ordinary Tuesday afternoon or New Year’s Eve.
New Orleans goes all out for the holidays, offering colorful and extravagant d残or, delicious feasts with holiday-themed menus crafted by expert chefs, and, of course, plenty of visits from St. Nick. The Big Easy might be best known for its crazy festivals and Mardi Gras parties, but the city takes on something new during the holiday season. The air becomes charged with the Christmas spirit as families decorate their homes and prepare to celebrate all of the upcoming events within the city.
Special activities occur each night of December, extravagant Christmas decorations dot the streets of the city’s beautiful Garden District, and families and friends get together to celebrate the holiday season. Here’s a list of a few to consider:
Caroling at Jackson Square
Classic Christmas at its finest. Many people associate Christmas caroling with a sort of fairy-tale idea of the holiday season, but down here in the French Quarter of New Orleans, it’s the real deal. Strolling around Jackson Square in the French Quarter has been a major holiday tradition since the ’40s and gets bigger and more popular every year. Always held on the Sunday before Christmas, candles are lit and song sheets are provided for the caroling event on Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. Both professional and amateur singers participate.
Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge
Snake and Jake’s is a year-round bar that screams New Orleans. Big names like George Clooney and Johnny Depp have sipped beers at this shack-like building nestled between the quaint residential homes in New Orleans’ Garden District. If you’re looking for a bit of a break from the holiday hoopla, Snake and Jake’s is the place. NOLA resident Nick Friend says, “Before midnight, Snake and Jake’s is a great place to go for a quiet drink. After midnight, it’s a great place to go to see some crazy people in crazy costumes.” (The bar opens daily at 7 p.m.) The Christmas Club Lounge is the definition of a dive bar, but offers a truly memorable experience. This is the place to either start or end your night (or both), as the entire bar relies on light from strings of Christmas-tree lights. In short, Snake and Jake’s is legendary and not to be missed, no matter what time of year.
Roosevelt Hotel’s Lobby Lighting
Innumerable lights glow in the birch trees of the block-long Waldorf Lobby of New Orleans’ Roosevelt Hotel. The extensive lobby lighting has been a holiday staple since the 1930s. Featuring the legendary Sazerac Bar and Teddy’ each year, with extravagant Christmas d残or dotted throughout this beautiful and historical spot. Employee Norma Dietz has seen four Christmases at the elegant hotel and calls it “absolutely beautiful.” Dietz went on to add, “All of New Orleans’ iconic hotels participate in decorating for the holidays, but what sets the Roosevelt apart is the gingerbread village.” The hotel’s pastry maker, Debbie Heyd (the appointed creator of said gingerbread village) says that the annual lighting of the lobby will occur on Dec. 2 at 5:45 p.m. this year. “It really gets people in the spirit,” Dietz says. Go take a look with friends and grab a drink at the Sazeracﾑor bring the whole family along and create a new Christmas tradition that will last for generations.
This French-style Christmas tradition dates back to the 19th century. The dinner was started by the NOLA Creoles as an elaborate meal after mass to commemorate the holidays. These dinners are known for being huge and extravagant as local restaurants create intricate four-course menus to enjoy throughout the entire month of December. The tradition has morphed from a stay-at-home event to an out-and-about one, but the intimacy has remained intact. Chefs experiment to produce dishes that pay tribute to the Creoles with a modern twist. Chef and owner Andrea Apuzzo of Andrea’s Restaurant has been participating in the Reveillon dinners for 30 years. “We decorate the restaurant very beautifully with five or six different Christmas treesﾑthe kids love it. We like to please our guests with several options, like our main entr仔 of venison as well as the Italian sausage with broccoli rabe. It’s a huge festivity that people come for years and years to celebrate.”
Bourbon Orleans Hotel’s Brunch with Santa and his Elves
In case you didn’t know, Santa loves New Orleans almost as much as his elves love brunchﾉhence the reason locals and tourists alike make the time each year to feast with the big guy himself. Each year, the Bourbon Orleans Hotel hosts the family-oriented event that includes a visit by historical characters. Dine on traditional gumbo, Christmas Ball Yogurt Parfait, and, of course, beignets. Hotel employee Carolina Ferro says, “The Brunch is super popular. It’s a really fun event for both locals and travelers who look forward to it each year.” Make plans to nosh with St. Nick on Dec. 7, 14, 20, or 21 (at 10 a.m.) where the poinsettia cocktails will be flowing and a goodie-filled Christmas stocking will be sent home with you.
Bonfires on the Levee
Each Christmas Eve means huge bonfires on the Levee. The Banks of the Mississippi River light up in Gramercy as residents gather to celebrate the season. Sure, it will still be hot and humid, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pretend it’s below freezing and enjoy the cozy, crackling fire. This Southern tradition takes us back to the days of the Cajun settlers and is made to light the way to Catholic Church for mass (as well as for Santa and his reindeer). Each year, crowds gather to enjoy the bonfires and fireworks. Bonfires will be lit on December 6 and 24.
Holiday Cooking Demos
The season brings about some of the best and most decadent dishes for those special occasions and family gatherings. The Dirty South offers a variety of delicious plates to please the palate, as well as detailed instructions on how to do so. Enter the seasonal cooking demos that bring on some of NOLA’S most popular holiday plates for your feasts. There’s a very specific way of cooking in New Orleans, and every Southern cook knows to take the craft seriously. Some of New Orleans’ most esteemed chefs will be giving step-by-step cooking demonstrations to impress your company.
Krewe of Kringle Pub Crawl
Plenty of bars and cities host Christmas-themed pub crawls, but, naturally, it’s a whole other bar-hop down in the Big Easy. NOLA’s annual Krewe of Kringle Pub Crawl starts Dec.14 at 6 p.m. this year and will feature a parade-like stroll through the French Quarter streets to visit the best bars. Both locals and tourists are invited to join in along with the reindeer, sleighs, snowmen, marching bands and countless Santas. Get creative with the costumes and let loose. This is the French Quarter’s first and only Christmas-themed parade, so expect to go all out in spreading some Christmas cheer. Registration fee is $20.
Mardi Gras isn’t the only time of year that New Orleans knows how to celebrate. Whether it’s a one-time visit or an annual tradition, spending the holidays in New Orleans is a special treat you and your loved ones will always remember.