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Christmas in New Orleans

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This post is about all the great events and activities in New Orleans during the holiday season.

We list holiday-themed tours, dazzling light displays, traditional events, winter festivals, Christmas performances, and more.

NOTE: Due to the pandemic, many events are uncertain at this time. We are updating this post every two weeks.

 


OVERVIEW

While Mardi Gras may be a big reason that New Orleans is a prime destination, Christmas in NOLA is very enticing as well!  

This city is rich in centuries-old folklore which contributes to the unique holiday traditions still celebrated today.

From Christmas Eve bonfires along the Mississippi River to sumptuous Réveillon feasts, caroling in Jackson Square to touring historic homes lit up for Christmas, there is no shortage of things to do in NOLA at the holidays.
Don't forget the things that make New Orleans a year-round destination! Check out our ghost, swamp, plantation, and riverboat tour posts.

Many of the above activities are included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass.

If you are coming at the end of the month and staying through January, see our post, Things to do in January in NOLA.

TIP: You will definitely want to take a look at the December Weather before you pack for your trip! 


HOLIDAY-THEMED TOURS

Pay-What-You-Like Creole Christmas French Quarter Walking Tour

This Free Tours by Foot tour is designed to allow you to see the holiday lights while you are led through this historic neighborhood, learning about the Papa Noel story, traditional catholic creole Christmas observations, and Christmas bonfires. 

Christmas in New Orleans Video

You will also learn what makes a Creole Christmas decoration, which constitutes a Revellion dinner and finish off with the option to enjoy a holiday cocktail.  

You will also hear a few non-Christmas related stories, learn about the distinct French Quarter architecture, the many traditions of the area, as well as its general history. 

See our tour page for our Creole Christmas French Quarter Walking Tour for more information and to book. 


Garden District Holiday Homes Tour 

The Preservation Resource Center offers a self-guided tour of seven private residences in the Garden District.

These historic houses are decorated for the holiday season, and you may even have the opportunity to speak with the homeowners.

This event will take place on December 11th and 12th in 2021.

Tickets are $50.  Click here for additional information.

All proceeds from this tour benefit the PRC, which is dedicated to preserving the unique and wonderful architecture of New Orleans. 

TIP: While you are in the neighborhood, take a look at our post on things to see and do in the Garden District


Holiday-Themed Riverboat Cruises

Both the Steamboat Natchez and the Creole Queen Paddlewheeler offer special activities to celebrate the holiday season.

Some sails will offer a holiday buffet, but others stick to food items such as tea and hors d'oeuvres. 

If you are traveling with kids, the Papa Noel Cruise on the Creole Queen is perfect!

Creole Queen Paddlewheeler

Steamboat Natchez

Find out more about both these cruise boats from our post on riverboat cruises in New Orleans.


Christmas Eve Bonfire Bus Tours

Grayline Tours has two coach tours planned for December 24, 2021, that take you to see the traditional Christmas activity of lighting huge bonfires along the Mississippi River. 

Read more about this unique holiday tradition below.

Bonfire Adventure Tour 

A 6½-hour tour that includes a visit to the San Francisco Plantation where you'll have a holiday dinner will then ride the bus through St. James Parish to see the Christmas Eve bonfires. 

Bonfire Express Tour

A 4-hour tour that takes you right to the bonfires. Dec. 24, 2021, at 4:45 pm.

Learn more about these tours.


Visit a Plantation for a Special Holiday Celebration

A unique way to celebrate the holidays is to visit one of the many historic plantations that surround New Orleans.

Some offer seasonal activities in celebration of Christmas, so check out our post about New Orleans Plantations to see what plantations you can visit.


New Orleans Drunk History Tour - Christmas Edition

The highly-rated Drunk History Tour, offered by Nawlins Theatrical Tours,  is offering a Christmas edition. 

Like the regular Drunk History Tour, the Christmas edition is a fun and informative tour about the history of some of the best bars in the French Quarter.

