New Orleans Holiday Happenings

December 07, 2021
New Orleans is the ideal destination any time of the year, but it is especially magical in the fall and winter months. Boasting mild temperatures, unique traditions and an abundance of special events, our city embraces the holidays, which here begin in October and go through Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras Day on March 1, 2022.

During December, the entire city comes alive with vibrant decor and lighting displays. And nowhere in the city sparkles brighter than the French Quarter. Nothing encapsulates our city’s Old World charm more than taking a leisurely stroll through the cobblestoned streets of the Vieux Carre during the holidays. The sounds of jazz fill the air like a soundtrack as the fabulous aromas from the many restaurants tantalize your senses. Christmas lights and greenery adorn the balconies, and the historic homes open for public tours such as Hermann Grima, Gallier and the Beauregard-Keyes Houses are decked out festively for the holiday. You can enjoy shopping, dining and entertainment throughout the month.

And entertain is what our city does best. Music is ingrained in our fabric and, beginning December 1, enjoy the holiday tradition of choral concerts at both the St. Louis Cathedral located on Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter and St. Augustine Church in Tremé. The historic St. Louis Cathedral and Basilica stages free concerts by prominent New Orleans musicians within various genres including jazz, gospel and soul. St. Augustine is a vital part in the historic Tremé neighborhood and the oldest African-American Catholic congregation in the United States. This concert series, at these two memorable locations, is organized by Holidays New Orleans Style which is part of French Quarter Festivals, Inc. Some musicians performing this year include Susan Cowsill, the Zion Harmonizers, Vivaz, Trio and Wanda Rouzan. For more information on these concerts, go to St. Anna’s Episcopal Church located at 1313 Esplanade Avenue will also be presenting concerts every Wednesday through the month of December. The Gothically decorated church was completed in 1952 and retains the antebellum pews, along with decorative stained-glass windows and other original works of sacred art such as the Christus Rex, done by acclaimed artist Gene Seidenberg.

One of the most iconic holiday events revolving around music in the French Quarter is Caroling in Jackson Square, held the Sunday before Christmas Day (December 19). Families and friends from around the globe gather to sing classic carols from their songbooks while holding candles that illuminate the night. Other musical holiday highlights for the month include our hometown rockers Flow Tribe's 12th Annual Christmas Crunktacular, at Tipitina’s on December 3; Elf on a Shelf: A Christmas Musical, at the Mahalia Jackson on December 7; national acts Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony on December 21 and Mannheim Steamroller Christmas on December 23, both at the Saenger Theater; and finally Home for the Holidays at the House of Blues on December 22, presented by the family of Daniel Price and the NOCCA Foundation to benefit the Foundation's Daniel Price Memorial Fund for Aspiring Artists. This amazing concert features performances by NOCCA alumni, as well as from New Orleans music royalty Irma Thomas, Trombone Shorty, John Boutte, Preservation Hall, Kermit Ruffins and Sasha Masakowski.

Much of our lifestyle in New Orleans revolves around food and drink, and the holidays are no different. Reveillon dinners are a tradition that dates back to the start of the Christmas season in the early 1800’s. Reveillon means “awakening” in French, our city’s original language. This large family meal served after midnight mass was popularized by the Creoles who inherited from their European family. But times have changed, and now Reveillon dinners shifted from family homes to the tables of the city’s top restaurants. Today dozens of New Orleans restaurants in and around the French Quarter offer these dining experiences with menus inspired by these Creole families. New Orleans is also a city that loves our libations. Now with Reveillon on the Rocks, restaurants and bars have created holiday-themed cocktails that complement holiday menus. The Sazerac House is making spirits bright with a host of holiday-themed tastings and seminars. For more information, go to

Keeping the holidays family friendly, many of our French Quarter hotels and restaurants offer special events for children, such as Teddy Bear Tea at the Roosevelt, Santa's Pajama Party at the Royal Sonesta Gingerbread Build and Papa Noel Tea at the Ritz-Carlton and Jazz Brunch with Santa at the Court of Two Sisters. Other hotels, like the Hotel Monteleone, will have children’s singing groups performing in their lobby throughout the month. For some indoor family fun, take your family to NOLA ChristmasFest, presented by Coca-Cola. The 12-day event includes a real indoor ice skating rink, ice slides, carnival rides, Santa and friends, gingerbread houses, decorated trees and a two-mile indoor and outdoor lighting display. For more information on NOLA Christmas Fest, go to

Speaking of lights, downtown New Orleans is illuminated with holiday décor. Go hotel lobby-hopping and see some spectacular displays, such as The Roosevelt’s canopy of lights and an aisle of white Christmas trees, the Ritz-Carlton’s Santa’s toy shop, the Royal Sonesta’s Christmas Tree Land, the Windsor Court’s massive trees and finish it off with Harrah’s Hotel outdoor light display and extravagant gingerbread houses replicating New Orleans buildings. The Hotel Monteleone also has children’s choirs performing during the day throughout the month.

Home for the holidays take a new meaning for enthusiasts of our city’s architecture. The Preservation Resource Center and the Patio Planters, conduct New Orleans holiday home tours during select weekends in December. The PRC tours focus on homes in the Garden District and the Patio Planters tours include residences in the French Quarter. The PRC’s holiday art and garden tour should not be missed. The self-guided Patio Planters Holiday Home Tour takes in several elegant old French Quarter residences and courtyards. Visit or for more information.

