December is a beautiful and festive time of year to visit New Orleans. The city is decked out with holiday cheer from top to bottom. Activities for children are particularly plentiful, from teddy bear tea with Santa at the Royal Sonesta to Celebration Under the Oaks, a festival of lights in City Park. The weather's also entering the cool zone (which is still a fair bit warmer than temperatures up North), which makes it possible and comfortable to bundle up and explore some of the city's exciting outdoor attractions -- plus, chefs are starting to get creative with their gumbo, the favorite warm-me-up delicacy among locals.
The Saints are coming to the end of their season, so it's either a very good or very bad time to talk football with the locals (and the locals all love to talk football), and the increasingly popular Pelicans are in full swing. Consider catching a game of one or both!
Because it's a popular time of year to visit, hotel prices are fairly high, but deals can still be found if you dig around a bit.
It's very unlikely that you'll need shorts or t-shirts in the month of December. Comfortable pants, good walking shoes, thick socks, long-sleeved shirts and extra layers (sweaters or polar fleeces), and a light winter coat. You very likely won't need a serious parka and snow boots are unnecessary, but some warm layering accessories (scarves, hats) are a good idea. As always, bring some more formal garments if you plan to dine out at one of the city's old-line restaurants.
December Event Highlights
St. Louis Cathedral Concert Series (Throughout the Month) - Free classical and jazz music concerts are held many nights of the week in the gloriously elegant St.
Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter.
Reveillon Dinners (Throughout the Month) - This tradition dates back to New Orleans' days as a predominantly Catholic (and strictly so) city when Creoles would break their Advent Fast with a huge celebratory late-night Christmas Eve dinner. Nowadays, many fine restaurants throughout the city serve these multi-course prix fixe meals starting several weeks before Christmas (yes, that defeats the liturgical purpose, but food traditions have pretty well usurped religious ones in this case, at least for many people).
Celebration in the Oaks - This Festival of Lights stretches across 25 acres of New Orleans' enormous City Park, with displays, rides, treats, wandering characters, music, and more. It's tremendous fun for children and Christmas-loving adults.
Krewe of Jingle - New Orleans residents throw a parade for everything, and Christmas is no different. Expect floats, marching bands, and yes, beads and other fun trinkets being thrown as the parade winds its way through the Central Business District.
Hanukkah - New Orleans has one of the oldest Jewish communities in the New World and Jewish life in the city is thriving. Concerts and other community events are hosted by Chabad, Touro Synagogue, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, and more. You can find a calendar of Hanukkah events at the JFGNO's website.
Running of the Santas - Get your Santa Costume on. Drink. Run. Drink more. Party! It's all for a good cause as New Orleans joins up with Running of the Santas events around the world. This one starts at the Rusty Nail and runs just a few blocks to Generations Hall, where live music and DJs and lots and lots of alcohol will keep the party going for hours.
Holiday Home Tour - This event, a fundraiser for the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, offers outsiders a rare glimpse into some of the Garden District's most beautiful private homes.
Tickets aren't cheap ($40 for non-members), but it's easy to get a full day of fun out of the deal and the proceeds help fund preservation projects in the city.
New Orleans Bowl - The city will pack with college football fans when this NCAA post-season showdown comes to town. For the past several years, the football team at the nearby University of Louisiana at Lafayette has made the bowl, bringing thousands of Ragin' Cajuns into town to pass a good time with their city cousins, and it's always a blast.
Caroling in Jackson Square - This sweet tradition brings hundreds of singers of all ages and abilities together for a candlelit sing-along in beautiful Jackson Square. Candles and lyric sheets are provided; you bring the cheer.
Bonfires on the Levee - Long, long ago, when Père Noël came to bring presents to the little Cajun and Creole children living along the Mississippi levees, he needed help guiding his sleigh through the serpentine curves of the river.
Families lit bonfires to help him make his way, and the tradition carries on today. Book a river cruise or one of several bus tours to be taken out to the rural areas where these bonfires are lit, or catch the view of the Algiers Point bonfire from across the river at the French Quarter.
Christmas - Though this is the one day a year Café du Monde is closed, you will find several places open, should you be in town. Christmas services are held at most churches around town, as well.
New Year's Eve - There are smaller New Year's Eve celebrations throughout town, but the big place to be on New Year's is the French Quarter. Instead of dropping a ball, New Orleans drops a baby (not a real baby; it resembles the tiny babies we hide in king cakes) from the top of Jax Brewery at the river's edge in the French Quarter. This oddball (but totally New Orleans) countdown is followed by fireworks over the Mississippi River and hours and hours of partying, French Quarter-style.