Taking this tour during the holiday seasons comes with the extra perk of enjoying the colorful Christmas lights strung on the bars and historic buildings you will visit on this tour.

Tour schedule:

  • The tour runs throughout the month of December in 2021
  • Nightly at 7 pm
  • Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm and 4 pm

Price: $35 per person, drinks not included. More information and to purchase tickets here.

TIP: Keep in mind that the tour will be prettier after the sun goes down and holiday lights are on, so try for the 7 pm tour.


Pay-What-You-Like Cocktail Tour

As an alternative to a ticketed tour, you might like to try our guided Pay-What-You-Like Cocktail Tour. The tour is free to join!

We operate on a Pay-What-You-Like basis, but drink samples included in the tour are not free, however. But they are delicious!

During the holidays, you can find specially crafted Christmas cocktails in bars and lounges. 

Drinks like the Candy Cane Martini, Mistletoe Cocktail, and the Yule Shoot Your Eye Out Cocktail, are just a few. 

Our stops at one or two bars that may be offering once-a-year Christmas concoctions.

Find out more about the tour here.

 


HOLIDAY LIGHTS DISPLAYS

In a city that is already so festive year-round, you can expect a good amount of holiday lights displays. NOLA will not disappoint!


Celebration in the Oaks 

Every holiday season, New Orleans' City Park wraps its famous oak trees up in lights.

In addition to the wonderfully lit oaks, you'll also see displays in areas such as their Botanical Garden and the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. 

This event attracts more than 165,000 visitors every year, making it one of the most popular holiday activities in New Orleans.

With that in mind, we suggest you purchase tickets ahead of time. Check their website for more information and to buy tickets

Ticket Prices

  • Driving Tour: $39.99/Sedans & SUVs
  • Monday Bike Nights: $5 per person
  • Carousel Gardens Experience: $39.99 + $25 per person

2021 Dates & Hours

  • Open November 25th, 2021 - January 2nd, 2022
  • Sun-Thur 6 pm - 10 pm and Fri & Sat  5 pm- 11 pm 
  • Open Christmas Night 6 pm-9 pm with Last entry at 8:30 pm
  • Closed Christmas Eve, Closed New Year's Eve

By the way, City Park is a year-round must-see destination in NOLA!  


Holiday Lights in the French Quarter

You'll find a lovely lit Christmas Tree in the French Quarter at 749 Decatur Street. 

The French Market, as well as several homes and businesses in the French Quarter,  are splendidly decorated for the holidays.

In particular, the displays on Royal Street and Chartres Street are often very beautiful. 

TIP: See our post on tours of the French Quarter. We offer a pay-what-you-wish tour of the French Quarter as well as a self-guided GPS-enabled audio tour and food and cocktail tours in the French Quarter.


LUNA Fête 

LUNA Fête (Light Up NOLA Arts Fete) is a free outdoor exhibition of large-scale light installations that are placed throughout Downtown NOLA near Lafayette Square.

2021 dates are uncertain.

These innovative works of art integrate architecture, motion graphics, sound design, and video-mapping practices.

While that sounds complicated, the result is simple: beautiful displays of light!

Installations lit up between 6 pm - 10 pm nightly. 

In addition to seeing the installations, there will also be a nightly art market, drinks, and food from local vendors at Lafayette Square.

Check their website for details.


Hotel Holiday Decorations

Every December, several upscale hotels dress up their lobbies for the holidays. The public is welcome to come in and take a look.

The Roosevelt New Orleans is one of these hotels. Santa Claus shows up for the lighting ceremony each year! 

The Ritz-Carlton has Santa’s toy shop while the Royal Sonesta has Christmas Tree Land. Windsor Court boats one of the tallest Christmas trees in the city.

Harrah’s Hotel has an outdoor light display as well as a display of gingerbread house versions of recognizable New Orleans buildings. 

