New Orleans begins its extended holiday season in December, which begins with Christmas and ends some time after crawfish season is over and the balmy summer weather kicks in — with pomp, elegance and traditions that date back to generations before us. We know how to celebrate, whether it be keeping alive the spirit of Réveillon dinners, which has now grown into a month-long “restaurant week” of festive prix fixe dinners that will keep you with a full calendar of eating adventures or caroling happily with strangers in Jackson Square. In addition to the time-honored tradition of Celebration in the Oaks in New Orleans City Park, there are so many lights and decorations across the city to explore. There are French Quarter balconies decked to the nines with garland and lights, and fabulous hotel decorations that will make even the most Scrooge-iest member of your group stop and smile. While you’re out and about enjoying the New Orleans holiday festivities, stop and take in these stunning decorations, starting with our top five favorites.
1. Hotel Monteleone
Maybe the brass shines a little brighter during the Christmas season at the grand dame of landmark French Quarter hotels. Before taking a spin and having cocktails at the newly renovated and expanded Carousel Bar and Lounge, enjoy the intimate but ornate lobby of the Hotel Monteleone as it complements the understated elegance of its decor with Christmas trees just begging for photo-ops.
2. Roosevelt Hotel
New Orleans’ most famous lobby is worth the stroll-through, with at least one pit stop at the Fountain Lounge, The Sazerac Bar, Teddy’s Cafe or Domenica for Happy Hour. This is one stop on the holiday decorations tour that New Orleanians have made into a tradition for generations. It’s not uncommon for cab drivers to drop passengers off on the University Place entrance in the CBD, circle around the block and meet their passengers around the corner at the Baronne Street entrance to the Roosevelt, and we can’t blame them for indulging anyone the pleasure of sauntering through this block-long paradise.
3. French Market
Before or after enjoying beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde, the French Market — the six block stretch of shops and stalls along the river, all bedecked with garland and lights — will get you in the mood for a slow stroll through the French Quarter, and maybe a concert in St. Louis Cathedral.
3. Garden District
It’s romantic at any time of the year, but the Garden District’s opulent architecture and classic Christmas decor go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. While a walk around the neighborhood may be panacea to any bah-humbug feelings you may be harboring, a chance to visit the decorated inside of not one but seven homes in the Garden District at the 38th Annual Preservation Resource Center Holiday Home Tour always impresses and inspires. Mark your calendars on December 14-15 for a chance to step inside these incredible homes.
4. French Quarter
I was standing with a big smile on my face, photographing one beautifully decorated building on Royal Street, while calling my mother asking where this other house we both love to seek out every year is. Sure enough, I was standing underneath it the whole time. Lesson learned: walk down both sides of the street to see all the holiday cheer! Another rare opportunity to peek into some homes in the French Quarter happens yearly around Christmas: the Patio Planters Holiday Home Tour is December 22 — the same day as Caroling in Jackson Square!
5. Steamboat Natchez
New Orleans’ iconic riverboat is already festive in white and red, but a touch of green garland is all it takes to make its regular daily excursions along the Mississippi River into one Santa and his reindeer will stop and take notice!
All photos by Paul Broussard