It's Beginning to Look Like the Holidays in NOLA, Cher

dec12 roosevelt003New Orleans, founded in 1718, has many long standing traditions. During the holidays, many of these still exist and there are even a few new ones! There is always a reason to have a celebration in New Orleans but from November - January, traditions and celebrations truly shine.

The sound of the trumpet heralds the opening of New Orleans' holiday season at the Fairgrounds Race Course on Thanksgiving Day. The Fairgrounds is the third oldest and continuously operating thoroughbred racetrack in the United States. It's first race was in 1852. Turkey, hats, horses…it's off to the races!

The Roosevelt Hotel opened in 1893 and has seen a number of famous people walk through it's lobby from politicians to royalty. Beginning in the 1930s, The Roosevelt Hotel became a destination of delight for children and parents alike with their beautiful lobby filled with holiday lights. At one end of the lobby is Domenica Restaurant run by Chef Alon Shaya, an Israeli-born chef who has created a special Hanukkah menu for the holidays. Shaya's latkes, short ribs and Hanukkah doughnuts are a new tradition not to be missed.

dec12 galatoires005The holiday season is reason for a food journey in New Orleans. One must try the Reveillon Dinners featured at over 45 restaurants. Reveillon, from a French word meaning 'awakening' was popular in 19th century Europe. It was a meal enjoyed by Catholics after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. In the '90s, this custom was re-launched as a way to liven the tourism industry. New Orleans' roots as a Catholic city made it a perfect fit. Typically a 4 or 5 course prix-fixe meal, most restaurants serve the Reveillon menus throughout the month of December.

And for anyone wanting to dine at one of New Orleans' finest restaurants on the Friday before Christmas, a table auction is how you'll get a seat. Galatoire's was founded in 1905 and has a no reservation policy. Specialties include crabmeat sardou, oysters rockefeller and godchaux salad. The coveted first floor tables used to bring long lines of patrons waiting to get a table. After Hurricane Katrina in 2006, the long line for the Friday before Christmas was replaced by a table auction, with the money raised going to charity.

One of the most iconic symbols of the holidays in New Orleans is Mr. Bingle. Created by Maison Blanche department store window decorator Emile Alline, the papier-mâché figure was revealed in 1948. Mr. Bingle remained a fixture outside of the Canal Street department store until it closed in '90s. It is now a feature in the exhibit and light displays in City Park's Celebration in the Oaks which began in 1984. It is located on over 12 acres of land and is the perfect family outing. Stops not to miss: the multi-media storytelling of the "Cajun Night Before Christmas" and the Dripping Snow Tree which has over 41,000 LED bulbs.

dec12 swizzle002If you are traveling home for the holidays and want to hear some local musicians jam then the annual concert benefiting the Daniel Price Memorial Fund for Aspiring Artists is the place to be. Featuring some of New Orleans beloved musicians such as Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins, Theresa Andersson and Rebirth Brass Band, it is the Friday before Christmas at House of Blues.

The merriment continues with Caroling in Jackson Square, a tradition since 1946 on the Sunday before Christmas. Originally laid out in 1721, the Place d'Armes was renamed Jackson Square in 1851 after the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson.

And if all of these activities exhausts you or you just feel like pulling a stool up to the bar, visit Bar Chef Lu Brow at the Swizzle Stick Bar in the Loews Hotel. Known for reviving classic cocktails, try one of my favorites like The Adelaide Swizzle or Lucy Broussard!

The holidays truly are a special time to be down south cher (sweetheart, dear, darling). The revelry continues with the beginning of Carnival season on Twelfth Night, January party ends and another begins! Let the good times roll! Laissez les bon temps rouler!


Ashley Merlin, a NOLA native, is a professional photographer and author of Statuesque New Orleans.