Crescent City Christmas

Ah yes, Christmas in the Crescent City. Though there are actual places called “Crescent City” in Illinois, California, and Florida, people in New Orleans just can’t be constrained to simply calling their city New Orleans or NOLA. Hence, the Crescent City moniker, because the city’s shaped like a crescent:

The Crescent City
Photo from Southern Spaces

Another fun fact about New Orleans is that there is only one bridge in the downtown area that crosses the Mississippi River. Compare that to the 10 you can see just in a small snapshot of Pittsburgh’s downtown area, or the six in Denver’s downtown (and Denver doesn’t really even have water) and you can see why people in New Orleans tend not to cross the river very often.

So what does this have to do with Christmas? Well, the annual Algiers Bonfire celebration is at Algiers Point and Algiers Point is across the river. So in an outright single-bridge protest (or quite frankly, a preference not to fight the traffic to get there), we caught the bus downtown then took the ferry. Oooh look at that murky pre-delta water:

View from the ferry
View of Algiers Point from the ferry

And what does a bonfire have to do with Christmas? you might ask. Why, they’re for Père Noël, of course!

Christmas season bonfires, once popular in France, Germany, other parts of Europe, and the British Isles, continue to be part of the Christmas celebration in a small area along the Mississippi River in south Louisiana. After dark on Christmas Eve, huge bonfires blaze along the levees of the river …  between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. These bonfires, built of logs, cane reed, and bamboo, create the effect of spectacular fireworks. Large crowds of family, friends, and visitors gather on the levee to watch the bonfires, sometimes built as close as 20 to a mile of levee. A popular explanation for the bonfires is “to light the way for Papa Noel .”
— From Folklife in Louisiana

After our ferry adventure, we hung out near the levees while bands paraded and people celebrated. And then, the lighting of the bonfire tree:

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As you can see, it was a pretty big fire and we felt the heat waaaay back where we were standing.

The big bonfire glow lit up our faces

It was a fun and quick celebration, and definitely a local holiday tradition worth experiencing.

Then last week we experienced another NOLA holiday tradition: Celebration in the Oaks. Every other time of the year, we’re enchanted by the Spanish Moss dripping off of the huge Live Oak trees around the city. But right now, in the Botanical Gardens in City Park, these trees are also loaded with lights and they’re gorgeous.

The whole park was festive. The amusement park was bustling with excitement.

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And there was a huge train display with replicas of local landmarks.

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And then of course, the light art that is made by local artists — after months of welding and preparation.

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And lastly, the trees. They’re really hard to capture, so I recommend you check them out yourself. :)

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Happy holidays from the Crescent City!

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