NOTE: The only Hotel to confirm their plans for 2021 so far is Royal Sonesta, and they have indicated that they will have Christmas decorations and Santa's Pajama Party on weekends at Restaurant R'evolution.


Audubon Zoo Lights

In honor of the holidays, Audubon Zoo provides a lot of great things to see and do during their Zoo Lights event. 

The main attraction is their lighting displays, many of which are designed to look just like some of the most popular animals at the zoo, including alligators, elephants, tigers, and more.

Aside from the holiday lights, there are also several fun activities such as photos with Santa Claus, creating your own lighting display, and riding the carousel or train.

  • Tickets: $18 at the gate | $15 online
  • Kids 2 and under get in for free.
  • Dates: Unconfirmed for 2021.
  • Hours: 6 pm - 9 pm
  • Learn more about Zoo Lights.

 


FESTIVALS AND SPECIAL EVENTS

New Orleans has countless holiday activities, winter festivals, special events and they are suitable for people of all ages.

Some are especially good for children, like Teddy Bear Teas.

We list these very kid-friendly activities toward the end of this section. Click here to jump down in the post.


Jackson Square Caroling

One of the most popular holiday events in New Orleans is the Jackson Square Caroling, a holiday tradition since 1946.

The gates to Jackson Square open at 6:30 pm on December 19th, 2021. Caroling begins at 7 p.m.

Song sheets and candles are provided to all who choose to participate in the holiday gathering.

This is a very popular event, so you are strongly advised to arrive early if you want to be able to participate and not just watch from afar. 

TIP: While you are there, explore the area before or after the carols with our Jackson Square self-guided tour!


Bonfires on the Levee on Christmas Eve

Dating back to the earliest Cajuns settlers, this tradition involves the creation of huge bonfires along the Mississippi River on Christmas Eve.

Most bonfires are set up in communities adjoining communities of Gramercy, Lutcher, and Paulina in St. James Parish, about 30-40 miles upriver from New Orleans.

Granted it is not easy for those without a car to see this incredible expansive stretch of bonfires.

Grayline Tours has two coach tours on December 24, 2020, that take you to see this unforgettable spectacle.

See above to find out about these tours.


Algiers Bonfire

Early each December, the neighborhood of Algiers hosts a bonfire on the bank of the Mississippi River at the levee at 200 Morgan St. on the West Bank.

There will be bands, food vendors, and a festive atmosphere. You just need to bring yourself, a blanket to sit on and enjoy the night with the locals.

Check their website often as the date may not be listed until the last minute. It's well worth it.

Read our post on things to see and do in Algiers Point and how to get there by ferry.


Festival of the Bonfires

This event takes the simple bonfire tradition and turns it into an entire festival with rides, music, and food.

Held over three nights, December 10th - 12th, 2021, the Festival of the Bonfires gives you three chances to see some bonfires! 

The festival takes place at Lutcher Recreational Park. See more information here.


Réveillon Dinners

Dating back to the 1800s, every Christmas, Creoles celebrated the season by having a big family feast after returning home from midnight mass.

In modern times, several local restaurants serve up large meals of their own in honor of this wonderful custom.

Learn more about these meals on both our pay-what-you-wish Creole Christmas Tour and our pay-what-you-wish French Quarter Food Tour.

Although some of these locations stick to the traditional fare, others experiment with new and different kinds of food.

No matter which establishment you choose, Réveillon Dinners are an excellent way to celebrate the holidays. Prices range from $30-$60 per person.


The Krewe of Jingle Parade

Watch as fun, festive floats and marching bands roll down Canal Street during this yearly holiday event.

 
Although this can be a family-friendly activity, it's worth noting that some visitors can get pretty rowdy.

The parade will probably take place early in December 2021, but official dates and times have yet to be confirmed.

If you are not familiar with what a Krewe is, read our post on Mardi Gras Krewes and Parades.


KID-FRIENDLY CHRISTMAS ACTIVITIES

Here are activities that are very kid-friendly. Sure, some adults would enjoy a Teddy Bear Tea, but maybe not as much as a younger person might! 


