Natchitoches Christmas lights are a beautiful holiday spectacle, with a festival, fireworks and fun for the entire family. Not familiar? Natchitoches has been called the “City of Lights” since 1927 when the city was adorned with sparkle for the Christmas season. It’s that effort that evolved into the Natchitoches Christmas Festival we know today.
Situated along Front Street in the Natchitoches National Historic Landmark District, festival-goers can enjoy music, entertainment, arts and crafts, and so much more. Here are the deets you need to enjoy this Louisiana Holiday vacation destination like we did!
NATCHITOCHES CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL
The day-long festival kicks off after lunch, but we encourage you to head to the downtown riverbank area a little earlier in order to find the best gifts at the Holiday Market. It’s set up outside the “wristband” area, so even if you’re coming to only watch the parade, you can still enjoy shopping.
From blankets to candles to wood carvings to ornaments, there is something here for everyone on your list. Most of the vendors we stopped at took credit cards, but not everyone… so bring some cash.
If this is your first time to the city then Natchitoches meat pies must be on your list (and if it isn’t your first time then you already know how delicious they are!) While you’re at the meat pie tent you can also grab some beignets – you may not be in NOLA but you’re still in the French region of the state.
Other vendors offer interesting bites like fried alligator, but we also found staples like funnel cake, burgers, wings, lemonade and more.
Please note that the vendors take ONLY tickets and not cash, which you’ll appreciate when you have to stand in the lines. The tickets make getting food so much faster. Just be prepared, and purchase all your tickets as early in the day as possible. ($1= 1 ticket and during our visit most bites were in the 5-7 ticket range.)
Grab a spot (early) along Front Street for one of the South’s best Christmas parades! Dance teams, high school bands from around the region, spectacular floats and of course Northwestern State University’s own marching band, drill team, dancers and more.
And everyone knows a good Louisiana parade comes with loads of beaded necklaces and candy being thrown to the crowd. If you have the kids, be sure to bring them a loot bag!
We sat in a special section for the Natchitoches Tourism department, but from what we could tell it’s perfectly acceptable to get there early and save your place with a chair while you take in the shops or grab a meat pie. (It reminded me of the Master’s Tournament.)
After the parade you’ll want to head over to the stage for some amazing holiday music overlooking Cane River Lake. The live music is a great backdrop to catching up with friends, grabbing a picnic on the lawn, and resting until the fireworks show begins.
The performers are different every night and include some great names like Amanda Shaw (I just love her!), LaCour Trio, Kelli Roberts Band, and many more.
Once the sun falls, you’ll see the crowd move from the shops and restaurants to the riverside. The spectacular fireworks show was Elliot’s favorite part of the day.
There is not one, but two fireworks shows lighting the sky simultaneously – it’s a Natchitoches lights show like you’ve never even imagined. Both displays are on the river, complementing each other.
The show lasted more than half an hour, and the popping was non-stop, save a 5-ish minute moment when the water seemed to dance with light on one end, and the bridge glowed spectacularly on the other side….and then the spectacle resumed. It rivaled any fireworks show we’d ever been to!
NORTHWESTERN CHRISTMAS GALA
A grand way to get into the holiday spirit is at the Northwestern State University Christmas Gala. This festive one-hour show by the School of Creative and Performing Arts was impeccable in every regard from the choreography to the story line to the shows to the set pieces . Our teenager said this was his favorite Natchitoches holiday event, and I was beaming!
A Louisiana twist on the classic Nutcracker, little Clara Stahlbaum takes the audience through a series of dances with battling mice and a genteel soldier. Performances along the way include the dance line, the drum line, the jazz orchestra and chamber singers – and so much more!
CHRISTMAS IN THE PARK
At Christmas, Dark Woods brings out about 300,000 lights for a unique outdoor holiday lights show. You’ll stroll along a winding path through the festive lighting displays while holiday tunes play through the speakers.
Stop at the fire pit to roast your s’mores, grab a Grinch-y hot cocoa, or warm up with mini donuts fried to order and covered with powdered sugar. There is also a small gift hut…and of course the opportunity for photos with Santa Claus (And is he ever an amazing looking Santa! It must really be him and not just one of his elves!)
Tickets are affordable, parking (even with our huge truck) is easy, and shows run daily until Christmas.
FORT ST JEAN BAPTISTE STATE HISTORIC SITE RE-ENACTMENT
Fort St John is such a unique living history museum; it’s a replica of the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase (which became Natchitoches.) We really enjoyed our visit there –more coming soon in our Things to Do in Natchitoches post.
But I do want to bring up here that Christmas is the time of year they host their onsite re-enactment, and it’s a MUST! Guided interpreters (in costume!) share about French Colonial life with demonstrations, artifacts and more. We learned about tanning hides and even held a rifle from 1699!
CHRISTMAS TOUR OF HOMES
Have you ever wanted to peek inside the beautiful historic homes in Southern Louisiana? This is your chance, and they will be all dolled up for Christmas, to boot!
A collection of 6-8 homes are opened each year, including the famous Steel Magnolias home. Tickets allow you to visit any or all of the homes on the roster, on a self-guided walking tour. At each location a docent is available to guide you through the house, offering commentary on the history of each property.
LIGHTED BOAT PARADE
One special day of the Christmas Festival is dedicated to the Lighted Boat Parade. It’s free to attend (and only $10 if you want to register your boat to be included!)
The community boat owners decorate their vessels to the hilt with lights and festive decorations, and then float them down the Cane River Lake in Downtown Natchitoches. The fun begins at 5:30, right before the sun goes down.
MORE INFORMATION FOR THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS VACATION:
- CHRISTMAS TOWNS: 50+ Absolute Best Christmas Towns In USA
- HELEN: 13 Reasons You Shouldn’t Miss The Helen Christmas Spectacular
- NEW ORLEANS: How To Enjoy Christmas in New Orleans Like a Local
- BRANSON: 9 Ways to Partake in the Branson Christmas Magic
- ROCK CITY CHRISTMAS: Your Guide To Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights
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WHERE TO STAY DURING THE CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL
Let me recommend booking your stay early early early! During festival season, things book fast. We visited in our RV, and about a month out the RV parks were already all booked. I can only imagine that the hotels and rentals are the same.
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