The holiday season has a certain gravitational pull compared to other times of year. Condensed into six weeks are celebrations, food and family that are inimitable at any other time. No matter what holidays you actually end up participating in, there is truly no other time of year that helps people come together over common jubilations (well, except for Mardi Gras).
This is also the season to capitalize as an adult on the time to recreate or finally accomplish the wish list you had as a child. No one is here to put you on a “Naughty or Nice” list. You have financial independence and free time! It’s time to reclaim the holiday spirit.
There is something about slapping on a pair of ice skates that brings back memories of holding onto our parents' hands on the ice rink. Or drinking hot chocolate (now spiked with booze) while we wait out the oh-so-frigid weather in Jackson Square to sing carols. Some of the memories are unrecoverable (RIP Al Copeland and his bedazzled Metairie mansion), while others are relocated (honestly, who wants to ice skate in the Convention Center?)
In order to kickstart your holiday list of errands, throw in some food and activities that you actually want to take part in.
Far and above any other spectacle in the city of New Orleans are the hotel lights. Maybe it’s their proximity to cocktail bars, but whatever is the case, New Orleanians love their hotel lights. Check out The Roosevelt for white twinkling lights that may dazzle even more after a hot buttered rum from The Sazerac Bar. Or, visit The Royal Sonesta, with its multi-colored lights strung across the lobby. With so many new hotels built this year and upcoming in 2017, this tradition is on track to get bigger and brighter. Note: these are great destinations after some caroling in Jackson Square (this year on December 18) with hot buttered rum beforehand. It’s a win with kids or without.
Following the lighted path towards Christmas is a Cajun tradition of watching the bonfires on the levee on Christmas Eve. Rumored to light the path to Midnight Mass, Santa Claus’s approach, or helping families find the houses with Christmas Eve dinner, this tradition has fortunately carried through to present day. A kid may love to watch the spectacle of bonfires and enjoy an evening outside, but as an adult, the fun can be magnified with heartwarming drinks, gumbo and new friendships.
Many native New Orleanians can remember ice skating in City Park (or sneaking around on high school dates). Unfortunately, the ice skating has moved into the Convention Center for the Christmas Fest. Everything about this production gives me the creeps, although, as a child, I did attend a Girl Scout function just like this. I learned my lesson then: find something else to do. It’s really just for kids.
Instead, continue on to City Park for the festive lights of the Celebration in the Oaks. Don’t come for the odd Mister Bingle (created for marketing purposes, thank you, Christmas) or the Ferris wheel—honestly, that line is forever long—but for the feeling of ultimate childhood holiday spirit. This attraction is now a mainstay for all ages. I dare you to go and not feel the twinge of lightheartedness of the season or the magnificence of New Orleans’s perpetuation of tradition. Even if that’s not your fancy, I still encourage a visit, as a few alcoholic—or, eh hem, natural substances can make this more magical than you could’ve ever imagined. There’s the weird Cajun Christmas Noel story told through lit-up lawn decorations, Who Dat lights in the trees, the Poinsettia Tree, and on and on.
This is all fine and dandy, but what if adding things to your to-do list is not in your holiday wheelhouse? Not a problem. We’re in New Orleans. So there’s food and drinks, and drinks and food.
Pop into Arnaud’s French 75 or Galatoire’s for a milk punch because, honestly, New Orleans just does cocktails better than anywhere else. Nobody has time to get weighed down with gross, thick egg nog. Milk punch, on the other hand, is brandy, half & half, nutmeg and vanilla simple syrup. I think I’ll have one now.
To keep you satiated throughout the season of family planning, go to participating restaurants for a Reveillon dinner. The old-school Catholics used to party hard after Midnight Mass and eat and drink until the wee hours of the morning, but now restaurants have taken up the tradition in more useful hours. Expect it to be super French, super Creole, super traditional, and very easy to obtain through prix-fixe menus.
Holiday Tea at Windsor Court. Ah, how the other half lives. Bundle up against the wet winter weather to make it into the Windsor Court’s updated downstairs cocktail bar for Holiday Tea. More of an upscale affair, it is still quite fun to partake in an old tradition or try something new for a change. You get a cocktail, tea, scones, desserts, sandwiches, etc., in the price, but I typically bring three other friends who enjoy splitting a bottle of Champagne in the process.