Best Things to Do in December in New Orleans

10Best ways to celebrate the holidays, New Orleans style

It may not be on everybody's top 10 Christmas song list, but in New Orleans, there's no better holiday tune than the brassy Christmas in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong, circa 1955. By Thanksgiving, the Crescent City pulls out all the stops with lights, glitter and holiday pageantry.  Visitors will find plenty of only-in-New Orleans ways to celebrate, kicking off with a month of Creole-inspired Reveillon dinners to towering bonfires that light up the bayou across and up the river.

Many of the parks around the city are filled with carolers during December, but the most spectacular spot has to be caroling in Jackson Square, usually the Sunday before Christmas. With St. Louis Cathedral as a backdrop, voices raised and candles glowing, there really is "joy to the world."

Take in the over the top lobby decorations at the Roosevelt Hotel, Windsor Court and the Ritz Carlton on Canal, along with the still family-owned Hotel Monteleone, home to a giant Christmas tree and a busy schedule of local choir performances.  There are holiday house tours both Uptown (Dec. 14,15) and in the French Quarter (Dec. 22).  This city of artists offers untold opportunities for truly unusual gift buying, whether along Magazine Street, Royal in the Quarter, the French Market or the night art market on Frenchmen Street.  Like everything else it does, New Orleans dances to its own beat during the holiday season.



Christmas New Orleans Style!
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism & Marketing Corp.

This month-long event draws hundreds of locals and visitors alike. To celebrate the season, Jackson Square fills with carolers, choirs and musical artists who all joyfully sing at Christmas. There are candlelight processions, free concerts and the illuminated beauty of Jackson Square and the French Quarter. Additional activities include guided candlelight tours of historic homes and private courtyards, as well as several events such as bonfires and holiday lights held across the city. With dozens of seasonal events in December (more than half free of charge), it's easier than ever to follow your joy and find holiday cheer in New Orleans.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This is one of the most popular Christmas holiday events in New Orleans.

Beth's expert tip: Look for History Alive costumed characters, including Papa Noel, in the French Quarter during the holiday season.

Read more about Christmas New Orleans Style! →

French Quarter
St. Louis Cathedral

Come make a joyful noise this December with gospel choirs, jazz bands, classical artists and more during this free concert series in historic St. Louis Cathedral. Produced by French Quarter Festivals, Inc. as part of Christmas New Orleans Style, the music generally runs for an hour, starting at 6 pm. Music styles range from gospel to Cajun and jazz, with big names like Ellis Marsalis, Opera Creole and the Zulu Gospel Choir on the bill. This year's dates are Dec. 2-19. Established in 1720, this is the oldest active cathedral in the US. In 1964, the cathedral was given the status of minor basilica, one of only 15 in the S. This year there are also concerts.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: St. Louis Cathedral is an iconic symbol of the city of New Orleans.

Beth's expert tip: The concerts are free of charge, but donations are welcome to help fund the series.

Read more about St. Louis Cathedral →

Miracle on Fulton Street
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation

Fulton Street just may be the best thing to come out of the 1984 World's Fair, second only to the Hand Grenade, the powerful drink sold only at Tropical Isle. What was once the main entertainment promenade during the fair was revitalized by Harrah's Casino into a dining and entertainment thoroughfare. And during the holidays, the one block long pedestrian-only Fulton Street Mall is done up with Christmas trees, lights, mistletoe and fleur de lis ornaments for the annual "Miracle on Fulton Street." This festive fete includes costumed characters, local musical acts and holiday-themed dining. There's no charge for wandering, a pastime sure to jump-start your holiday spirit.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Fulton Street is in the heart of the CBD, close to the Convention Center and Harrah's casino.

Beth's expert tip: Bring a toy to donate, sit on Santa's lap and enjoy live music on the weekends.

Read more about Miracle on Fulton Street →

Bonfires on the Levee
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation

Nothing like dancing around a roaring 20-foot high bonfire to get into the Christmas spirit. The tradition of lighting bonfires on the river levees dates back to the earliest Cajun settlers of the regions of southern Louisiana to the west and north of New Orleans. The idea is to light the away for "Papa Noel," the Cajun Santa Claus, on his airborne journey to the area. Most of the 100 or so towering infernos are set in communities in St. James Parish some 30-40 miles upriver from New Orleans. Closer to home, the Algiers Economic Development Foundation sponsors one annually,- this year December 7, 5-8:30 pm - on the levee in Algiers Point.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Cajun tradition rules at this annual holiday event up and across the river.

Beth's expert tip: Grayline Tours offers bus trips to the levee bonfires that include a plantation tour.

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Reveillon Dinners
Photo courtesy of Arnaud's

Leave it to New Orleans to give an old Creole holiday custom a deliciously modern spin. In this historically Catholic city, Reveillon (French for awakening) dinners were elaborate family feasts served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. A typical menu might include eggs Sardou, turtle soup, oysters and grillades of veal, all accompanied by much toasting, well into the wee hours. Although the practice all but disappeared in the 1940s, local chefs, including Donald Link and Emeril Lagasse, revived the celebration in the 1990s, and typically as many as 40 local restaurants offer seasonal holiday Reveillon menus during December. The oysters pictured are on the menu at Arnaud's. Many restaurants offer, including Commander's Palace, SoBou and Tujague's.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This revisited Creole custom that is unique to New Orleans during the holidays.

