It’s no secret that New Orleans is markedly different than most places, and this certainly applies to how the city celebrates holidays. We take the holidays seriously: Stately homes are decked out to the max and, of course, there are plenty of gatherings where food is the main focus. But if you find yourself in NOLA around the holidays, you’ll experience some things you probably wouldn’t anywhere else. Here are a few of the colorful, interesting, and unusual aspects of New Orleans’ holiday celebrations.
1. It’s not that cold here.
Some years, the city has experienced mild snow flurries… but most of the time Christmas (and winter in general) is mild in New Orleans. We can’t boast the allure of a White Christmas somewhere up north, but there’s a real advantage of getting out and about in the city without gloves and a thick jacket. However, for when it is chilly …
2. You can walk around with a festive hot cocktail.
Around this time of year, New Orleans bars are big on offering festive hot cocktails, and because we can drink outside here, you can have one as a warming walking companion. A favorite of mine from the list is the hot Irish coffee from Erin Rose, a fantastic bar at 811 Conti St. popular with both locals and tourists alike. What better way to take in the Christmas lights around town, go caroling in Jackson Square, or do pretty much anything than with a hot drink (complete with liquor) in hand? Then again, if it’s on the warmer side…
3. New Orleans loves festive cold cocktails, too.
The sweet and slightly spicy brandy milk punch is a popular holiday beverage here. Make a batch and have it out on Christmas morning — it has milk in it, so it’s acceptable to have early in the day. The Golden Child at Superior Seafood is another holiday cold one: Earl Grey-infused gin pairs up with house-made rosemary syrup, lemon juice, and egg whites for a festive take on a traditional gin fizz. Still thirsty? Sample your way through finely crafted cocktails of both the hot and cold variety of Tales of the Toddy on Thursday, Dec. 8 at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans’ Celestin Ballroom.
4. We have an indoor ice skating rink.
It’s a part of NOLA ChristmasFest — a massive indoor celebration (from Dec. 16—30) of all things Christmas that includes holiday characters, an ice slide, and an indoor ice skating rink. There’s also a Christmas tree display, which features more than 70 decorated trees (and if you or your business are interested in sponsoring a tree, you can do so here). Looking for something a bit more cuddly? Well…
5. There’s a holiday cat circus, too.
A much-anticipated holiday tradition is the yearly visit from the Acro-Cats, a traveling band of trained rescue cats, for their The Amazing Acro-Cats Meowy Catmas. Proving that cats can be trained, the show features felines doing tricks and playing music in the “Rock Cats” band. The show has garnered a bit of a cult following in New Orleans over the years. I checked out the Acro-Cats when they visited in 2015, and the show didn’t disappoint. Combining humor with cat tricks, the human ladies of the Acro-Cats provide a super fun evening for both you and their furry friends.
6. Santas run wild
… during the annual Running of the Santas pub crawl. Years ago, in a country far, far away, a friend of mine got together with a bunch of other friends, dressed up in santa suits, had a few cocktails, and proceeded to bar-hop their way through the city—he later said it was the most fun he had during the holiday season. Starting at 11:00 a.m. (if you really want to get into the spirit!) on Dec. 17, you can don your own suit and head to Manning’s Generations Hall to revel in Santa-filled good times. If you’re a more of a serious runner—and are looking to keep up your fitness through the higher-calorie months—there’s also the Celebration in the Oaks holiday run/walk on Saturday, Dec. 10. Registration is now open, so make sure you get in soon for the opportunity to complete the two-mile course, receive free refreshments, and a complimentary pass for a post-run stroll through the elegantly decorated Carousel Gardens (which is open on that afternoon especially for the runners and closed to the general public).
7. You can get Christmas king cake.
Carnival purists may scoff at the idea of eating king cake before Twelfth Night, the official beginning of Carnival, but if you’ve got a craving, you can at least get a seasonal version from Haydel’s bakery. The famous Manny Randazzo King Cakes are also a great option if you want to indulge your Mardi Gras sweet-tooth at Christmastime.
8. We have a Christmas parade.
Another Carnival tradition crossing over into the holidays (that’s a little less controversial than an off-season king cake) is that of the parade — which, really, is welcome any day in New Orleans. In a city that’s currently in countdown mode to Mardi Gras, it’s a welcome sight to see Canal Street filled with people truly enjoying this time and place. The Krewe of Jingle, featuring roving holiday characters both traditional and New Orleans-specific, rolls down Canal Street this Saturday, Dec. 3.
9. We have plenty of unique holiday traditions.
From Mister Bingle — the city’s official holiday mascot — to Reveillon meals to bonfires for Papa Noel, New Orleans has plenty of holiday traditions that reflect its unique history and diverse population. No matter what part of the city you are in, the spectacle of a distinctly NOLA Christmas is all around.