Maybe it’s the holiday decorations with thousands of twinkling lights, the music or the abundance of food, but whatever it is, I love the joy of the holidays. And if there is one city that is symbolic of that joy, it’s New Orleans. Throughout the holiday season New Orleans has over 62 experiences and many are free. Follow your joy to New Orleans this holiday season and check out these enchanting experiences.
The Lights of City Park in New Orleans
Driving around to see Christmas lights has always been one of my favorite holiday activities and Celebration in the Oaks delivers. New Orleans’ City Park is one of the ten largest urban parks in the country and home to the largest collection of mature live oaks in the world with trees over 800 years old in the park’s oldest grove. During the holidays the park’s 25 acres are transformed into a magical winter spectacle – minus the snow. For the holidays, the park’s ancient oak trees are aglow with massive ornaments decorated with over 1/2 million sparkling lights. Children from over 200 area schools create handcrafted ornaments to decorate Christmas trees that line the walkways in the Carousel Gardens & Storyland. Perennial favorites include the two-mile train ride through glittering light exhibits, the animated Cajun night before Christmas display, and of course, New Orleans’ iconic snowman Mr. Bingle – a holiday character beloved by generations of New Orleanians. Lighted exhibits include the Cajun Night Before Christmas, the “Who Dat” Tree, Santa Gator, a life size Nativity scene, and “A Jackson Square Holiday”. Live nightly musical entertainment features a mix of school choirs, orchestras, bell choirs, dancing troupes and gospel groups. This beloved annual celebration is fun for all ages and has become an enduring holiday tradition for families, who come to Celebration in the Oaks to ride the train or carousel every year.
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St. Louis Cathedral Holiday Concerts
Who can imagine a holiday season without music? Whether it be traditional Christmas carols or silly tunes about grandmas getting run over by reindeer, music is an integral part of the holiday season. And New Orleans delivers plenty of fantastic music experiences. On Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter, the historic St. Louis Cathedral is host to a holiday concert serious. The city offers up some of its best jazz, gospel, pop and classical music in hour long concerts. Performances are free (donations accepted) and open to the public. There have been as many as fifteen individual concerts between the beginning of December and Christmas in recent years.
You would have to work hard to go hungry in New Orleans with its legendary restaurant scene. Around the holidays, there are even more feasts to consume and one of the oldest traditional ones is the Reveillon dinner. Started in the early 1800s by the Creoles, the Reveillon dinner was a big family meal served after returning home from midnight mass. In French, New Orleans’ original language, the word “reveillon” means “awakening” and the dinners were a way of breaking the daylong religious fast leading up to Christmas Eve.
Although it had largely died out by World War II, restaurateurs in New Orleans revived it in the 1990s and today several restaurants around town offer their own versions of the Reveillon dinner. Meals are typically four or five courses and offered as a prix fix menu and feature each restaurant’s specialties like turtle soup, oyster gumbo and lavish desserts. The Reveillon tradition is most commonly enjoyed by local families and friends gathered around a large table in an old French Quarter restaurant or reserving one of the small private dining rooms they offer. And when you’re in town, you can join the locals to experience this delicious tradition. And if I were you, I would be sure to order white chocolate bread pudding for dessert.
Bonfires on the Levee
Just outside the city at Oak Alley Plantation you can experience a traditional plantation Christmas with dining, dancing, and a spectacular bonfire on the levee. A local tradition dating long before the levees were built, bonfires guided family and friends coming off the river as they looked for the inlet or slip belonging to their loved-one’s home. Local folklore also tells of additional bonfires lit on Christmas Eve to help guide Papa Noel.
A brass quintet leads the traditional parade up the mansion’s illuminated alley to the levee for the lighting of the bonfire and caroling right on the banks of the Mississippi River. Afterwards, the party continues at the mansion with cocktails and dancing.
Follow your joy to New Orleans this holiday season – you’ll be glad you did.
For more information on New Orleans Holiday Traditions visit https://holiday.neworleansonline.com