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9 Ways New Orleans is Different During the Holidays

The 2018 holidays in NOLA include quirky annual events like parades, circus cats, and festive cocktails to sip on the go.

Stunning holidays lights in City Park Photo: Paul Broussard

It’s no secret that New Orleans is markedly different than most places, and this certainly applies to how the city celebrates the holidays. We take the it 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 won’t anywhere else. Here are a few of the colorful, interesting, and unusual aspects of New Orleans’ holiday celebrations.

1. It’s not too 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 coat. However, when it is chilly, we’ve got something for that.

A chocolately, warming cocktail from Galatoire's. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)
A chocolatey, warming cocktail from Galatoire’s. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

2. You can walk around with a 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 take in the holiday spirit than with a hot adult beverage in hand?

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.

The indoor ice rink at NOLA ChristmasFest. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

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.Looking for something a bit more cuddly? Well…

The Rock Cats, part of the Amazing Acro-Cats, will play seasonal classics like "A Cat in a Manger" and "God Rest Ye Merry Kittens." (Photo via The Amazing Acro-Cats Meowy Catmas on Facebook)
The Rock Cats, part of the Amazing Acro-Cats, will play seasonal classics like “A Cat in a Manger” and “God Rest Ye Merry Kittens.” (Photo via The Amazing Acro-Cats Meowy Catmas on Facebook)

5. There’s a holiday cat circus.

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. Tickets are available here for the show on Friday, December 7, 2018.

6. You can see Santas Run Wild.

Don’t miss this 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. On Dec. 8, you can don your own suit and head to Manning’s Generations Hall to revel in Santa-filled good times. If you’re a serious runner and want to keep up your fitness through the higher-calorie months—there’s also the Celebration in the Oaks holiday run/walk on Dec. 8.  Complete the two-mile course, enjoy free refreshments, and a complimentary pass for a post-run stroll through the elegantly decorated Carousel Gardens (which is open that afternoon only for the runners.

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 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.

Haydel's Christmas King Cake
Haydel’s Christmas King Cake. (Photo via Haydel’s Bakery online)

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 is welcome any day in New Orleans. In a city that’s always 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 on Saturday, Dec. 1.

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.

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