Christmas in New Orleans
AAA Going Places Magazine

Known for the birth of the blues and jazz, Mardi Gras and fabulous feasts, New Orleans is without a doubt a party town. But the most magical and joyous time to visit “The Big Easy” is Christmas time. Papa Noel doesn’t just jingle, but jives and jams.

Photo Credit - AAA Going Places Magazine

The spicy scents of Creole and Cajun cuisine permeate the air of the French Quarter, with its cast-iron-laced balconies bedecked with bright red ribbons and wreaths. The exquisite mansions, tree-lined Garden District and Uptown, and City Park illuminate with millions of tiny, colored lights—creating a spectacular sparkle to this sizzling city. The bayous are ablaze with bonfires lighting up the Mississippi, further adding a dramatic edge to the holiday festivities.

Christmas in the Crescent City is one spirited and soulful experience—and a chance to relive 300-year-old European, American and African history. Walk through the famed Bourbon Street and neighboring narrow pathways to eye a costumed parade of characters and carolers. Music emanates everywhere, from bistros to bars, churches and clubs. And, oh, the aromas. Some 26 restaurants prepare the traditional Creole reveillon (awakening), a four- or five-course dinner (from $30-$40) reminiscent of the family feast of the 1800s. These lavish meals were served after a Christmas Eve fast and savored from sunrise on.

This Christmas dinner offers an array of creative Creole dishes to choose from: turtle soup, homemade alligator stew, grilled quail, sweetbreads, seafood gumbo, crawfish Etoufee and jambalaya. One place to enjoy some of these holiday delicacies is Galatoire (209 Bourbon Street), a favorite local and tourist spot. Though the atmosphere can get a bit noisy and informal, men are still required to wear jackets. Broussard’s (819 Conti) offers a reveillon with a German influence. The sumptuous soups and salads are just a precursor to the mouthwatering entrees to come, prepared with just the perfect blend of herbs and spices. And, oh what a bouillabaisse.

Photo Credit - AAA Going Places Magazine
At the center of the city’s celebration and heartbeat, Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral, free concerts and performances are held day and night. A fine vantage point for people watching is the landmark Café Du Monde, where those irresistible beignets (delicately prepared donuts with powdered sugar) are served piping hot from the onsite bakery along with a café au lait (chicory and steamed milk combo). Since this popular place attracts droves of visitors, avoid the long lines and head down Decatur Street to Café Beignet, where you can also sample the town’s best bread pudding, the signature holiday dessert.  

The Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter), housed in the restored 1794 house, is yet another alternative for enjoying a generous gumbo overflowing with chunks of chicken, seafood and vegetables. It’s also a great pre-theater stopover before attending the “must-see” musical, the Christmas Concert at Le Petit Theatre, featuring some of the hottest jazz artists ($20 for adult-priced tickets). If you are still musically inclined after the show, take a five-minute stroll to Storyville District (125 Bourbon Street) for an intimate late night jam session of R&B. If you can get past the long lines, try the Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter), the home of N’awlin’s jazz greats. Speaking of music, The House of Blues (225 Decatur) should be on your nightlife list.

The best way to work off that high-caloric Creole cooking is to take a walking tour. The Friends of the Cabildo, part of the Louisiana State Museum (523 St. Ann Street at Jackson Square), conducts morning and afternoon strolls through the French Quarter. The Historic New Orleans Walking Tours, which meet at the Garden District Book Shop (2727 Prytania), escort you afoot through the magnificent mansions of the Garden District. Writer Anne Rice’s house is particularly noticeable with its balconies tied in giant-size red bows to keep the spirit. You can also take private tours of several of these historic homes. Residents in full 19th-century regalia preserve the authenticity of the past.

Meander along Magazine Street amid a potpourri of antique shops, boutiques and galleries. Considered antique row, Royal Street goes all out in creating festive facades for holiday shoppers.

Need to rest those weary feet? Hop on the St. Charles/Carrollton trolley car for a ride through the lush Garden District and Uptown. Not far from the end of the line, you can experience a two -mile storybook stroll through the Celebration In the Oaks in City Park.

If you have time, take the Grey Line Plantation Tour to Nottoway, the 53,000 square-foot Greek and Italianate revival which is the south’s largest plantation.

Christmas in the Crescent City would not be complete without a stopover at the magnificently adorned lobby of the landmark Fairmont Hotel. The 220-foot white angel hair canopy, studded with over 70,000 tiny lights, transforms this hotel into a winter wonderland.

The hotel’s historic Sazerac Bar, which claims the name of the world’s first cocktail, is where you can toast in the New Year and people watch while surrounded by hand-painted murals depicting New Orleans’ past.

New Year’s Eve in New Orleans is most memorable viewing the midnight fireworks extravaganza from Jax on Jackson Square or from Harrah’s Casino. The all-night street party will be the finale to your holiday sojourn through this charismatic and congenial city.

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