1. Holiday Concerts at St. Louis Cathedral
For many, myself included, music is an important part of the holiday season. So while in New Orleans, one of the great music capitals of the world, you’d expect some amazing tunes and the city definitely delivers. One of the city’s most famous landmarks, the historic St. Louis Cathedral, hosts a now annual holiday tradition of staging free concerts by prominent New Orleans musicians, church choirs and singers of jazz, classical, gospel and pop music. The St. Louis Cathedral concerts generally run for an hour, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. The concerts are open to the public and donations are welcome to help fund the cost of the series. In recent years there have been as many as fifteen individual concerts between the beginning of December and just a few days before Christmas. In any given year at the St. Louis Cathedral concerts you can hear a sampling of some of the best music New Orleans has to offer.
2. Reveillon Dinners
One of the oldest traditions in New Orleans, it originally began as a Creole feast after midnight mass. Although it had largely died out by World War II, restaurateurs in New Orleans revived it in the 1990s and today it’s just as popular as ever. A variety of restaurants around town offer their seasonal version of the reveillon dinner, which is typically 4 or 5 courses and offered as a prix fix menu. Restaurants want to encourage locals and visitors alike to visit and sample their own unique twist on reveillon and so they make it affordable for many. Meals can include any number of different kinds of dishes from oysters and turtle soup to duck or even prime rib. No matter which restaurant in New Orleans you choose for your reveillon celebration, you owe it to yourself – local or not – to enjoy this tradition.
3. LUNA Fête
Light shows that incorporate local buildings and other architectural elements are becoming more and more popular. There’s the world famous Christmas light show in Brussels and I even saw a great one at Pont du Gard in France. This year New Orleans is the latest in a long line of fun and engaging light shows when it started the LUNA Fête celebration on Gallier Hall. LUNA Fête 2014 is the first of a five-year initiative by the Arts Council New Orleans to employ the city’s iconic architecture as the canvas for large-scale, awe-inspiring outdoor light installations across the city, leading up to the New Orleans 2018 Tricentennial. I was there for the first night of this spectacular and while not long, only about 5 minutes, the combination of music and the light theatrics that play out on the building itself were mesmerizing. I hope they continue this well into the future, it’s a fun addition to an already great line-up of holiday events in the city.
4. Winter Libations
The holidays are of course about spending time with friends and family and what better way to start off a celebration than with a special libation? I mean, it is New Orleans, after all. There is no shortage of places to grab a pre-dinner cocktail in New Orleans, but for a great experience and a special reveillon drinks menu, then Galatoire’s 33 is the place to visit. Located adjacent to the world-famous Galatoire’s Restaurant, 33 is a more laid back bar and steak house and their master mixologists have put together cocktails perfect for chilly winter evenings, all of which make for a perfect start to a reveillon experience. Twists on classics like the Santa’s Old Fashioned and the Spiced Rum Hot Toddy are popular, but the star of the cocktail show is the Brandy Milk Punch, which the bartender shakes a little nutmeg on for that holiday feel.
5. Garden District Holiday Tour
My favorite part of town no matter what time of year it is, there’s something extra special about the Garden District during the holidays. Developed in the 19th century, the neighborhood is home to the best collection of historic Southern mansions in the country. Walking along the streets shaded by massive magnolia and live oak trees, I felt more like Rhett Butler than a slightly grumpy blogger from Washington, DC. A great first introduction to the neighborhood is to experience it by taking a leisurely stroll through the District. There are a number of great walking tours out there or you can just wander around by yourself. Some of the richest people in the country once called these massive estates home and most of them still look the same as they did a century ago. During the holidays, homeowners decorate their properties in a way that is dignified, but stunning. Also be sure to check out to see what local concerts and other events are going on during your visit.
New Orleans is a special city no matter what time of year, but I for one absolutely fell in love with it during the festive holiday season.