Before You Go
Many events, including caroling and St. Louis Cathedral concerts are free, and hotels offer discounted Papa Noel rates. For more details, contact French Quarter Festivals at 1-800-673-5725 or visit online at
the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, 1-800-474-7620 or

For Travel Assistance
Visit your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides.
Order travel materials online or use our online travel research tools.

Trail of Lights illuminates Louisiana

Along the bayous and towns of Louisiana, a Trail of Lights marks the advent of the Christmas season.

The custom began in Natchitoches in 1927. Today, this City of Lights blazes with 300,000 colored bulbs and 77 tableaux illuminating the banks of the Cane River Lake for its annual Christmas festival, Nov. 26– Dec. 31. Like the flame from a solitary candle, the practice spread across the state.

The Trail of Lights zigs and zags from Jonesboro to Natchitoches, Alexandria and Pineville, through Allen Parish, Lake Charles, Lafayette and south along Bayou Teche and the Cajun Coast. Each community has its own surprises.

At Jonesboro, Christmas Wonderland in the Pines on Nov. 30 features a tunnel of lights in Santa Claus Park, created for the event. Historic St. Martinville’s square glows with twinkling lights and angels during the St. Lucy Festival of Light on Dec. 8. Lighted floats and fireworks kicks off the Cajun Christmas Bayou Parade, Nov. 29 and 30, in Breaux Bridge.

In Lafayette, Santa and his flying reindeer leap into the sky in late November at the Oil Center business district. Christmas Renaissance Festival of Lights, Dec. 6–7, sets the tone for the season. Stroll the streets while listening to musical groups.

Illuminated bridges, trees and buildings of the historic Acadian Village create a stunning background for family-style entertainment, Nov. 23–Dec. 23. Candles light the paths at Vermilionville on Dec. 13–14 where living history demonstrations include traditional cooking methods, making rag dolls and old-fashioned decorations.

Beginning with a boat parade and fireworks, Light Up the Lake on Dec. 7 sets the entire downtown aglow in Lake Charles. For Les Granders Lumieres, Nov. 23–Jan. 2 in southern Louisiana’s Allen Parish, families decorate trailers and vehicles for an old-fashioned horse-and-buggy parade. Throughout the area, plantation and historic town homes are decorated with 19th-century finery. Elsewhere fireworks, street festivals, home tours, boat parades and music set the scene for weekend celebrations throughout December.

–Carolyn Thornton

Thousands of lights shine in Natchitoches during the city’s Christmas festival. /Louisiana Office of Tourism photo

10 Reasons
to celebrate the holidays in New Orleans, with Christmases past not only remembered but relived

Published: Nov/Dec 2002
By Carolyn Thornton

Throughout December, the Louisiana Living History Project presents portrayals of historic figures from New Orleans’ past in Jackson Square (above). The Fairmont Hotel’s famous Angel Hair Lobby glows during the holidays (below). /Carolyn Thornton photos.
The facade of St. Louis Cathedral appears ethereal in December when the light from hundreds of candles fills Jackson Square. Residents and tourists, representing many ethnic groups, unite here in song. Some wear floppy Santa hats, others sequined finery. Even the carriage driver’s mule wearing red reindeer antlers seems to be listening.
1. For more than 50 years, carolers
have assembled in Jackson Square, blazing the way for caroling events elsewhere, including Washington Square and the Steamboat Natchez. But that’s just one reason to celebrate Christmases past and present throughout December in New Orleans. Here are 11 more to delight every family member.

Visitors from the past

2. As fog swirls in from the Mississippi River it cloaks the French Quarter in a gauzy mist. In this timeless setting, Le Petit Theatre presents the Louisiana Living History Project, portrayals of historic citizens, held Dec. 3–25 in Jackson Square.

One discussion concerned the proper way to make eggnog. Andrew Jackson insisted it should contain Tennessee sour mash. Thomy Lafon, a free man of color and philanthropist, suggested Jamaican rum. The Baroness Pontalba favored French Brandy.

