Spending the Holidays in New Orleans
The holiday season in New Orleans is a magical time to visit. The weather has cooled off but not so much as you wouldn’t want to be outside, the city is awash in thousands of lights and dazzling decorations, and even the streetcars are decked in wreaths. The festivities go into overdrive in December and January, so there’s much to choose from for both adults and the kids alike. From the traditional Reveillon dinners to the winter-themed festivals and bonfires, you’re in for a spectacle and an unforgettable, unique experience. Here are our picks on what to see, eat and do if you’re visiting during the months of December and January.
The Krewe of Krampus parade is dedicated to the mythological creature from the Central European forests, rolling through the Bywater on Saturday, December 1. The parade starts at 7 p.m. on the corner of Royal and Lesseps streets by Parleaux Beer Lab, and ends at Bratz Y’All! (617-B Piety Street). Krampus and his army of mischief will be handing out lumps of coal and, most likely, behaving badly.
Three parades kick off the Carnival season on January 6 (Twelfth Night). Phunny Phorty Phellows will again ride the streetcar from Uptown to Canal Street and back starting at 7 p.m. The walking Krewe of Joan of Arc parade will roll in at 7 p.m. from Jax Brewery in the French Quarter, and the Société Des Champs Elysée parade will take place starting at 7:30 p.m. on N. Rampart Street and Esplanade, going to the CBD, and following the N. Rampart/St. Claude streetcar route.
During the weekend of Dec 6-9, the LUNA Fête light show will illuminate part of the New Orleans Central Business District, on and around the Lafayette Square. The annual large-scale light and sound installations are breathtaking, and the fest is free and family-friendly.
One of those unique opportunities to immerse yourself in wintery activities is the popular and family-friendly festival that celebrates all things Christmas. The annual NOLA ChristmasFest is the only indoor Christmas festival in the area. It takes place at the Convention Center, kicking off on Thursday, December 20, and wrapping on Monday, December 31. Expect giant ice slides, a walk-through maze, and the gingerbread house display among many other attractions and ride. You can also have breakfast or take pictures with Santa, enjoy a 52×140-foot ice-skating rink, and have a snowball fight. Parents can take respite in the “adult lounge” (must be 21 or over to enter) overlooking the ice rink, and some friendly elves will be on hand to help wrangle the kids.
Head to the Champions Square at the Superdome on Sunday, January 27 (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.) for a mega tasting of the King Cakes from the city’s best bakeries. The annual King Cake festival benefits pediatric programs and the Ochsner Hospital for Children.
Concerts and shows
St. Louis Cathedral Concerts is an excellent (and free) annual program that features some of the city’s greatest musicians, representing genres as varied as jazz, indie folk, zydeco, and gospel. The concerts last for about an hour, and are held inside the cathedral throughout the month of December. Similarly, the historic St. Augustine church in Tremé also offers a few holiday concerts throughout the month of December.
To get in the spirit, check out Charles Dickens’ Victorian classic, “A Christmas Carol,” put on by Le Petit Theatre as part of its newly-launched Young Conservatory Program. Also, this time of year Tipitina’s has a stellar lineup of excellent shows on offer. This year, the December highlights include the Professor Longhair 100th birthday tribute on December 19, Kermit Ruffins and Barbecue Swingers on December 30, and Galactic on New Year’s Eve.
The Fulton Street pedestrian corridor is transformed into a winter wonderland of the Miracle on Fulton Street through December 26. The free spectacle features light shows, enormous gingerbread displays, festive drinks, and spectacular holiday illumination galore.
Celebration in the Oaks, a beloved New Orleans tradition, is celebrating its 32nd anniversary this year, and had been selling out for the past few years. It’s is a dazzling holiday lights festival scattered throughout the 25 acres of the City Park, including the Botanical Garden, Storyland, and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. Stroll through the magical grounds swathed in hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights, take a train ride or a holiday picture by the iconic Mr. Bingle, listen to the caroling, do some holiday shopping, or ride the historic carousel. The event runs through January 1, 2019.
Also, the block-long display of thousands of lights in the gilded, marble-floored Waldorf Wonderland Lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel sets off with the annual lighting ceremony in late November. The dazzling extravaganza is on display throughout the holiday season, complemented by a few holiday-themed specialty cocktails on offer at the hotel’s two bars, the Sazerac and the Fountain Lounge.
Derived from the French word for “awakening,” Reveillon originally was a meal served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve in Creole households. Today, the tradition has been refashioned into elaborate set-course meals served at some of the city’s finest eating establishments. For a few years now the increasing number of restaurants (68 this year) is participating in bringing special, prix fixe Reveillon menus to the table. The list of participating restaurants includes an amazing roster of the grand dames of Creole elegance like Antoine’s and Arnaud’s, and many of the city’s iconic establishments (Brennan’s, Galatoire’s, Sylvain, and many more).
Alongside the turtle soups and the oysters some of the best restaurants in the city are also happily pitching in for Reveillon on the Rocks. Each year local bartenders create both classic and original cocktails to celebrate the Reveillon with holiday-themed sippers. Some of those are offered as lagniappe on the Reveillon menus, others can be enjoyed as a standalone.
Other Holiday Fun
The annual Running of the Santas event brings a pack of costumed revelers to the Warehouse District on Saturday, December 8. The boozy run starts at 3 p.m. at Manning’s (the “South Pole”), followed by the open bar and costume content at Generations Hall (the “North Pole”).
On Christmas Eve, bonfires will illuminate the levees on the opposite side of the Mississippi River, a spectacular tradition that dates back centuries. Check local newspapers for more information on where to find the bonfires, or ask your hotel concierge.
New Year’s Eve
Not surprisingly, New Orleans goes all out on New Year’s Eve with fireworks and public revelry. One of the main New Year’s Eve events is the Allstate Sugar Bowl Parade, which is part of the Sugar Bowl festivities. It kicks off at Elysian Fields Avenue and Decatur Street at 2 p.m., and rolls through the French Quarter, stopping by for a quick show by Jax Brewery. Expect big floats, marching bands, plenty of throws, and a general overload of glitz and pageantry.
Watch the fleur-de-lis drop at midnight at the historic Jax Brewery during the annual Dick Clark Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, which is coordinated with the same parties in New York and Los Angeles. As usual it will be live-cast and studded with celebrities and special guests. Jackson Square will also host a free party and countdown with live music and general milling about, culminating with the fireworks over the Mississippi River at midnight. You can watch the fireworks at the Riverfront or in Crescent Park. The park offers fantastic views onto the river, and will be open to the public till 1 a.m.
For some French Quarter-style partying that involves much bead tossing, see if you can score an invite to any of the private balcony bashes, or pay a cover to access one of the balconies at the bars located all up and down Bourbon Street.
For the kids, both the Zoo and the Louisiana Children’s Museum host early countdowns. The Zoo Year’s Eve at the Audubon Zoo “parties” from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with a Pepsi toast, costumed characters, and of course, the Audubon’s wildlife menagerie, while the annual New Year’s Eve Kids’ Countdown to Noon at the museum is held from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
On Monday, January 15, New Orleans will celebrate Martin Luther King’s Day with a block party at the historic Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, a celebration program at Al Davis Park, and a parade.