So what if our version of a Winter Wonderland includes palm trees. New Orleans has plenty of holiday traditions, and most of them will be merrily displayed this month. Downtown will be lit up, folks will stroll through thousands of lights and decorations at Celebration in the Oaks, carolers will come to a venue near you, new gingerbread house constructions should reach an all-time high -- and nobody will have to roast MREs over an open fire. Considering the real and metaphorical darkness, despair and uncertainty of last year's winter, the 2006 holiday lineup is nothing short of a miracle.
There's no reason to leave the city during the holiday season -- unless it's to take a quick day trip to St. Francisville for Rosedown Plantation's annual antebellum-style Christmas celebration. In fact, staying in the metro area and taking part in this year's activities will boost the local recovery and remind everyone that there's something special about this place, according to Mary Beth Romig, spokesperson for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"People should try to embrace all of the holiday traditions," she says, "the concert series in St. Louis Cathedral, Celebration in the Oaks, caroling in Jackson Square -- all these events that are unique to New Orleans."
The free concerts at the Cathedral feature gospel, jazz, R&B and blues performers such as Phillip Manuel, Chris Thomas King and several gospel choirs. (See our listings below for times and dates.) If you'd rather participate than observe, there's nothing like getting together with a thousand or so of your closest pals in Jackson Square to sing -- in all keys -- your favorite Christmas carols. This 60-year-old candlelight tradition takes place on Sunday, Dec. 17. Candles are provided, along with the song sheets, so you don't have to bring anything special or memorize any lines.
Downtown will be anything but quiet or dark. On Friday, Dec. 8, Mayor Ray Nagin will flip the switch to the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel's second-floor balcony Christmas tree. Simultaneously, decorations woven through the palm trees lining Canal Street from Elks Place to the Mississippi River will light up. Bringing a heavenly sound to the event will be the angelic voice of local singer Theresa Andersson and performances by students from Academy of the Sacred Heart and Habans Elementary School.
Kurt Weigle, executive director of the Downtown Development District, which is co-sponsoring the lighting with City Hall, hopes the event will lure local shoppers back downtown. "There's still a lot of good reasons to come to Canal Street," Weigle says. "We want to get that message out."
Another good reason to visit downtown is the Sheraton Hotel's second annual "Cajun Cringle Mingle." This multi-weekend event will begin the weekend of Dec. 2 and will run through Dec. 17. The "mingle" will feature children's entertainment, including Uncle Wayne Daigrepont and the Port-a-Puppet Players and interactive theater; creative craft making with a little elfin assistance; a caroling sing-a-long; and an animated reading of A Cajun Night Before Christmas.
Although the Fairmont Hotel remains shuttered -- and the pageantry of its angel hair-adorned lobby will be missed -- the Sheraton Hotel hopes to start its own decorative tradition. The hotel's lobby will feature a life-size Santa along with his alligator "reindeer," designed and produced by Blaine Kern.
It wouldn't be New Orleans without a feast for your taste buds. Dozens of local restaurants are bringing back traditional Reveillon dinners during the holidays. Reveillon dates back to New Orleans' early days when Creole families celebrated Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve with elaborate meals of traditional fare and sweet specialties. Luckily, you don't have to wait for one of those two days to partake in a Reveillon dinner nowadays -- though several restaurants are offering them on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Most of the participating restaurants have combined traditional Creole dishes with contemporary New Orleans cuisine for a culinary extravaganza.
If all of this sounds a little too jolly for your Scrooge-like tastes, consider some of the fun events planned for Christmas cynics. The Santaland Diaries, written by everyone's favorite misanthrope, David Sedaris, will be presented by the Actor's Theatre of New Orleans. It stars David Glasser as a sarcastic out-of-work screenwriter who takes a job as an elf at Macy's Santaland.
Best of all, most of New Orleans' beloved holiday pastimes have returned, and you can read about many of them in the holiday listings that follow. Those listed only hint at the many opportunities to celebrate the magic of Christmas in New Orleans. You can find a host of other entertainment opportunities in Gambit Weekly's regular listings in the arts and entertainment section.
Events that take place for several days are listed under the first date they begin. There also is a section of ongoing events.
Cathedral Concert. St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square -- Val and Love Alive/Historic Second Baptist Church gospel music performance. Free admission. 6 p.m. Visit www.stlouiscathedral.org for information.
LIGHTING AT JACKSON SQUARE -- The lights return after last year's absence. Comedienne Ellen DeGeneres helps flip the switch. Free admission. 7:15 p.m. THURSDAY 7 Holiday Cooking Demonstrations. The Shops at Canal Place, 333 Canal St. -- Acclaimed chefs from local restaurants share their favorite recipes during cooking demonstrations. Free admission. Call 522-5730 for more information. 3 p.m.