Beth's expert tip: Expect to pay $45 and up for most Reveillon (say REH-vee-on) menus.

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NOLA ChristmasFest
Photo courtesy of NOLA Christmasfest

The fifth annual NOLA ChristmasFest will kick off on December 20 and continue through December 31, a family extravaganza that is ideal for visitors too, especially because it is open on Christmas Day. Taking place inside Hall B at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, ChristmasFest is a family holiday home run - featuring an indoor ice skating rink, an army of themed inflatables, photo ops with Santa caroling and more. Gazillions of lights, more than 70 Christmas trees decorated by local businesses, a huge interactive snow globe (totally Instagrammable) and nonstop holiday tunes will surely get you in the spirit of things. Tickets are $20 weekdays, $25 Saturday and Sunday.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This festive attraction draws visitors to the Warehouse District for holiday cheer.

Beth's expert tip: If you're visiting for the holidays you can catch the Fest on Christmas Eve from 11 am-5 pm and even on Christmas Day, 2-7 pm.

Read more about NOLA ChristmasFest →

Lune Fete
Photo courtesy of Arts Council of New Orleans

Luna Fete lights up the CBD Dec. 12-15, bringing another version of the annual large-scale animated projection to Lafayette Square, 6-9 PM nightly. The Arts Council New Orleans' initiative, LUNA (Light Up NOLA Arts) blends New Orleans' historic architecture with contemporary light and video mapping technology, sound installation and motion graphics. Fête is a large-scale, open-air video and sound installation that includes a light and art display. The animated spectacle will be shown outdoors on the Square. Local school kids got involved in the project, contributing artwork and even some acting for the animation. Use the code LUNA when registering for hotel visits.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: LUNA Fête brings the wonder of the season to Lafayette Square.

Beth's expert tip: Visitors who plan to see LUNA Fete are eligible for 15 percent discounts at all Valentino Hotels during their stay.

Read more about Lune Fete →

Celebration in the Oaks
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation

This month-long holiday light exhibit in City Park draws hordes of families and visitors up for a festive good time. Take a walking tour through the park to see more than a million lights decorating century-old live oak trees. Celebration in the Oaks is a New Orleans family tradition that also includes nightly entertainment, a train ride, photos with Santa, dancing lights, a laser show, hot chocolate, a full cafe and amusement rides. Admission for this City Park fundraiser is $10, children three and under are free. You pay extra for the rides and the train trip, or $28 for unlimited fun and skipping the waiting on line.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's one of the defining events in New Orleans during the holiday season attracting families and visitors alike.

Beth's expert tip: Buy tickets online to save waiting time.

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French Quarter
Sippin' Santa
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Sippin' Santa

Sippin' Santa - the beloved Christmas-themed tiki cocktail pop-up bar - is coming back to New Orleans this holiday season in partnership with cocktail personality Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, the talent behind his bar Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29 in the French Quarter. Set to open on Monday, November 25, the gastropub will bring you a tiki-themed holiday getaway, full of nostalgic holiday and Polynesian décor. Sippin' Santa's signature cocktail menu, created by Jeff, includes on-theme named drinks like the Kris Kringle Colada (dark Jamaican rum, cynar, allspice, lime & pineapple juice and cream of coconut) and the Christmas Eve Destruction (over proof dark rum, lime juice, nutmeg syrup, benedictine, angostura bitters). Buy a special holiday mug and feel good about it - 10% of all sales donated are to Action Against Hunger, making the perfect gift that keeps on giving.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Tiki meets holiday cheer? It's a natural!

Beth's expert tip: Jeff "Beachbum" Berry is behind 29 pop up Sippin' Santa bars around the US - but you're most likely to find him at his own New Orleans bar, Latitude 29.

Read more about Sippin' Santa →

Hotel lobby hop during the holidays
Photo courtesy of Roosevelt Hotel

Visiting hotel lobbies during the holidays is a thing in New Orleans. Really. Gaggles of ladies hire a driver to shuttle them around from hotel to hotel, so they can day drink champagne with impunity and gawk at the Christmas finery that festoons the lobbies of hotels in the French Quarter and CBD. Topping the list? The Roosevelt is beyond gorgeous, with its acres of marble and seasonal display of lights, trees and hand tied bows (bless their heart). The Windsor Court is a must see, with its 19 1/2-foot Christmas tree shimmering with 25,000 lights,a classic toy train traveling around the base. There's 10 more trees to eyeball, adding up to more holiday cheer. Holiday tea is especially popular here. The Hotel Monteleone, Bourbon Orleans, Royal Sonesta and Le Pavillon are all decked out with enough bling to jump start even the Grinch's holiday spirit.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Drinking and lobby gawking is a New Orleans tradition,

Beth's expert tip: When you book a hotel during the holidays ask about the Papa Noel special - there are deals galore city wide.

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Meet Beth D'Addono

Beth D'Addono is a food and travel writer obsessed with flavor, exploring cultures, street music and the city of New Orleans.

Beth writes about New Orleans and other destinations for outlets...  More About Beth