NOLA Christmas Fest

This family-friendly festival has an indoor ice skating rink, carnival rides, ice slides, a carousel, and inflatables to jump on. 

There are plenty of Christmas lights and decorations. Children can also enjoy a Gingerbread House exhibit and take photos with Santa.

Admission is quite reasonable as everything is included except for the cost of food, parking, face painting and pictures with Santa will cost extra. Check out the video.


Teddy Bear Teas

This is one of the more popular traditions in New Orleans, and you will find several different restaurants and other locations offering a Teddy Bear Tea event.

In addition to holiday-themed tea, these events also often include either a visit with Papa Noel, free teddy bears, and/or various other treats and gifts.

One very good option is the BB Stage Door Canteen at the National WW2 Museum.

This museum is one of the finest memorial museums in the country and is an immersive museum making it engaging for children as well as adults. 

You can also find Teddy Bear Teas at the Roosevelt Hotel and The Royal Sonesta Hotel.

NOTE: Teddy Bear Teas are not confirmed for 2021, but BB's Stage Door Canteen will have a concert series called "A Swinging Christmas."


Ride on the Polar Express

This event is canceled in 2021.

Brought to you by Amtrak, this one-hour train ride recreates the fun-filled Christmas ride on the Polar Express from the movie of the same name. 

With your Golden Ticket, you'll board the train and be greeted by Santa and his helpers. 

On the trip, characters from the film will engage passengers in caroling and other onboard entertainment, just like the ride in the movie.

You'll get hot chocolate and a yummy cookie, then there'll be a read-along to the classic children’s book, The Polar Express.

When your ride is done, everyone gets a keepsake sleigh bell.

The Polar Express is canceled for 2021. 

Tickets range in price from $38 - $68 depending on the time slot you choose. See more from their website.

TIP: See our guide to New Orleans with kids for more family-friendly ideas for any time of year.

 


HOLIDAY PERFORMANCES

The Nutcracker

This beloved ballet is a holiday tradition, and you can catch it this December in New Orleans.

You have not one, but THREE different productions of the Nutcracker in 2020, in NOLA!

New Orleans Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker

  • December 11th, 12th, 18th, and 19th, 2021.
  • At the Orpheum Theater. 
  • Learn more here.

Delta Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker 

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker


The Victory Belles Sing the Holiday Classics

Head over to the National WWII Museum to hear the holiday favorites as sung by the in-house vocal trio, who perform in the 1940s style. 

They'll be singing all your favorites and then some! 2020 dates are uncertain.

The National WW2 Museum is an excellent destination while in New Orleans as it is one of the best war museums in the country. 

For Christmas 2021, the Victory Belles will be performing a concert series called "A Swinging Christmas." The show will be available on various dates throughout December. Tickets are $40 on weekends and $51.50 on weekdays.

Purchase tickets or learn more.


St. Louis Cathedral Concert Series

Every December, the St. Louis Cathedral holds a series of concerts to celebrate Christmas. Over the course of several nights, local musicians perform free concerts for the public.

In addition to more traditional fare, you can also expect a mixture of Jazz, Cajun, and Latin holiday music.

These performances typically start at 6:00 pm and last for approximately one hour.

Check the Holiday Concert Schedule for more information.

You can also check the New Orleans Holiday Concerts calendar to find other festive musical performances in December 2021.

St. Louis Cathedral is a stop on several of our guided walking tours as well as our self-guided tour of the French Quarter.  


CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

     

Merriment on Magazine Street merriment on magazine street poster

Starting on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), Merriment on Magazine Street begins.

Magazine Street's businesses are dressed up for the holidays. You'll have six miles of shopping, food, and entertainment.

This is a great way to support local businesses so come on out and do some shopping on Magazine Street

NOTE: The name of this event might be changed for 2021, but they do have plans for special activities and promotions during this holiday season.


