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Notes from New Orleans is a peek inside the life and culture of the Crescent City.

Commentary: 'Tis The Season Means Something Different In New Orleans

Brandon Robert
LUNA Fête is just one of many celebrations of the winter solstice in New Orleans."

New Orleans has a way of making any holiday its own, so it’s no surprise that our Christmas season has a singular kind of sparkle. NolaVie’s Renée Peck illuminates Christmas in the Crescent City in this special holiday edition of Notes from New Orleans. 

If you live in New Orleans, or you’re visiting the city, you’ve probably noticed that the holidays look a little different around here. For one thing, the climate isn’t conducive to ugly Christmas sweaters -- our shoppers are more apt to be wearing shorts and t-shirts. And our ho ho ho signs more apt to be spelled Heaux!

In New Orleans, tradition can be  a little idiosyncratic. Here are seven ways that holiday time in the Big Easy looks different from just about any place else.

One. We’re a city that never sleeps, so we like to light up the night. Celebration in the Oaks alone has more than half a million LED bulbs. The new Audubon Zoo lights include a 20-foot-tall illuminated peacock. That’s about the same height as the dozens of bonfires that will burn along the Mississippi River levee on Christmas Eve, lighting the way for Santa’s sleigh. We literally like to burn the midnight oil.

Two. Speaking of Santa, New Orleans has unique holiday icons. Mr. Bingle is a snowman assistant to Santa who was born in the old Maison Blanche department store. Our Rudolph is not a reindeer, but Gaston the Green-Nosed Gator. In A Cajun Night Before Christmas, Santa falls with a clatter, makng a sound like old Boudreau falling off a ladder. Our gift tower is dictated by the Twelve Yats of Christmas, crowned by three French breads, Tujaque’s recipe and a crawfish caught in old Arabi. Our New Year’s ball drop is, of course, a fleur de lis. We view the fireworks from the deck of a steamboat.

Three. In New Orleans, we turn every tradition into a party. With costumes. We have a Reindeer Run and a Santa run, and a Very Bad Santa pub crawl. The Krewe of Krampus in Bywater celebrates a legendary Alpine holiday goat-demon, while the Krewe of Kringle is not a parade but another pub crawl. The price of entry is a beer.

Four. New Orleans has its own food and drink for the season. We put booze in the hot choloclate, brandy in the milk punch. Our eggnog is tucked into a frozen daiquiri, acquired in the drive-through lane. Our kringle cakes are king-cake shaped, and laced with pralines and pecans.

Five. New Orleans may be a dog city come Mardi Gras – think Barkus or Krewe de Paws. But right now it trends feline. The trained Acro-Cats perform a celebrated annual Catmas Christmas show at the Allways Lounge.

Six. In New Orleans, we like to think that we’re French. We have Reveillon menus throughout the month, celebrating the classic Creole Christmas meal. We call our Yule log-themed cakes Bouche de Noel. Here, Santa is Papa Noel.

Seven. New Orleanians like to pretend. No, we don’t have drifting snowflakes or ice-covered ponds. Instead, we hang fairytale icicles in the Roosevelt Hotel lobby. We bring sledding and skating indoors to the Convention Center for Christmas Fest. We produce hourly machine-made “snow” storms in Fulton Alley.

And that is perhaps the secret to the season in New Orleans. Our magic lies not in what we have, or what we don’t have, but in what we conjure with our creativity and our very active imaginations. Any holiday in this city is a state of mind.

Renee Peck, editor of NolaVie, worked for 32 years as a feature editor and writer at The Times-Picayune, earning Associated Press and Press Club of New Orleans awards along the way. She helped launch the first Times-Picayune website in the 1990s, when the Internet was in its infancy. Among her past titles are Food Editor, Entertainment Editor, TV Editor, Assistant Living Editor, and Home and Garden Editor. Her This Mold House column chronicled with humor and inexpertise her rebuilding efforts post-Katrina. Her Big Easy Living column for NolaVie explores the way we live in this always entertaining but sometimes uneasy city. Email her at Renee@nolavie.com.

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