Don’t Miss New Orleans’ Take On The Holidays And The New YearPhoto courtesy of Getty Images Travel Features New Orleans
With a nickname like The Big Easy, New Orleans is not a city that takes celebration lightly. December is an exceptional time to be in this fantastic town, and if you want a truly memorable end to your year, look no further than these events in the City That Care Forgot.
The holiday season officially kicks off with the annual lighting of Canal Street in late November, where a flip of a switch brings online one million dazzling lights that energize the center of the Crescent City until January. Carnival, the annual season of revelry that begins on Twelfth Night and culminates with Mardi Gras, finds a pre-game parade in the Krewe of Jingle. Grab a delicious beignet or some hot gumbo and watch the colorful, festive floats that fill the streets of downtown and the French Quarter.
Pack a warm coat (contrary to popular belief, it often gets quite chilly in New Orleans during the winter months) and get lost amongst the lush trails of enormous City Park. An additional half-million lights flood the iconic green space in a sea of color alongside brilliant art installations waiting for discovery within the maze-like park. See if you can spot Mr. Bingle, a classic New Orleans holiday mascot. With his holly leaves for wings and ice cream cone hat, Mr. Bingle’s origins come from the 1940s when he was created as a holiday symbol for the former staple New Orleans department store Maison Blanche.
As a city known for its lively, spirited music, it should come as no surprise that New Orleans also has a classic twist on holiday music, perhaps most exemplified in the humorous holiday tunes of Benny Grunch & The Bunch. If you encounter the carolers in Jackson Square, see if your ear can make out the hilarious verses of the 12 Yats Of Christmas. If you’ve ever wondered why downtown has so many hotels, and you’ve heard someone say “Ain’t Dere No More,” one of the city’s many iconic catchphrases, try listening to the holiday song of the same name to make some sense out of it all.
As you continue exploring, you may encounter a strange artistic projection on a nearby wall or a peculiar assortment of rainbow-colored spheres and neon shapes suddenly blocking your path. Congratulations! You have stumbled upon the Luna Fête (literally “Moon Party” in French), an eccentric series of vibrantly bizarre light and art installations that showcase a slice of the city’s boundless creativity every December. The event also includes grandiose fashion shows, animated silent discos, and a quirky outdoor market. Grab your most extravagant costume (a New Orleans prerequisite if there ever was one), and don’t miss the illustrious Luna Ball, where a masqueraded crowd of colorful partygoers light up the dance floor to the electric sounds of the dance’s talented DJs.
Those looking for a more traditional holiday experience can find it in the Miracle On Fulton Street, a centerpiece of a proper Crescent City Christmas in the Warehouse District. Enjoy some live music, check out the life-size gingerbread village, the towering 30-foot Christmas tree, and take in the atmosphere amongst the many lights and fake snow setting the scene in the cheerful space.
As you stroll down the Mississippi looking east towards the West Bank (yes, it gets confusing; the West Bank is actually east, and Uptown is south, corresponding to its location upriver), you might notice a subtle, orange glow lighting up the sky. Turn your eyes to the horizon in Algiers Point to spot the roaring inferno of the famed Algiers Levee bonfire. The NOLA Burners, named for a local community of artists who make the annual trek to Burning Man, construct an elaborate, 30-foot tall Big Easy version of that festival’s namesake event to ignite the skies in December. Enjoy some live jazz, buy artsy trinkets at the bustling holiday market, or observe and reflect on the hypnotic flames with some colorful characters attending the free event.
New Orleans is a masterful city at continuing the party, so stick around for New Year’s Eve after December 25th passes. The city is awash with things to do in virtually every neighborhood on the year’s final night. Of course, there are the festivities on Bourbon Street and the Fleur-De-Lis drop at midnight in Jackson Square, but also consider colorful parties like Big Night New Orleans at Mardi Gras World or the Surrealists’ Ball at Maison de la Luz.
Once you’ve officially crossed over to January 1st, fight the urge to fall asleep, imbibe some chicory coffee, and stay awake for one of the coolest New Year traditions: the reveillon dinner, a custom dating back to the city’s French days. Historically taken after a midnight mass and typically shared with strangers, the feast is notable for its unconventional start time between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. Indulge in the city’s legendary cuisine and start your new year right with some quirky new friends at this memorable event.
John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his downtime, John likes to learn foreign languages and get immersed in other worlds, particularly those of music, film, games, and books in addition to exploring the world.