New Orleans prides itself on being known as ‘The Big Easy,’ meaning festivals, parades, and music events. Christmas is no exception, and the Crescent City lights up to show visitors and residents the best time possible.
The Best Things To Do During Christmas in New Orleans
We may not get many, if any, white Christmases here, but that’s made up for with decorations, lights, and a unique holiday spirit that only New Orlean-ians can provide. Here are some things to experience during Christmas in New Orleans that you probably won’t find anywhere else.
1. Réveillon Dinners
A réveillon dinner is a time-honored Creole Christmas feast. The term réveillon means “awakening” in French and was traditionally celebrated by the Creole community during Christmas in the early 1800s with a lavish family meal after midnight mass featuring a diverse menu. In the 1990s, the réveillon tradition was revitalized with modern adjustments.
This celebration has transitioned from home family gatherings to upscale restaurant experiences, now offered at conventional dining times. Many New Orleans restaurants participate, offering menus inspired by the original Creole tradition while adding their own culinary innovations and specialties. The most upscale option is at the iconic Commander’s Palace, with a five-course menu for $110 per person. Cafe Normandie has a three-course menu for $38 for a simpler option.
2. Stroll Through the French Quarter
The architecture in the Vieux Carre is unique in the United States. Many historic buildings with galleries and balconies stand as if frozen in time. Many of the balconies are overflowing with beautiful potted gardens. They are a spectacle at the best of times, but during Christmas, these places become something more with festive decorations and window displays. Take a walk through Jackson Square, down Chartes, Royal, and Ursulines Ave to discover the spirit of Christmas.
3. French Quarter Holiday Home Tours
This self-guided walking tour of beautifully decorated French Quarter residences on December 17, 2023, is presented by Patio Planters of the Vieux Carré. Showcasing various architectural styles, furnishings, and Christmas decorations, the tour serves as a fundraiser for Caroling in Jackson Square, which will take place later that evening.
French Quarter residents generously open their homes from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online for $35 each (children 12 and under free) or in person on the event day for $40 each (cash only). Pickup for online tickets is at The Cabildo (701 Chartres) from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on December 17. Day-of-tour tickets are available at The Cabildo but note that only a limited number of tickets are sold to minimize home disruptions.
4. Caroling in Jackson Square
Join the historic tradition of Caroling in Jackson Square in New Orleans, which has been bringing joy since 1946. This community singalong is a free and inclusive event for families and visitors. On December 17, come at 6:30 p.m. to receive songbooks and candles and celebrate the holidays with thousands of carolers in the city’s heart. The event begins at 7 p.m. and lasts an hour.
5. Celebration in the Oaks
Celebration in the Oaks, a cherished New Orleans tradition since the late 1980s, has become one of the country’s most enchanting holiday lights festivals. Drawing over 135,000 visitors from across the globe to City Park, this family-friendly event spans from November 23 to December 30. The festival offers a Driving Tour that takes 30 to 45 minutes to cover 2.25 miles or a Walking Tour that lasts approximately 90 minutes and also gives access to both the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and the Botanical Garden. Tickets start from $5
6. Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Levee
Southern Louisiana has a long-standing tradition of lighting bonfires along the Mississippi River on Christmas Eve. It’s suggested that these bonfires either guide “Papa Noël,” the Cajun Santa Claus, on his journey or light the way to Midnight Mass at the nearest Catholic church.
Whatever you believe, everyone can enjoy this special event at dusk on Christmas Eve at St. James Parish, in and around Gramercy, Lutcher, and Paulina along the River Roads on both sides of the Mississippi River. If you’re visiting New Orleans and would like a guided tour, Grayline offers a five-hour return coach tour to witness this spectacle in Cajun country for $74.
7. Steamboat Natchez Jazz Cruise
Taking a trip on one of the historic steamboats is part of the magic of a vacation to New Orleans at any time of year, but when you combine that with the spirit of Christmas, you have an extra special event. Listen to live jazz and holiday music while savoring a delicious Creole-style menu from talented chefs.
This is a unique Christmas Eve celebration on the mighty Mississippi River with the New Orleans skyline as your backdrop. Steamboat Natchez has two dinner seating times available at 6 p.m. and 7.45 p.m. It’s $95 per adult for the dinner buffet and cruise with children and seniors at discounted rates.
8. Christmas Mass at St. Louis Cathedral
Since 1727, this iconic site has served as a place of Catholic worship for New Orleanians. On Christmas Eve, the cathedral hosts a Catholic Vigil at 5:00 p.m. and a Midnight Catholic Mass, with doors opening at 11:15 p.m. The Mass commences at midnight, preceded by a delightful prelude of music starting at 11:30 p.m. Christmas Day features Catholic services at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., making this historic cathedral a central hub for Catholic spiritual celebrations during the holiday season.
9. Holiday Parades
On December 2, there will be two Christmas parades. The Children’s Hospital Holiday Parade will start at the French Market at 11 a.m., head down Decatur Street, and end at Lafayette Square. It will feature 30 enchanting holiday-themed floats, soaring helium balloons, over a dozen lively dance groups, and marching bands, all in aid of the Children’s Hospital. On a darker note, the Krampus NOLAuf Parade begins at 7:30 p.m. from Royal Street near Mazant Street. You might just end up with a lump of coal at this parade.
10. Holiday Concerts
New Orleans and jazz go hand in hand, so Christmas concerts are expected to feature heavily at this time of year. The free choral concerts held at the St. Louis Cathedral are a beloved holiday tradition. These concerts feature talented musicians, church choirs, and singers from various genres, including jazz, classical, gospel, and pop. Additionally, in the Central City neighborhood, the Ashé Powerhouse Theater serves as a cultural center focusing on the African diaspora. Be sure to check for special Christmas concerts whenever you’re in town.
11. NOLA ChristmasFest
The southern city isn’t known for its wintery climate, but December is a special time of year. NOLA ChristmasFest is a fantastic indoor holiday event from December 21 – 30 in New Orleans, offering a range of family-friendly activities. It includes New Orleans’ only pop-up ice skating rink, the Kringle Carousel, carnival rides, inflatables, and opportunities to meet Santa and other holiday characters. Visitors can enjoy indoor Christmas activities, beautifully decorated trees, dazzling lights, and more.
12. Hermann-Grima House – 19th Century Christmas
Visitors can visit this historic house museum in New Orleans and learn about Christmas and New Year’s traditions in 19th-century New Orleans during a guided tour. The house will be decorated with traditional decorations. Topics will feature aspects of gift-giving, festive meals, seasonal adornments, and the influence of these activities on the lives of enslaved individuals working on the Hermann-Grima property. Open every day except Tuesdays. I recommend booking online.