Christmas Destinations

NOLA Noel: Unique Christmas Traditions in New Orleans

Explore some of the unique Christmas traditions New Orleans offers during the holiday season & discover how they are influenced by Mardi Gras and local culture.

by | February 21, 2023

Ornament of a Jester in Mardi Gras colors on a Christmas Tree on display for the holiday season in New Orleans

When it comes to Christmas traditions, New Orleans has its own unique way of celebrating the holiday. From elaborate light displays to festive parades, there's no shortage of ways to get into the holiday spirit in the Crescent City. And while many of these traditions are distinctly Christmas-oriented, they're often infused with the same sense of fun, community, and indulgence that characterizes Mardi Gras.

New Orleans Traditions

One of the most beloved New Orleans Christmas traditions is the Celebration in the Oaks. This event takes place every year at City Park, and features thousands of twinkling lights and beautiful decorations. Visitors can walk through the park and take in the sights, or hop aboard the train for a magical ride through the displays. In addition to the lights, there are also special events throughout the season, including live music, visits with Santa Claus, and even a toy train exhibit.

Another popular holiday event in New Orleans is the Krewe of Jingle parade. This parade is a more recent addition to the city's holiday traditions, having started in 2009. However, it's quickly become a beloved part of the season. The parade features festive floats, marching bands, and plenty of holiday cheer. And, of course, it wouldn't be a New Orleans parade without plenty of throws! Instead of Mardi Gras beads, however, the Krewe of Jingle throws out candy canes and other holiday treats.

Of course, no New Orleans celebration would be complete without food, and Christmas is no exception. One unique holiday food tradition in the city is the Reveillon dinner. This tradition dates back to the 1800s, when French Creole families would have a late-night meal after attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The Reveillon menu often featured rich, indulgent foods like gumbo, oysters, and sweet treats like king cake. Today, many New Orleans restaurants offer their own take on the Reveillon dinner, often featuring a prix fixe menu with a variety of traditional and modern dishes.

Another fun Christmas tradition in New Orleans is the annual Running of the Santas. This event takes place in the Warehouse District, and features thousands of people dressed up in Santa costumes, running through the streets to raise money for charity. The event also features live music, drinks, and plenty of holiday cheer. While the Running of the Santas is a relatively recent addition to the city's holiday traditions, it's quickly become a must-attend event for locals and visitors alike.

A Mardi Gras Christmas

While many of these traditions are unique to Christmas, they share a lot in common with the city's other major celebration: Mardi Gras. Both holidays are marked by a sense of community and togetherness, as well as a willingness to indulge in good food, drink, and company. And, of course, both holidays feature plenty of festive parades, colorful decorations, and lively music.

In fact, some of New Orleans' Christmas traditions are directly influenced by Mardi Gras. For example, the Krewe of Jingle parade is organized by the same team behind the city's Mardi Gras parades, and many of the floats and decorations feature similar designs and themes. And the Running of the Santas, with its emphasis on fun, costumes, and charity, is reminiscent of the city's second-line parades and other Mardi Gras events.

But perhaps the biggest similarity between Christmas and Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the sense of joy and celebration that both holidays bring. For locals and visitors alike, these holidays are an opportunity to come together, let loose, and enjoy all that the city has to offer. From the lights and decorations to the festive parades and indulgent food, there's a sense that anything is possible during the holiday season in New Orleans.

Whether you're savoring a Reveillon dinner, admiring the dazzling displays at Celebration in the Oaks, or running through the streets in a Santa suit, there's a contagious energy in the air during the holidays in The Big Easy. It's a feeling that locals look forward to all year, and one that visitors often can't help but fall in love with.

And while there are certainly differences between Christmas and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, they share a common thread of joy, community, and celebration. Whether you're indulging in a slice of king cake or catching a strand of beads, there's a sense of whimsy and magic that infuses the city during these festive seasons.

Christmas In New Orleans

So, if you're looking to experience the holidays in a new way, consider heading down to New Orleans to take part in some of these unique and beloved traditions. Whether you're a lifelong fan of the city or a first-time visitor, you're sure to find something that will help you get into the holiday spirit and create memories that will last a lifetime. Who knows, you might even catch The Elf Squad parading down Bourbon Street!

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