In a city famous for turning every day into a holiday, New Orleans celebrates Christmas with unmatched fervor. The month of December is full of bright lights, good food and lots of cheer. While we may not get to experience the winter chill and blankets of snow the way our neighbors to the north do, that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the most of our limited cold weather. Although the famous Mr. Bingle is no longer displayed downtown, there are plenty of hotels in the area with decorations just as homegrown.
For the second year, Canal Street is transformed with the Downtown Development District’s “Canal Street: Your Home for the Holidays” campaign. The three-week event officially kicks off on Dec. 5 with a concert and parade.
Stage, film and television star Wendell Pierce will be this year’s celebrity Santa for the parade down Canal Street, and the group obtained special permission from Dillard’s to use Mr. Bingle in the parade. Look for holiday-themed floats, The Big Easy Rollergirls and marching bands, plus mascots from the Hornets, Saints and Zephyrs.
The Roosevelt New Orleans has one of the most famous lobbies in the country. As far back as the 1940s, each December the lobby was transformed thanks to a canopy of spun glass known as Angel Hair. Twinkling lights were set inside the cloud-like structure, and there was even a Santa sleigh for photo opportunities. Known as the Angel Hair Lobby, this year it celebrates a new name and a new look: The Waldorf Wonderland Lobby, paying homage to the iconic hotel now a part of the Waldorf Astoria Collection. This year Blaine Kern Jr. created the decorations. The Angel Hair may be a thing of this past – after all, it’s basically glorified fiberglass and thus not so great for the respiratory system – but this year’s decorations will be just as memorable and opulent, ushering in a whole new set of memories.
The Ritz-Carlton on Canal Street sets up a two-story, life-sized gingerbread house each holiday season in the main lobby. Guests must walk through the house to even get to the front desk, restaurants and lounges. It takes almost two months to bring the edible edifice to life, and daily maintenance is needed – because sometimes you just can’t resist a little bite of the icing. The house will be on display until right after New Year’s Day.
In fact, most of the hotel is transformed. A 44-feet tall Christmas tree stands proud in the hotel’s courtyard, decorated in the hotel’s signature colors of blue and gold. The third floor lobby level has dozens of Christmas trees in varying heights and colors, and even the outside of the Beaux Arts building has 12-foot wreaths and thousands of lights.
If you like your decorations outdoors, it doesn’t get any better than Celebration in the Oaks. More than 120,000 people came out to view the display last year, making it one of the largest in the country. City Park comes alive for this annual extravaganza, which runs through Dec. 30. Director Julie LaCour says this year looks out for some new exhibits, such as the “Swamp Lily,” a neon art sculpture set in the lily pond; and an interactive musical laser exhibit featuring music from local musicians. The driving tour has been suspended since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina damaged its exhibits and infrastructure. Don’t fret though, the walking tour is an even better way to view the decorations – just make sure to pack the mittens.
Back downtown, on the stretch between Ruth’s Chris’ Steakhouse and Harrah’s Hotel, Fulton Street takes on a much more whimsical tone with its “Miracle on Fulton Street.” Flocked trees line the tented cobbled street, while classic Christmas tunes play overhead and occasional bursts of “snow” drifts – in the form of soapy snowflakes – drift down for families and passerby. Just don’t stick out your tongue to catch a falling flake! Grab a drink at nearby Swizzle Stick Bar and then head on over to Fulton Street.
Presented by French Quarter Festivals, Inc., Christmas New Orleans Style is a month-long festival highlighting our unique and varied culture. Offerings include Reveillon dinners, a riverboat cruise to watch the lighting of holiday bonfires on Christmas Eve, caroling and many other family-friendly options. Many local hotels are offering deep discounts through the Papa Noël program, so invite family and friends down to our great city for some Yuletide magic.
Head to St. Louis Cathedral for some authentic – and free – New Orleans holiday music from jazz greats and gospel choirs. Concerts are open to the public, and take place almost every night during the month of December. Highlight performances include Irvin Mayfield kicking off the festivities on Dec. 1, New Orleans Uptown Brass on Dec. 3, Mahalia Jackson Gospel Choir on Dec. 8, Ellis Marsalis on Dec. 13, and the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica Annual Christmas Concert on Dec. 20. The Dec. 20 performance is closely followed by caroling in Jackson Square, which is also open to the public, with candles and song sheets provided. All concerts in the series begin at 6 p.m., with the exception of the Dec. 20 performance.
Back in the Garden District, put on your comfortable shoes for the Preservation Resource Center’s 34th annual Holiday Home Tour. For the weekend of Dec. 12 and 13, take a peak inside seven wonderfully appointed homes on this magical walking tour, plus a “bonus house” – The House of Broel. A patron party at the Third Street home of Shirley and Frank Sinclair kicks things off the night before, and PRC headquarters on Tchoupitoulas Street will open its holiday boutique and café doors for keepsakes and cuisine from Palate New Orleans. Do not miss the decorations in the homes of Leslie and Dickie Brennan, Donna and Walker Baus, and Debbie and Neel Fallis, just to name a few.
No matter what you think constitutes a perfect holiday season, there are plenty of options in town to delight the young and old alike, and will make even the biggest Grinch say, “’Tis the season.”