Santa's Quarters

If you want to shop for Christmas decorations, there's no better store than Santa's Quarters.

This store is dedicated to celebrating the holiday spirit with a plethora of unique and wonderful decorative pieces.

Even if you don't intend to purchase anything, it's still a lot of fun to walk in and look at the various baubles and ornaments that they have for sale.  

Santa's Quarters is located at 1025 Decatur Street.


Shopping by Neighborhood

French Quarter

Stroll Royal Street where you'll have many, many choices for one of a kind gifts, like vintage clothes, antiques, jewelry, and more. 

Be sure to check out the Arts Market New Orleans in Palmer Park. Dates for December 2021 are unconfirmed, but this event will likely take place.

Garden District

As part of New Orleans' Preservation Resource Center’s Holiday Home Tours, a holiday boutique will usually take place on in mid-Dec.

Held at the Trinity Episcopal Church at 1329 Jackson Ave., the market typically features items from local artisans and boutiques.

The market is free to enter, but the Holiday Home Tours does have a fee (see above). Dates are unconfirmed for 2021.

 


NEW YEAR'S EVE

Christmas may be over, but NOLA doesn't stop celebrating until they ring in the new year!

There are all sorts of events, from free public gatherings to parties in clubs, New Year's cruises, and even events just for kids. Take a look below to find what's right for you!


Countdown in Jackson Square

This free annual New Orleans New Year’s Eve celebration culminates at midnight with the dropping of a fleur-de-lis from the top of JAX Brewery.

Afterward, there will be a grand fireworks display.


New Year’s Eve Fireworks Cruises

Both the Steamboat Natchez and the Creole Queen Paddlewheeler offer New Year's Eve cruises

Steamboat Natchez - New Year’s Eve Fireworks Cruise

Creole Queen Paddlewheeler - New Year’s Eve Fireworks Cruise

Find out more about both these cruise boats from our post on riverboat cruises in New Orleans.


Zoo Year's Eve

Unconfirmed for 2021.

A perfect event for the kids! Rather than celebrate the new year at midnight, the Audobon Zoo holds a countdown at noon after a few hours of music, games, and prizes.

Pepsi is substituted for champagne, ensuring that the kids have something sweet and bubbly to drink as they ring in the new year!

This event is complimentary with admission to the Audubon Zoo.  See more information here.


Sugar Bowl Parade

In celebration of the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day, the Sugar Bowl Parade will be held on New Year's Eve.

This parade begins at about 2:30 pm at the intersection of Elysian Fields Avenue and Decatur Street.

With a wide variety of floats, bands, and other participants, there will be plenty to see and do during this event.

They'll even be passing the Allstate Fan Fest on Decatur street, where the parade will be broadcast from 2 pm - 5 pm.

Even if you're not interested in football, this should be a fun family activity!

TIP: The parade will be traveling down Decatur Street in the French Quarter. We recommend finding a good spot somewhere between Conti Street and St. Philip Street.


Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve!

Unconfirmed, but planned for 2021.

Although this event is typically held in New York City, they have since expanded the countdown to New Orleans.

When it's time for the Central Time Zone to celebrate, live segments will be shot in NOLA with an exclusive performance from the Allstate Fan Fest. Get all the details here!

For even more New Year's Eve events, check our post on things to do in December in New Orleans

Wondering how to spend New Year's Day? Our post on things to do in New Orleans in January has some suggestions.


About The Author

Sarah

Sarah first moved to New Orleans in 2001 to work for the American Red Cross of Southeast Louisiana. While working in the communities of New Orleans she fell in love with the unique culture of the Big Easy; it's food, music, architecture, wildlife, and most of all history. Sarah began her career with FTBF, first as a guide, then as an owner/operator. She believes every day is a good day if she gets to impart her love of her beloved New Orleans with Free Tours By Foot guests. She especially likes to convert new Who Dat Saints Fans!
Updated: October 14th, 2021
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