New Orleans begins its extended holiday season in December — which starts with Christmas and ends some time after crawfish season is over and the balmy summer weather kicks in — with pomp, elegance, and traditions that date back to generations before us. We know how to celebrate, whether it be keeping alive the spirit of Réveillon dinners, which has now grown into a month-long “restaurant week” of festive dinners, or caroling happily with strangers in Jackson Square, or taking in a holiday concert at St. Louis Cathedral, Snug Harbor, or Preservation Hall.
Look for real cypress tree garland and wreaths, which to me signifies New Orleans at Christmas and isn’t something often duplicated elsewhere.
In addition to the time-honored tradition of Celebration in the Oaks in New Orleans City Park, there are so many lights and decorations . across the city to explore. There are French Quarter balconies decked out with garland and lights, and fabulous hotel decorations that will make even the most Scrooge-iest member of your group stop and smile. While you’re out and about enjoying the New Orleans holiday festivities, stop and take in these stunning Christmas decorations, starting with our top five favorites.
1. Hotel Monteleone
The brass shines a little brighter during the Christmas season at the grand dame of landmark French Quarter hotels. Before taking a spin and having cocktails at the Carousel Bar and Lounge, enjoy the intimate but ornate lobby of the Hotel Monteleone as it complements the understated elegance of its decor with Christmas trees just begging for photo-ops.
2. Roosevelt Hotel
New Orleans’ most famous lobby is worth the stroll-through, with at least one pit stop at The Sazerac Bar, or chefs Alon Shaya and John Besh’s Domenica for Happy Hour and a pizza. This is one stop on the holiday decorations tour that New Orleanians have made into a tradition for generations. It’s not uncommon for cab drivers to drop passengers off on the University Place entrance in the CBD, circle around the block and meet their passengers around the corner at the Baronne Street entrance to the Roosevelt, and we can’t blame them for indulging anyone the pleasure of sauntering through this block-long paradise.
3. French Market
Before or after enjoying beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, the French Market — the six-block stretch of shops and stalls along the river, all bedecked with garland and lights — will get you in the mood for a slow stroll through the French Quarter, and maybe a concert in St. Louis Cathedral. Don’t miss the several-stories-tall Christmas tree in Washington Artillery Park overlooking Jackson Square on Decatur Street, just next door to Cafe du Monde, where it “snows” year round with ample amounts powdered sugar on every order of beignets. And what could be more festive than ordering a strong cup of chicory coffee to-go as you walk and see the lights?
3. Garden District
It’s romantic at any time of the year, but the Garden District’s opulent architecture and classic Christmas decor go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. While a walk around the neighborhood is the panacea to any bah-humbug feelings you may be harboring, a chance to visit the decorated interiors of not one but seven homes in the Garden District at the annual Preservation Resource Center Holiday Home Tour always impresses and inspires. Throughout the Garden District, you’ll find elegant yet often understated decorations during the holiday season. Look for real cypress tree garland and wreaths, which to me signifies New Orleans at Christmas and isn’t something often duplicated elsewhere.
The Garden District’s opulent architecture and classic Christmas decor go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows.
4. French Quarter
I was standing with a big smile on my face, photographing one beautifully decorated building on Royal Street while calling my mother asking where this other house we both love to seek out every year is. Sure enough, I was standing underneath it the whole time. Lesson learned: walk down both sides of the street to see all the holiday cheer!
Another rare opportunity to peek into some homes in the French Quarter happens yearly around Christmas: the Patio Planters Holiday Home Tour is Sunday, Dec. 20 — the same day as Caroling in Jackson Square!
5. All Around Us
Take a look as you’re riding the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, or exploring on Magazine Street, or driving down Esplanade Avenue, or walking in the Marigny: New Orleanians love to decorate for any occasion, and Christmas is no exception. Without much effort, you’ll find traditional decorations, some that are funky and humorous, and even a few weird atypical holiday decorations that will give you that “Only in New Orleans” experience you’ve been looking for.
All photos by Paul Broussard