“It is the drink of New Orleans. The city is awash in eggnog,” she said.

Sister Henriette Delille, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was born a free woman of color.

“In my youth I would surely have said New Orleans was a French city,” she explained during a lyceum discussion. “As I am older, it is a city not just of buildings, but the people who inhabit it, French, Spanish, German, Irish, West African. An American city, a melting pot.”

A feast of traditions

3.. That melting pot aptly describes the city’s celebrations. Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré (616 St. Peter St.), for example, doubles as the site for daily cooking demonstrations (Dec. 1–23, 23–30) by the city’s renowned chefs. Recipes and tastings are the main ingredients of this free event.

The Hermann-Grima House Museum demonstrates cooking in its restored 1830s open-hearth kitchen. A class allows children to stir the pot while making an old-fashioned treat.

4. In the 19th century, families gathered on Christmas Eve, sipping eggnog in anticipation of attending midnight Mass. Afterward, they broke their communion fast with Reveillon, a feast that often lasted until daybreak. Twenty-eight restaurants in New Orleans offer Reveillon menus throughout December, combining Creole traditions and contemporary cookery. Beignets might be filled with foie gras, or smoked rabbit served with wild mushroom gumbo. Dessert might be a miniature gingerbread house with pumpkin pie mousse served at the Palace Café.

5. Afternoon Tea at the Windsor Court has become a local tradition among friends exchanging gifts. The Fairmont Hotel (123 Baronne St.) invites children to the Teddy Bear Tea on weekends during December and during Christmas week. From Dec. 6–21, see its famous Angel Hair Lobby. In the Garden District, Holiday Tea at Longue Vue House includes a tour of the home and gardens.

There’s something for adults and children at Beauregard-Keyes House.

“We take the adults on a house tour while the children listen to the storyteller,” said director Marion Chambon, explaining the Tea Party for the Dolls. Some of novelist’s Frances Parkinson Keyes’ dolls are displayed in the decorated home. Refreshments and music are also offered.

Let there by light

6. On select dates, private residences and historic homes host candlelight tours in several neighborhoods. Among the best are free ranger-led tours of the French Quarter offered through the Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve. They’re offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so plan to arrive early at the Visitors’ Center (419 Decatur St.).

7. City Park becomes a spectacle of lights during Celebration in the Oaks. Drive through the avenues of live oaks or hire a horse-drawn open carriage for a better view. A children’s art workshop, fireworks and living Nativity scene are a few of the attractions to be offered Dec. 1–31.

8. In the countryside between Gramercy and Lutcher, fog off the river can be as thick as seafood bisque. On Christmas Eve, levee bonfires light the way for Papa Noel to deliver gifts in his pirogue canoe. Riverboat cruises and bus tours from New Orleans allow passengers to participate in the tradition without fighting traffic jams. Earlier in the season, a symbolic bonfire is torched on the Algiers Levee across from New Orleans. Ferry rides are free, but unless the fog rolls in, the bonfire and riverboat parade can be seen from Moonwalk and Woldenberg Riverfront Park at the French Quarter without crossing the river.

A little something extra

9. Merriment on Magazine serves as a backdrop for Victorian carolers, Irish dancers and Santa’s arrival by carriage. Many of the antique and specialty shops on Magazine Street serve tea and cookies to encourage browsing amid handcrafted furniture, linens, lamps, art, clothing, and imports.

10. In the French Quarter, Celtic heritage is celebrated with a lively mix of music, jigs, and wassail at O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Centre and Pub. And Santa at Pat O’s appears for photos at Pat O’Brien’s.

11. Hanukkah events will be held Dec. 1 at Riverwalk and on Dec. 6 at Congregation Temple Sinai. Menorah lighting, music and food for Hanukkah are part of the festivities.

12. Holiday on the Boulevard, Dec. 6–8, will offer gifts, food, music and storytelling with Caribbean and African flavor. This temporary shopping mall will be along the 1700 block of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.

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