Creole Christmas Cooking. East Bank Regional Library, 4747 W. Napoleon Ave, Metairie -- Richard Scott, author of Family Recipes from Rosedown and Catalpa Plantations discusses and prepares dishes from 19th and early 20th century holiday menus. Free admission. Call 838-1100 or visit www.jefferson.lib.la.us for more information. 7 p.m.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL -- THE WHOLE STORY. Actor's Theatre of New Orleans, 4539 N. I-10 Service Road, Metairie -- This play gives you the lowdown on the real story behind the Dicken's classic. Written and directed by Rene Piazza. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 23. Call 456-4111 or visit www.actorstheatreofneworleans.com for tickets.
YULETIDE. Southern Repertory Theatre, 333 Canal St., third floor -- Jim Fitzmorris' newest creation takes place in the Christmas capital of Yuletide where the current Santa Claus, 23rd in the line of Clauses, has just announced the end of his reign. Buzz Podewell directs. Tickets $15-$30. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 17. Call 522-6545 or visit www.southernrep.com for tickets.
DOWNTOWN LIGHTS. The Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel, 739 Canal St. -- Mayor Ray Nagin and others will throw the switch on the lights of the Astor second-floor balcony Christmas tree along with the decorations on Canal Street from Elks Place to the River. School choirs start the show with refreshments to follow. 4:30 p.m.
GRENADINE MCGUNKLE'S DOUBLE-WIDE CHRISTMAS. One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St. -- Grenadine is trying to put the finishing touches on a trailer park talent show. Richard Read directs. Tickets $20. 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, through Dec. 30. Call 606-9903 or visit www.norunningwithscissors.com for tickets.
Garden District Home Tour and Holiday Boutique. Trinity Episcopal Church, Bishop Polk Hall, 1329 Jackson Ave. -- The Preservation Resource Center presents a tour of historic homes decked out in holiday decor, plus a holiday boutique with more than 30 vendors. Tickets $20-$32. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 9-10. Call 581-7032 or visit www.prcno.org for information.
Gingerbread Junction. Louisiana Children's Museum. 420 Julia St. -- Build a gingerbread house at this festive workshop for the whole family. Tickets $35, which includes house fee and admission for up to four people. Call 523-1357 for reservations or visit www.lcm.org. 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
PAPA NOEL & THE TEDDY BEARS. Rivertown Children's Castle, 501 Williams Blvd., Kenner -- Calliope Puppets present this all-ages Christmas story. Tickets $3.50. 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations recommended. Call 468-7231, ext. 220.
Tea Party for the Dolls. Beauregard-Keyes House, 1113 Chartres St. -- Bring a doll or a toy and join in for refreshments, take part in a sing-a-long, see dolls "at tea" in a Victorian dollhouse and meet Santa Claus. Tickets $5. Call 523-7257 for times and details.
Victorian Tree-trimming Workshop. Otis House Museum, Fairview-Riverside State Park, one mile east of Madisonville on Hwy. 22 -- Victorian tree-trimming workshop for children. Free with $1 park admission. Call (985) 792-4652 or (888) 677-3247 for information.
Cajun Cringle Mingle. Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, 500 Canal St. -- An all-ages event featuring interactive theater, children's activities, refreshments, puppet show, arts and crafts and caroling. Tickets $26. Reservations required. 1 p.m., Dec. 9-10. Call 595-5511 or visit www.sheratonneworleans.com/cringle to reserve tickets.
Celebration in the Oaks Run/Walk. City Park -- Annual 2-mile noncompetitive family fun-run. Includes admission to Celebration in the Oaks and commemorative T-shirt. Registration $20. 2 p.m. registration, 4 p.m. race. Visit www.ccc10k.com to register.
Gingerbread Tea. InterContinental Hotel, 444 St. Charles Ave. -- The tea includes entertainment, children's activities and a special gift. 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 9-10. Call 636-1836 or visit www.new-orleans.intercontinental.com for prices and information.
THE NUTCRACKER. NOCCA/Riverfront, 2800 Chartres St. -- Jefferson Ballet Theatre's 18th annual production of Tchaikovosky's holiday classic includes performances by Leonid Flegmatov from Russia, Reka Gyulai from Hungary, April Taylor, Deanna Marie, Robert Jumonville, and Taylor Sambola. Tickets $35 general admission, $30 seniors, $20 children/students. 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Call 468-1231 or visit www.jeffersonballettheatre.com for tickets.
