From Christmas to Carnival

December 15, 2022
New Orleans is magical year-round, but there is something extra special about this city during the holidays and winter months. From Christmas to Carnival season, there is a lot of excitement packed into this short time period. Our unique culture gives tourists and locals alike an added layer of celebration to time honored traditions of the holidays. And the great thing about traditions is it’s never too late to start a new one. The next three months are filled with events to add to your holiday must-do list from réveillon dinners, musical concerts, light displays, bonfires, parades and a whole lot more.

I See the Light! Arts Council New Orleans’ LUNA Fête 2021, presented by the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and New Orleans & Company takes place Dec. 15–18, 2022 at New Orleans newest public space, the Convention Center Pedestrian Park. Light-based artworks by artists and scientists exploring the wonders of the natural world will be spread across 7.5 acres of the new Convention Center Pedestrian Park for visitors to safely enjoy via social distancing. An arts market, delicious food, drinks, and other glowing features will be available to enjoy each night. –

Christmas Festin’! Enjoy a truly interactive experience for the entire family at NOLA ChristmasFest Dec. 21–30, 2022 from 5–11 p.m. daily at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. There will be a real indoor ice-skating rink, ice slides, carnival rides, Santa and friends, Gingerbread houses, decorated trees and more! –

Or you can ring in the New Year by celebrating with the exhilarating All State Sugar at Caesar’s Superdome on Dec. 31, 2022 with kickoff at 11 a.m. The annual Allstate Sugar Bowl returns for its 89th year as top teams from the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 Conference face off against each other. There will be many Sugar Bowl-focused activities, including the Allstate Sugar Bowl Parade, a Mardi Gras-style parade in the French Quarter on the afternoon of Dec. 30. The next day, head to the Dome early for a Tailgate Town breakfast followed by the big game. –

Bonfire of the Levees! One of our area’s most unique holiday traditions is the Christmas Eve Bonfires on the levee long the Mississippi River. The tradition dates to the earliest Cajun settlers of the regions of southern Louisiana to the west and north of New Orleans. These bonfires are intended to light the way for “Papa Noël,” the Cajun Santa Claus. Most of the Christmas Eve bonfires are found in St. James Parish (county). Many more bonfires may be erected in the adjoining communities of Gramercy, Lutcher and Paulina, and more may be scattered in other locations in St. James and neighboring parishes. There are tours that can take you out to the bonfires through If you want to stay a little closer to the city, take the ferry to the Westbank for the bonfires on Algiers Point. This event will take place on Dec. 3, 2022. –

Carols of the Quarter! If you are a fan of holiday music, then there are many opportunities to hear classic (and new) Christmas Carols in the French Quarter during the month of December. The Hotel Monteleone has school choirs performing in their lobby and the Stage Door Canteen at the National World War II Museum does holiday lunch concerts. Caroling in Jackson Square, which is normally the Sunday before Christmas (but that date is not set), is also a fun-filled and memorable experience for families and friends. For one night, Jackson Square is illuminated by hundreds of candles held by singers, both amateur and professional, singing Christmas favorites. All these events are free and open to all who wish to participate. Another favorite tradition in New Orleans are the choral concerts at the St. Louis Cathedral and St. Augustine Church in December. –

Under the Oak Tree! Celebration in the Oaks located in City Park takes place in City Park, opening this year on Thanksgiving and closing Jan. 1, 2023. Please note that the event is closed Mondays and Tuesdays (until Dec. 19) as well as Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Visitors enjoy a wide range of attractions by way of light displays through the 2.25-mile driving tour or walk through Carousel Gardens Amusement Park on foot to experience the lights. –

Dine at one of the city’s fabulous restaurants at a Reveillon Dinner. “Réveillon” means “awakening” in French, New Orleans’ original language. The Creoles, some of the city’s earliest inhabitants, celebrated the start of Christmas in the early 1800s with a big family meal when they returned home from midnight Mass. That was then; now participating restaurants have added their own twists to those bygone days with their menus, featuring their house specialties and examples of their culinary creativity.

Lobby Hopping is also another fun tradition during the holidays. Visiting the light displays at the Roosevelt, the Hotel Monteleone, the Royal Sonesta, the Ritz Carlton and Harrah’s Hotel to name a few is a great way to spend an evening out during December. You can create your own movable feast dining or drinking at their restaurants and lounges located in each hotel.

Countdown to 2023! There is not a more thrilling place to sing “Auld Lang Syne” than New Orleans. Visitors have many options on where to ring in the New Year. Grab a seat along the levees on other the Westbank, French Quarter or Crescent Park to watch the fireworks show. Or buy tickets to one of the many parties that are happening at venues such as Marche, Riverview Room, the Westin Hotel or The Four Seasons for an elegant bird’s-eye view. Or if you want to get up close and personal, a Riverboat cruise on the Mississippi Rover will put you right in all the action. The Steamboat Natchez or Creole Queen all have dinner excursions that evening. So this New Year, Make It New Orleans!

