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.



French Quarter

Come make a joyful noise this December with carolling Dec. 20 in Jackson Square, along with holiday concerts in the cathedral Dec. 1-18. 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 performers including Susan Cowsill, Sunpie Barnes and and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band. This year's dates are Dec. 1-18. 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 US.

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 →

Running of the Santas
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Tourism & Marketing Corp.

Thousands of costumed revelers will celebrate Christmastime festivities when the "Running of the Santas" returns to the New Orleans Warehouse District on Saturday, December 11. The fun kicks off at 3 p.m. from the "South Pole" located at Manning's where revelers can party with plenty of beer to live music. Admission is $20. Doors open at 2pm. At 6pm, the Santas will "RUN" from the "South Pole- Mannings" to the "North Pole –" Generations Hall" (only a few blocks). The "Runners" will assemble on Lafayette Street at the corner of South Peters. Costume contest at 8. Live music by Category 6 at Generations Hall. An estimated 4,000 participants will be dressed up as Santa, Mrs. Claus, Scrooge, Jingle Bells, Jack Frost, Old Man Winter and more.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Although the word "running" is used extremely loosely, this fun event is a highlight of the festive season.

Beth's expert tip: This is a highly entertaining event to watch even if you don't run any farther than the closest bar.

Read more about Running of the Santas →

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 4, 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.

Read more about Bonfires on the Levee →

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 Antoine's, Broussard's, Country Club and Ralph's on the Park.

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

Beth's expert tip: Expect to pay $50 and up for most Reveillon (say REH-vee-on) menus.

Read more about Reveillon Dinners →

NOLA ChristmasFest
Photo courtesy of NOLA Christmasfest

The annual NOLA Christmas Fest runs Dec. 17-22, and 25-30, 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 ice skating with Santa, an army of inflatables, gazillions of lights, Christmas trees and nonstop holiday tunes will surely get you in the spirit of things. Can't make it down? Sign up online to join the live elf video chat Monday, December 20 at 5:30 PM from home. You can even submit questions in advance online!

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 Day from 2-6 pm.

Read more about NOLA ChristmasFest →

Lune Fete
Photo courtesy of Arts Council of New Orleans

LUNA Fête 2021 has a new home Dec. 16-19 this year –" the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Celebrating Earth and Space and the science and scientists that share their secrets, the eight edition of the festival takes place at the newly defined Convention Center Pedestrian Park. Created by artist Bart Kresa (known for creating Game of Thrones season finale projection mapping installation) will animate the Convention Center's Hall D facade with a seven-minute projection celebrating the beauty and fragility of our planet. A nightly arts market, delicious food, drinks, and other glowing features will be available to enjoy each night.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Luna Fete is an immersive large-scale animated projection light experience that's one of a kind - and it's free!

Beth's expert tip: UBER, Lyft, and other ride-share services will deliver riders to the Convention Center transportation center, near the center of the LUNA Fête campus.

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 driving 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's also a fund raiser for the park. Tickets are $39.99 per vehicle - up to eight passengers, or splurge on a limo for 15/$150. Add in the Carousel Gardens amusement park for $25, or $35 just for that experience. The 2.25 driving tour experience takes about 30 to 45 minutes but that doesn't include the line. So bring snacks.

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.

Read more about Celebration in the Oaks →

French Quarter
Jazz Playhouse
Photo courtesy of Trixie Minx Productions

Royal Sonesta New Orleans turns into Royal Snownesta for the holiday, with gobs of festive décor, memorable feasting and entertainment for all ages including Santa's Pajama Party at Restaurant R'evolution on weekends. Bring the kiddos in their jammies for a visit with Santa and cookie decorating while mom and dad slurp bottomless mimosas. At the Jazz Playhouse, Trixi Minx Productions presents Tease the Season Burlesque Ballroom on select Fridays in December with classic strip tease to live music. Ask about special cocktails like the Toasted Pecan Old Fashioned. Live jazz music is featured every night of the week at this classy club just off Bourbon Street.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Royal Snownesta transforms the hotel into a holiday party sure to jump start that Christmas spirit.

Beth's expert tip: Live jazz happens every night of the week at the Jazz Playhouse.

Read more about Jazz Playhouse →

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 new Four Seasons is another must, with its Festive celebration that includes thousands of twinkling lights and the awesome Chandelier Bar, perfect for toasting. That's 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.

Read more about Hotel lobby hop during the holidays →

The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk
Photo courtesy of The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk

The first Outlet Collection in any downtown city in America is here in New Orleans, an airy, light-filled shopping experience with river views. Close to the Convention Center, the Cruise Terminal and the French Quarter, the shopping Outlet Collection at Riverwalk does it up big for the holidays, from special in-store events - hello Santa! - to weekly outdoor themed movies for the family, screening at 6:30 pm Dec. 3, 10 and 17, with hot chocolate for the whole gang. And yes, shoppers, the siren call of and mouthwatering brands like Neiman Marcus Last Call, Kenneth Cole, Coach, Nordstrom Rack and Forever 21 is irresistible.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk is a central place for shopping and holiday fun.

Beth's expert tip: Park at the Whale surface lot and get your ticket validated at one of the stations marked with a "P" in the mall - if you spend $20, you'll park for $8.

Read more about The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk →


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