THE NUTCRACKER. Destrehan High School Auditorium, 1 Wildcat Lane, Destrehan -- River Region Ballet production features performances by Eleanor and Ian Carney and Destrehan High School freshman Ariel Morris. Tickets $15. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 2 p.m., Dec. 10. Call (985) 764-7678 or visit www.rrpa.org for details.
Holiday Pops. Tulane University, Dixon Hall -- Keith Brion and musicians of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra perform holiday songs. Tickets $35-$60. 8 p.m. Call 523-6530 or visit www.lpomusic.com for tickets and information.
Children's Holiday Celebration. Longue Vue House and Gardens, 7 Bamboo Road, Metairie -- Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter-themed crafts and activities for kids, a visit from Santa Claus and refreshments. Tickets $5 for members, $7 for non-members. Reservations required. 10 a.m. to noon. Call 488-5488, ext. 320 or visit www.longuevue.com to reserve tickets.
Christmas at Loyola. Loyola University, Louis J. Roussel Performance Hall -- The University's College of Music and Fine Arts holds its annual holiday gathering, featuring Loyola choirs, chamber orchestra and brass ensemble performances as well as an audience sing-along. A reception follows. Free admission. 3 p.m. Call 865-2074 or 235-4053 for information.
Northshore Christmas Concerts. St. Timothy Church, 335 Asbury Drive, Mandeville -- Southern Mississippi Chamber Orchestra, the St. Timothy Choir, international tenor Stuart Neil and others perform. Free admission. 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 10, 7 p.m. Dec. 11.
THE SANTALAND DIARIES. Actor's Theatre of New Orleans, 4539 N. I-10 Service Road, Metairie -- Based on David Sedaris' story of a down-and-out screenwriter taking a job as an elf at Macy's Santaland. Directed by Rene Piazza. 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 16. Call 456-4111 or visit actorstheatreofneworleans.com for tickets.
THE NUTCRACKER. Pontchartrain Center, 4545 Williams Blvd., Kenner -- Jefferson Ballet Theatre's 18th annual production of Tchaikovosky's holiday classic includes performances by Leonid Flegmatov from Russia, Reka Gyulai from Hungary, April Taylor, Deanna Marie, Robert Jumonville and Taylor Sambola. Tickets $35 general admission, $30 seniors, $20 children/students. 5 p.m. Call 468-1231 or visit www.jeffersonballettheatre.com for tickets.
Cathedral Concert. St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square -- Phillip Manuel performs jazz and R&B music. Free admission. 6 p.m. Visit www.stlouiscathedral.org for information.
Holiday Cooking Demonstrations. The Shops at Canal Place, 333 Canal St., 522-5730 -- Local chefs share their favorite recipes at free cooking demonstrations. 3 p.m. Call 522-5730 for more information.
Cathedral Concert. St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square -- Abundant Praise Revival Choir performs gospel music. Free admission. 6 p.m. Visit www.stlouiscathedral.org for information.
Holiday Cheer Prescription. New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, 514 Chartres St. -- Take a holiday tour of this 19th century apothecary and enjoy seasonal refreshments. Tickets $10. 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Call 565-8027 for reservations.
Chanukah on the Avenue. Temple Sinai, 6227 St. Charles Ave. -- See traditional lighting of the menorah at this pre-Chanukah ceremony that includes holiday songs and a performance by the Temple Sinai Youth Choir. Free admission. 7 p.m. Call 861-3693 or visit www.templesinaino.org for details.
Holiday on the Boulevard. Ash Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. -- Weekend holiday festival with a kick-off parade, marketplace with arts, crafts and gift ideas emphasizing African and Caribbean culture, plus music, entertainment, food and beverages. Free admission. Noon to 8 p.m. Dec. 15-16, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Dec. 17.
Christmas Concert. St. Anthony of Padua Church, 4640 Canal St. -- Performers from Mount Carmel Academy's Choral Department and Brother Martin Men's Ensemble perform Christmas songs. 7:30 p.m.
CHRISTMAS ON THE BAYOU. Playmakers Theater, 19106 Playmakers Road, Covington -- Written and directed by Frank Levy, this play is based on an historical account of Choctaw Indians and Adrien Rouquette, a missionary who devoted his life to helping Native Americans in St. Tammany Parish. Tickets $7. 8 p.m. Dec. 15-16, 2 p.m. Dec. 17. Call (985) 893-1671 or visit www.playmakersinc.com for details.
Holiday Concert. Slidell High School Theater, 1 Tiger Drive, Slidell -- Slidell Symphony Society presents a concert featuring the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra Brass and Percussion Ensemble. 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets $40 family (two adults and two children), $15 general admission, $12 seniors, $10 children. For tickets and information, call (985) 643-1010.