The start of the New Year brings the start of many celebrations in the Big Easy beginning with Twelfth Night on Jan. 6, 2023. This day marks the end of the 12 Days of Christmas and the holiday season and the start of Carnival season. Unlike Mardi Gras’ ever-changing date, Twelfth Night always falls on this day. In New Orleans, like many other holidays, we celebrate with a parade—well, actually several of them. It is also the day that we can officially start eating king cakes! Those delightfully sweet confections can be traditional or stuffed with all sorts of delicious fillings such as strawberry, custard cream cheese, praline pecan, blueberry and even bananas and peanut butter.

To honor of the St. Joan of Arc’s birthday, the Krewe of Joan of Arc holds its annual walking parade through the French Quarter. Parade participants wear attire reminiscent of 1400s France with medieval costumes and music, characters on horseback, jugglers, knights, stilt walkers, giant puppets, king cake and handmade medieval throws. –

Crowning Glory! The world will be watching as New Orleans hosts the 71st Miss Universe competition on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023 at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Delegates from all over the world will compete for the crown, which will be bestowed by 70th Miss Universe winner Harnaaz Sandhu. –

Fat Tuesday falls on Feb. 21, 2023 and is just the finale of a season long celebration that includes balls, parties and parades. The official parades, other than the ones on Twelfth Night, begin on Jan. 28, 2023 with the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus. Another noteworthy walking parade is Krewe du Vieux on Feb. 4, 2023. Krewe du Vieux is a dedicated to the historical and traditional concept of a Mardi Gras parade as a venue for individual creative expression and satirical comment. What sets it apart among all Mardi Gras parades in the city is it alone carries on the old traditions of using decorated mule-drawn floats with satirical themes, accompanied by costumed revelers dancing in the streets to the sounds of jazz street musicians.

For our animal lovers, we even have a parade for our four-legged friends. The Krewe of Barkus rolls through the French Quarter on Feb. 12, 2023 with Royalty Mabel Bell and Flash Lamar. This is one of the cutest and “Aww!”-inspiring parades of the season.

The Krewe of Muses, which rolls on Feb. 16, is one of the newer and more popular krewes not only because of their unique throws and sought-after hand decorated shoes, but because the club conducts community outreach programs helping children and local artists. This club was founded in 2000 and is made up of a group of women who are as diverse as the nine Muses, daughters of Zeus in Greek Mythology.

If you want over the top spectacle, catch one of the three major Super Krewes with their massive star studded parties following them. Endymion will be on Feb. 18, 2023 with the Endymion Extravaganza following at Caesars Superdome. The Krewe of Bacchus holds their parade the following night on February 19, 2023 with the Bacchus Bash block party happening in the Warehouse District at Generations Hall. And on Lundi Gras, the Krewe of Orpheus rolls on Feb. 20, 2023 with its large Orpheuscapade happening directly after the parade at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center.

Speaking of festivities on Lundi Gras, the day prior to Mardi Gras, there is a very special and free event that is a real treat to see. The 35th Annual Lundi Gras at Riverwalk’s Spanish Plaza is a true New Orleans tradition. This FREE and open-to-the-public event features live music from some of New Orleans’ favorite performers, local food and drink vendors, and a fireworks display on the Mississippi. The event culminates with the arrival of Rex, King of Carnival, and his entourage greeting the public and welcoming the King of Zulu. The Mayor of New Orleans traditionally takes the stage to hand over the keys to city to Rex, who declares Fat Tuesday a day of fun and revelry for all.

Another aspect of Mardi Gras are the extravagant balls. Most are by invitation only, but several of the LGBTQ+ Balls have tickets available to purchase. These Mardi Gras Balls are a time-honored tradition ever since the Krewe of Yuga had their first event. The gay Mardi Gras Krewes host flamboyant Balls with gorgeous costumes. The Krewe of Armeinius, the largest of the LGBT krewes, has their ball on Feb. 17, 2023 at the Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette. Other Krewes’ events are Lords of Leather (Feb. 19, 2023); Amon Ra (Jan. 28, 2023) and Mystic Krewe of Apollo (Jan. 28, 2023).

All these parades, events, balls and parties culminate on Fat Tuesday (Feb. 21, 2023), the final day of the Mardi Gras season. That is also when the Rex Parade rolls. Rex has been the symbol of Mardi Gras in New Orleans since his first appearance in 1872. The all-male krewe is responsible for the concept of day parades, for the official Mardi Gras flag and colors—green for faith, gold for power, purple for justice—and for the anthem of Carnival, “If I Ever Cease to Love,” as well as for one of the most popular throws, the doubloon. This year, the Rex Organization celebrated its 150th Mardi Gras season. NOLA is the place to be during the winter months. Not only do we end the year with amazing parties, but we also start the new one with the largest free party in the world—Mardi Gras!