Consider the question, “It’s a week before Christmas and I feel_______.”
It’s getting close to the “DAY,” as they called it in my family a long time ago. I was never quite sure what that meant, but I knew it meant something having to do with the Christmas holiday.
There was always excitement leading up to the DAY. Through the years, my feelings on Christmas have been a time to enjoy what’s around us. Since I’ve had the good fortune to live in several cities, there has always been something to truly enjoy, a place or a tradition, that offered peace, joy, and beauty. Sometimes I had to search for that, both where I lived and in my heart. And search I did, to finally see what I wanted and needed to see and experience during holiday time.
If I were filling in the blank on my feelings now, my word would be ‘encouraged.’ But how we feel on any given day approaching Christmas varies, doesn’t it? It’s possible as Christmas draws nearer, a feeling you list might be “lonely” or “sad” or “optimistic”; as with every feeling, they’re all okay.
Why would someone feel sad or lonely at this time, when we hear traditionally it’s the happiest time of the year? Sadness, loneliness or feelings of isolation occur most often around the holidays for many. It doesn’t always have to do with family, or not having family. At times, it can have more to do with a person’s general feedings of detachment, not having a friend support system in place, or a specific situation that results in grief and loss. There could be challenging transitions whether chosen or not (relocation, cancellation of plans), health issues, or worsening feelings of depression.
Sometimes a generalized fear of holidays creeps in, to remind you that perhaps you will have nothing to do, or while you may have received invitations for things to do, nothing seems appealing, and you spend the actual holiday by yourself.
If there is a part of the holiday that you choose to spend by yourself, I’m going to offer a few suggestions of places here in the greater New Orleans area that have offered peace, beauty and solace to me and many others. There is a way to frame being by yourself as solitude that allows for rejuvenation. Perhaps some of these suggestions can provide a conduit to feelings of more positivity around Christmas and the New Year, and beginning of the new decade in 2020.
Music in New Orleans is always prevalent, and this time of the year it seems to be everywhere. If you enjoy gospel choirs, jazz bands, classical artists and more, avail yourself of the free concert series in historic St. Louis Cathedral. The music generally runs for an hour, starting around 6 pm, and programs continue until December 22. A point of historic information: St. Louis Cathedral was established in 1720, making our New Orleans landmark the oldest active cathedral in our country. In 1964, St. Louis Cathedral was given the status of minor basilica, one of only 15 in the United States. The history of New Orleans will likely make you proud to live here. It makes me proud every day.
Celebration in the Oaks at City Park takes place during the entire month of December. This amazing and innovative holiday light exhibit draws many visitors looking for beauty and creativity. Take a walking tour through the park to see more than a million lights decorating century-old live oak trees. Celebration in the Oaks has become a New Orleans tradition, enjoyable for individuals and groups of friends. There are many things to do while there, but for me the sheer beauty of the light installations would be the prize. Oh, and the hot chocolate is pretty wonderful, as long as the temperature is below 70! Admission is $10 ($28 for unlimited rides), which lets you in, and it’s extra for the rides and the train trip. If you would like to take that unique walk, I find purchasing tickets online beforehand is best.
I call this next suggestion “Holly Lobby touring”, because visiting hotel lobbies during the holidays is a real thing in New Orleans. Christmas finery that festoons the lobbies of hotels in the French Quarter and CBD is beyond compare. My favorite of all time is The Roosevelt, which is gorgeous every year. It spans a city block, so you can simply walk through the festive lobby from one entrance to the other, with its acres of marble and seasonal display of lights, trees and extreme beauty.
If you’re hungry, you can have a great experience at the restaurant adjacent to the hotel, Domenica (123 Baronne), a well-regarded and highly-rated restaurant. Or stop and have a drink at The Sazerac Bar with its Paul Ninas murals flanking the African walnut bar. For years after I moved away from here, when I returned to visit friends/family, I never missed at least one walk-through or a meal – as far back as when it was the Fairmont Hotel.
The Windsor Court in the CBD is a fun and lovely venue. The Christmas tree shimmering with 25,000 lights is usually about 20 feet tall, with a classic toy train running around the base. There are many more trees to enjoy there, maybe with having Holiday Tea at the Windsor. Or just another walk through on your Holly Lobby Tour.
All the big hotels are beautifully decorated, but the others that seem to go all out include the Ritz Carlton on Canal, and the Hotel Monteleone on Royal St., where you can expect a giant Christmas tree and an active schedule of local choir performances. If you call the concierge there, you can hear about the different choirs.
Caroling in Jackson Square is a beautiful and festive event, and this year it will be on Sunday December 22, 7:00pm, with the gates opening at 6:30pm. Getting there really early, walking around the Quarter, will be a wonderful late afternoon/early evening activity. Did you know that it began in 1946, not long after World War II, as something to bring spirits up and regain a sense of community? That it did! Yes, visitors come here and participate, but this is traditionally a local event, and many have this on their calendar every year. It’s open, free, non-denominational (tho it’s mostly Christmas carols). If you like singing, celebrating with others, and lots of candles & decoration, then try it.
Fulton Street, the narrow street that was a prime part of the 1984 World’s Fair here and adjacent to the hotel across from Harrah’s, becomes a wonderland during the holidays with many restaurants, all beautifully festive. This one block long, pedestrian-only mall is decorated with Christmas trees, lights, mistletoe and fleur de lis ornaments. Some years there is a Christmas bubble of sorts, that when you walk through, it snows!
There’s no charge for wandering in the French Quarter, day or evening, whether you’ve accepted invitations with others or choose to spend time with yourself, just taking your own counsel. There are areas that are quieter and have a lovely sense of peace for me. Find your own and cherish your time to just ‘be’.
Parking doesn’t have to be a problem, there is always a way. Since I do not live in or close to the Quarter or downtown, I get down there early, and try to park just outside the Quarter on the Esplanade side. Works well, but the trick is the earlier hour. The base of the Quarter around the French Market is also a good choice. Often if you have some patience (and that is not my strength for parking), people park temporarily, so wait a minute and a car will pull out.
We live in a magnificent city. If that is not the way you would describe it, then I hope you explore, and this is a perfect time of year to do just that. There are many free or very cheap activities, and wandering, having a coffee, walking with a friend, are always worth trying.
I wish you all the best holiday season possible, and hope that you choose to be active and hopeful as we usher in the new decade with 2020. And please remember that Christmas is a day, one day, and then, it is the day after.