Christmas at Rosedown. Rosedown Plantation, 12501 La. Hwy. 10, St. Francisville -- The plantation offers crafts, activities, photos with Father Christmas, talks and guided tours of the main house in its 19th century holiday decor. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 16-17. Call (225) 635-3332 for information.
Cajun Cringle Mingle. Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, 500 Canal St. -- This all-ages event features interactive theater, children's activities, refreshments, A puppet show, arts and crafts and caroling. Tickets $26. Reservations required. 1 p.m. Dec. 16-17. Call 595-5511 or visit www.sheratonneworleans.com/cringle to reserve tickets.
CALLING ALL ELVES. Ascension Community Theatre, 823 Felicity St., Gonzales -- Santa is in a jam and it's up to his elves to get him out of it in this original play by Roger Johnson and Ami Clouartre-Johnson, directed by Clouartre-Johnson. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 16, 2 p.m. Dec. 17. Call (225) 647-1230 for tickets or visit www.ascensioncommunitytheatre.org.
Holiday Craft Bazaar. 1100-1300 blocks of Decatur Street -- Local artists and craftspeople sell unique items, including paintings, jewelry, clothing, photographs, blown glass, folk art and more. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Holiday Pet Photos. Jefferson Feed, Pet & Garden Center, 4421 Jefferson Hwy. -- The Louisiana SPCA offers photo sessions with your pet for the holidays. Proceeds benefit the Gulf Coast Doberman Rescue and the SPCA. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 16, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Dec. 17. Call 733-8572 or visit www.la-spca.org for details.
Gingerbread Tea. InterContinental Hotel, 444 St. Charles Ave. -- The tea includes entertainment, children's activities and a special gift. 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 16-17. Call 636-1836 for more information.
Merry Fishmas. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, 1 Canal St. -- Holiday fun for kids includes live animal presentations, shows and arts and crafts. Activities free with admission. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 16-17. Call 581-4629 or visit www.auduboninstitute.org for details.
Glow Concert. Christ Episcopal Church, 120 S. New Hampshire St., Covington -- New Orleans Vocal Arts performs. Free Admission. 5 p.m.
Caroling in Jackson Square. Jackson Square -- The Patio Planters du Vieux Carr sponsors annual community caroling by candlelight. Song sheets provided. Free admission. 7 p.m.
Chanukah at Riverwalk. Riverwalk's Spanish Plaza, Canal Street at the Mississippi River -- Join Chabad Lubavitch of Louisiana for the annual lighting of the largest menorah in the state as well as music and latkes. 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Visit www.chabadneworleans.com for details.
French Quarter Home Tour -- Patio Planters' tour of decorated residences includes a visit with Papa Noel. Tickets $10. 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Purchase tickets and get tour details at Creole Delicacies (533 St. Anne St.) or New Orleans Gem & Lapidary (522 St. Phillip St.).
Cathedral Concert. St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square -- Chris Thomas King performs blues. Free admission. 6 p.m. Visit www.stlouiscathedral.org for information.
Handel's MESSIAH. First Baptist Church, 5290 Canal Blvd. -- This famous piece will be performed by the full Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and Symphony Chorus of New Orleans. Tickets $25-$65. 7:30 p.m. Call 523-6530 or visit www.lpomusic.com for tickets.
Holiday Cooking Demonstration. The Shops at Canal Place, 333 Canal St. -- Local chefs share their favorite recipes at free cooking demonstrations. 3 p.m. Call 522-5730 for more information.
Cathedral Concert. St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square -- The Rev. Lois J. Dejean, gospel diva, performs. Free admission. 6 p.m. Visit www.stlouiscathedral.org for information.
Last Stop Shop. The Big Top Gallery, 1638 Clio St. -- Holiday market and party with works by New Orleans Craft Mafia's artists, designers and crafts makers. Free admission. 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Call 569-2700 or visit www.neworleanscraftmafia.com for details.
Gingerbread Tea. InterContinental Hotel, 444 St. Charles Ave. -- The tea includes entertainment, children's activities, and a special gift. 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 21-22. For information and tickets, call 636-1836.
New Orleans Bowl. Louisiana Superdome, Sugar Bowl Drive -- The 2006 New Orleans Bowl will match the Sun Belt Conference champion with a Conference USA opponent. Tickets $20-$40. 7 p.m. Call 525-5678 or visit www.neworleansbowl.org for details.
Snow Land. City Park, Dreyfous Meadow behind the New Orleans Museum of Art -- City Park becomes a snow-covered wonderland for families, a perfect place for making snow angels, snow people or tossing snowballs. Free admission. 8:30 a.m. till snow melts. Visit www.christmasintheoaks.com for details.
