What to do in New Orleans this December 2018
Christmas has never been traditional or routine for my family. The christening of the Christmas tree involved removing it from a dusty box and assembling the pieces to tune of Hawaiian holiday records. This would happen every year, precisely whenever we’d get around to it (usually a few days before Christmas eve) and we’d don the tree with whatever was deliberated should be that year’s theme. Not one year would be the same.
Alternatively, New Orleans is a city rich in tradition and festivities to commemorate the holiday season. Some centuries old, some new and experimental, there are no shortage of events for every taste or preference, young or old, local or traveler.
The Best 8 Things to do in NOLA This December
1 | Light Up Your Christmas Spirit
Hop Into Some Historical Hotels
One of my favorite ways to get into the holiday spirit is to visit some of the historic, Christmas-lit hotels downtown.
This year, I’m really excited to check out The Bellhop Bar, which will be at the Loews Hotel through January. This traveler’s trunk- turned mobile bar hosts delicious locally-crafted cocktails and unique napkins with singular toasts every evening.
Of course, The Roosevelt will once again host their can’t-miss holiday display of dozens of Christmas trees beautifully decorated with over 60,000 lights. Warm your bellies afterwards and swing by Domenica or the Sazerac Bar for a bite or drink (or two).
What’s better than Christmas lights you ask? Obviously Christmas lights at the ZOO. December-long, The Audobon Zoo will be hosting its first Christmas light celebration complete with crafts and other activities for the kids for a great price.
Looking for something to do with the kids for New Year’s? Check out Zoo Year’s Eve-- also at the Audobon.
Lafayette Square | Dec 6-9 | 6-9 PM
One of my favorite December events, LUNA Fête will be particularly enjoyable this year if the weather remains so mild.
Still free and open to the public, LUNA Fête is promising its biggest and most magical light show ever. “Light Up NOLA Arts” or LUNA Fête (fête being French for festival or celebration) will set buildings and other surfaces aglow with their light, sound, and art displays.
In addition to the interactive installations and projections, there will be art markets, drinks, and food from a variety of local vendors.
Celebration in the Oaks
If you’re struggling to get into the Christmas spirit, then you might want to check out this New Orleans favorite. Spanning a 25-acre park, you’ll find more decorations than you can shake a cinnamon stick at (32,800 feet of rope light, to be exact). The Carousel and rides in Storyland are great for kids, but the botanical gardens and massive elaborately decorated trees are sure to please even the biggest Grinches.
Christmas in Lafreniere Park
Drawing a slightly smaller crowd, the lights at Lafreniere Park are nevertheless a worthy stop. It’s much quieter, more peaceful, and a lot cheaper than the former, which means you can bring your kids and write a letter to Santa, or just take a leisurely drive between suspended icicles and merry reindeers.
2 | Tour the City
Why not take a self-guided cruise down Saint Charles or Magazine Street? If you’re more into self-guided tours, you should check out St. Charles and Magazine Street for your fill of lighted fair. As there’s a higher concentration of both wealth and tourists, you can soak in all lights, oversized red bows, and tinsel in a leisurely drive or stroll down either of these streets.
Or enjoy mild December weather with Free Tours By Foot, which focusses on local holiday traditions like Papa Noel of the Creole Christmas.
3 | Go Caroling in Jackson Square
For some people, the holidays start long before they’ve started roasting their Thanksgiving turkeys. For me, it doesn’t feel like Christmas until I’ve grabbed a warm (usually spiked) drink and some friends and listened to the Carolers in Jackson Square.
There’s something about standing at the foot of the St. Louis Cathedral, surrounded by a chorus of carolers, candle-lit processions, and local artists. For this 60+ year New Orleans tradition, the square is picturesque, with huge red bows on the light posts and string lights in the bushes. I highly recommend checking it out and then grabbing a hot chocolate and beignet from Cafe Du Monde on the corner.
4 | Christmas Eve on the Levee
Along the levee | Dec 24th
While the exact origin of the tradition is a bit disputed, the absolute best thing to do in New Orleans during December are the bonfires on the levee. It’s a tradition that’s gone on longer than any New Orleanian can remember, where more than 100 bonfires are lit along a 30-40 mile length of the Mississippi River.
According to folklore, the bonfires on the levee are lit to guide Saint Nick (known locally as Papa Noel) from home to home throughout southern Louisiana. However, more researched historians will likely tell you it’s an appropriated solstice tradition of the Germans who once settled our shores. Though I’ve never had an opportunity to dance circles around these 20-foot high towers of fire while signing my praise to the moon in person, I’m super excited to finally (hopefully) experience it this year.
Have other plans for Christmas Eve? Yeah, that’s fair (I usually do too). Algiers gets in on the fun with their own bonfire and concert December 2nd. Algiers Point would also be a great place to view the Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Levee in New Orleans.
5 | Shop Your List
Of course, Magazine Street is always a great place to go shopping, and a must-see for all tourists. During December, shops typically stay open longer and have holiday decorations galore. If you’re looking for some handmade, local gifts, there are a bunch of great ones to choose from, or there’s a variety of events going on throughout the month, which you can read about on their website.
Riverwalk Outlet Mall
If you’re looking for some last minute gifts, it’s worth checking out the outlet mall for some deals. There will undoubtedly be a variety of sales going on this December on top of their already low(ish) prices. Afterwards you can meander over to the French Market or Royal Street for some local art.
6 | Hang out with Harry
UNO Lakefront Arena | Dec 15th
Connick, Jr., that is. A native New Orleanian, he’s in town to help wish NOLA a happy 300th birthday. Performing both New Orleans and holiday favorites, this show benefits his Katrina foundation Ellis Marsalis Center for Music and is one of the many stops for his nationwide Tricentennial Celebration Tour.
7 | Go Sports!
The Pelicans aren’t doing great this season which means tickets are cheap and accessible. Thank goodness we at least have the Saints. Here are all the home games:
Pelicans vs Clippers (Dec 3rd)
Pelicans vs Mavericks (Dec 5th)
Pelicans vs Grizzlies (Dec 7th)
Pelicans vs Thunder (Dec 12th)
Pelicans vs Heat (Dec 16th)
Pelicans vs Mavericks (Dec 28th)
Pelicans vs Rockets (Dec 29th)
Pelicans vs Timberwolves (Dec 31st)
Saints, alternatively, are crushing it, which means it might take a miracle to obtain tickets, but there are two games left in the season, and they’re both at home. The remaining home games are:
Saints vs Steelers (Dec 23rd)
Saints vs Panthers (Dec 30th)
8 | Parades, Festivals, Shows, & Events
Finally, here’s my catch-all for the assortment of interesting (but sort of miscellaneous) happenings around New Orleans this December:
World War II Museum (assorted events)
Miracle on Fulton Street (month-long)
See The Nutcracker (month-long)
ELF The Musical (month-long)
White Christmas (month-long)
Krewe of Jingle Parade (Dec 1)
Krewe of Jingle Parade (Dec 1st)
Running of the Santas (Dec 8th)
Reindeer Run & Romp + Scavenger Hunt (Dec 8th)
The Tricentennial Jingle on the Boulevard Parade (Dec 15)
NOLA ChristmasFest (Dec 22-31st)
Crescent City Countdown (Dec 31st)
What December traditions do you have? What’s your favorite New Orleans event or tradition? I’d love to hear them. Happy holidays and best wishes.