New Orleans is the best place to find that perfect present for everyone on your holiday list. Two major shopping thoroughfares, Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans and Royal Street in the French Quarter, offer one-of-a-kind gift ideas such as art, antiques, jewelry, apparel and much more. The historic French Market District, which dates back to 1791, gives shoppers that unique New Orleans treasure or souvenir from local craftspeople in the Market in addition to the shops of the Upper Pontalba and Colonnade. There are two downtown shopping malls. Canal Place offers luxury fashion, boutique clothing stores, home goods and specialty art from world-class retailers and celebrity designers. The Outlet Collection at the Riverwalk, located along the banks of the Mississippi River at the foot of Poydras Street, is the first outlet shopping center in the heart of downtown New Orleans and includes more than 75 retailers and restaurants.

There are 73 distinct neighborhoods that comprise the city of New Orleans, each with their own distinct vibe. Special holiday celebrations are abundant in each, but two noteworthy ones are Celebration in the Oaks in the City Park area (a subdistrict of Lakeview), and the Audubon Zoo Lights located in the Audubon neighborhood. Both events are month-long light shows. Outside of New Orleans, experience the wonder of the Bonfires on the Levee, a unique tradition dating back to the early Cajuns that occurs on Christmas Eve. The bonfires are intended to light the way for “Papa Noël” or Cajun Santa Claus. These structures can be simple in their design (mostly pyramid-shaped cones), but in recent times they have become more imaginative. They are most commonly found in St. James Parish, approximately 30 miles from New Orleans. There are two motor coach excursions offered by Gray Line Tours: the four-hour Christmas Eve Bonfire Express, which only includes the bonfires, and the 6½-hour Christmas Eve Bonfire Adventure Tour, which includes a tour of San Francisco Plantation and a holiday dinner. Reservations are required in advance. Visit their website, for further details.

After Christmas, stay and ring in the New Year in New Orleans style. Imagine standing on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, or by Jackson Square in the French Quarter to watch the Fleur De Lis drop from atop Jax Brewery and fireworks show at midnight. There is also a concert as Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve streams live. For an alternate view of all the action, board one of our riverboats for an up-close seat for the fireworks as you sail along on the river.

Sports lovers can also enjoy two major Bowl games in our city during the holiday season. On December 18, the 21st edition of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and on New Year’s Day, the 87th annual All-State Sugar Bowl, both take place at the Caesars Superdome.

Once again, the Crescent City does not really allow downtime with our celebrations. The 12 days of Christmas end on January 6, which is referred to as King’s Day or 12th Night. This is the official kick-off of the Carnival season and is heralded in with parades, parties and King Cakes, the delicious ring of sweet pastry that's normally covered in icing and purple, yellow, and green sprinkles. On 12th Night, visitors can enjoy two memorable parades: the Joan of Arc parade that marches in the French Quarter, and the Phunny Phorty Phellows who ride the St. Charles streetcar. Both are met with great fanfare as they usher in the Carnival season.

Mardi Gras may only be a single day, but the weeks leading up to it are considered the Carnival season, marked with parties, Bal Masqués and parades. The parades roll through the different neighborhoods of the city, with most of them taking an Uptown route on St. Charles Avenue. There are several irreverent walking parades that are cherished by locals, such as Krewe du Vieux, a creative, adult themed organization that carries on the old traditions of Carnival by using mule-drawn floats with satirical themes, accompanied by costumed revelers and street musicians; the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, a sci-fi themed parade; and Krewe of Cork, a raucous, wine-soaked romp through the French Quarter. The long weekend leading up to Mardi Gras has the Super-Krewe parades such as Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus. These parades are larger in scope, with over 1,000 active members and end their routes with spectacular balls where the floats pull into the party, throwing beads and trinkets at the attendees clad in tuxedos and ball gowns. These balls feature top-line entertainment, dancing and dinner. This year some of the big names appearing are Diana Ross and Maroon 5 at the Endymion Extravaganza on February 26, 2022.

Lundi Gras, the day prior to Mardi Gras, is celebrated when the King of Rex meets and toasts the King of Zulu. Earlier that day, the Zulu Social and Pleasure Club also hosts a Lundi Gras Festival at Woldenberg Park along the river, which culminates with the toast and a fireworks show. Both the Zulu and Rex parades roll on Mardi Gras day. The Krewe of Rex, considered the King of Carnival, dates back to 1872. Its traditions have defined Mardi Gras. His royal colors of purple, green, and gold are to this day the colors of Mardi Gras, and the song played in the first Rex parade, “If Ever I Cease to Love,” has become Carnival's anthem.

One of the most fascinating things to do during this season is attend a Bal Masqué. The different krewes all have their own style, with most of them only allowing invited guests admittance. Some of the balls are traditional with their royal tableaus being presented to the audience with pomp and fanfare; then there are the fun, throwdown parties done by the Super-Krewes, where guests may purchase tickets to attend. Our LGBTQ+ community’s balls are probably the most popular of them all and known for their outlandish and over-the-top costumes. Organizations such as Armeinius, Amon-Ra, Petronius and Lords of Leather host major tableaus with festive themes, glittering outfits and entertaining shows. Mardi Gras day offers so many different ways to enjoy yourself. Whether you are on a balcony on Bourbon Street, at the parade route Uptown or watching the horse races at the New Orleans Fairgrounds Race Course, you can be assured to have a great time. Mardi Gras officially wraps up at midnight on Fat Tuesday, when police on horseback roll down Bourbon Street clearing the area, followed by garbage trucks picking up the remnants of the day’s party.