Bonfire Cruise. Crescent Ship Service, St. Rose (may change) -- The paddlewheeler Creole Queen and riverboat Cajun Queen will cruise up the Mississippi River to view levee bonfires from Gramercy to Lutcher, and riders will meet Papa Noel, who will give everyone on board a gift. Cruises feature Creole buffet, open bar and live entertainment. Boarding 1 p.m., return 10 p.m. (subject to change). Call 524-0814 or visit www.neworleanspaddlewheels.com for tickets and details.
Jazz Cruise. Steamboat Natchez, Toulouse Street dock, river side of Jax Brewery -- Christmas Eve cruise on the Mississippi River features New Orleans Jazz Trio and a holiday buffet. Reservations required. Boards at 6:30 p.m., returns at 9:30 p.m. Call 586-8777 for ticket prices and information.
Bonfire Adventure. Lighthouse at Toulouse Street and Mississippi River -- Gray Line Tours takes visitors to view bonfires on the Mississippi River. Trip includes guided tour of Destrehan Plantation, a Cajun dinner and demonstrations of open-fire cooking. Reservations required. Departs 3 p.m. Call 569-1401 or visit www.graylineneworleans.com for information.
Christmas Cooking Workshop. Hermann-Grima House, 820 St. Louis St. -- Families bake, decorate and enjoy treats in the 1830s-style kitchen. Reservations required. Event is for children 8-13 and only one adult per child allowed. 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Call 525-5661 or visit ww.hgghh.org for information.
Creole Christmas Tour. Cabildo, 701 Chartres St., Jackson Square -- Friends of the Cabildo hosts tour of three historic homes in the French Quarter. 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Dec. 29-30. Advance tickets $18. Call 522-2621 or visit www.frenchmarket.org for information.
Kid's New Year's Eve Party. Louisiana Children's Museum. 420 Julia St. -- Let kids ring in the New Year early with a performance by the Imagination Movers, crafts, a balloon launch, confetti drop and a toast. Tickets $3 members, $8 non-members in advance, $10 at the door. 9:30 a.m. Call 523-1357 or visit www.lcm.org for tickets.
Celebration in the Oaks. City Park, Botanical Garden, Carousel Gardens and Storyland -- City Park's annual holiday lights exhibit returns. Walking tour only. Tickets $5, children ages 3-under are free. 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Sunday; through Dec. 30. Visit www.celebrationintheoaks.com for details.
Hermann-Grima and Gallier Houses. Hermann-Grima House, 820 Royal St.; Gallier House, 1132 Royal St. -- Living History demonstrations are offered on Wednesdays at Gallier House and cooking demonstrations on Thursdays at the Hermann-Grima House. Call 525-5661 or visit www.hgghh.org for details.
Home and Courtyard Tour. Historic New Orleans Collection, 533 Royal St. -- Tour the home and courtyard of Gen. and Mrs. L. Kemper Williams, founders of the Historic New Orleans Collection and see it traditionally decorated for the holidays. Admission $5. 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m and 3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; through Dec. 30. Call 523-4662 for Sunday hours, or visit www.hnoc.org for information.
Louisiana Children's Museum. 420 Julia St. -- Find out how the holiday season is celebrated throughout the world through displays, demonstrations, art projects and more. Free with admission. 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday; Dec.9-23. Visit www.lcm.org for information.
Louisiana Living History Project -- Costumed characters from Louisiana history, including Marie Laveau, Andrew Jackson, Baroness Pontalba and Papa Noel, stroll the streets of the French Quarter and other locations educating visitors. Harold Evans directs. Saturdays and Sundays through December. Call 948-0323 for details.
Reveillon Dinners. Dozens of restaurants around town -- This French dining tradition features prix fixe dinners of Creole and contemporary New Orleans cuisine. Prices vary. Through December. Visit www.neworleansonline.com for details.
Santa's Nightly Snowfall. Lakeside Shopping Center, 3301 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie -- The shopping center hosts nightly snowfalls and visits with Santa. 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 24.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Light a candle, grab a songsheet and warm up your pipes for community caroling at Jackson Square on Sunday, Dec. 17.
- Welliver Productions
- Four-year-old Ariana Nguyen climbs on Santa's lap for a photo and a discussion of Christmas wishes at Snowland in Lakeside Shopping Center.
- Loyola University's music and fine arts departments present a free concert, sing-along and reception on Sunday, Dec. 10.
- Experience the drama of Santa's coronation with Southern Repertory Theatre's production of Yuletide at the Shops at Canal. Check listings for times and dates.