There is nothing like attending a Christmas festival to get you in the Christmas spirit! I just LOVE spending time celebrating the season at outdoor festivals and markets with plenty of food, drinks, entertainment, and of course SHOPPING! One of BEST Christmas festivals I have EVER attended is the Natchitoches Christmas Festival in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Long before I was ever born in Louisiana, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival was born. This year the city of Natchitoches, Louisiana celebrated their 92nd Christmas Festival! It’s always held on the first Saturday in December each year and OH. MY. GOODNESS. it is SO much FUN!
The city of Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish) began as a French colony back in 1714, making it even older than New Orleans. In fact, it is the oldest permanent settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase. It is a lovely, quaint southern town complete with magnolia trees, antique stores, and wrought iron railings. What better place to celebrate the holidays!
Turning on the Christmas Festival Lights
The festival season in Natchitoches begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That’s when over 300,000 lights are turned on to the delight of those who travel from everywhere to see them. There are colorful lights up and down Front Street along the Cane River Lake. The two bridges crossing the Cane hold even more lights. And as if those were not enough, there are over 100 brilliantly lit set pieces all along the banks of the Cane. You’ll see everything from Santa Claus and Christmas bells to ice skaters all decorated with colorful lights. The lights keep brightly shining through January 6. Even if you can’t come for the actual festival day, you’ll have six weeks to come to view the lights.
Christmas Festival Day Starts Early
On the day of the festival itself, you can start your day early at the Natchitoches City of Lights 5K run! Then from 10am-4pm, you’ll have time to visit Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site to celebrate with 18th- century re-enactors and merchants selling 18th-century wares. You can also visit two other museums, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Northwest Louisiana History Museum.
Of course, there’s always shopping in the delightfully unique shops on Front Street. Cane River Kitchenware is where you can find specialty coffees, teas, and cooking pans and utensils. Don’t forget to check out what good dishes are cooking in the kitchen at the back of the store. Then there’s Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile where you’ll find everything from hardware to unique gifts and decorations to old-style toys you likely played with as a child. Lastly, there’s the Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium. There are all kinds of aromatic soaps, scrubs, oils, and lotions to a create a spa-like atmosphere in your bath at home in this lovely boutique. It’s one of only four locations of the original store located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and is an exceptional place to shop for special gifts.
Parade of the Day and lots of Food
At 1 pm the Festival of Lights parade begins so you’ll want to secure your viewing place along the parade route on Front and Second streets. Float riders will be throwing souvenirs and candy to take home with you. Of course, there are marching bands, including the local Northwestern State University band, flag lines, and dance groups. There’s also Miss Merry Christmas and her Christmas Belles and Shriners in their funny cars. And it wouldn’t be a Christmas parade without good ‘ole Santa. It may not be Macy’s but it’s a great parade for both locals and visitors.
Once the parade is over, you’ll want to head to the Downtown riverbank where you’ll find live music and lots of delicious Louisiana food and drinks. You’ll LOVE the original Natchitoches meat pies and even crawfish pies. I can never decide which one I want so I always get one of each! Of course, there are many other food choices as well down on the riverbank. Perhaps you’d like to try gator bites or just a hotdog! You’ll likely find food you’ll love. If not, you can head back up to Front Street or Second Street where you’ll find many great restaurants to try. Some of my favorites are Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen, Mama’s Oyster House, Maglieaux’s, Merci Beaucoup, and Hana’s.
Best Christmas Festival Accommodations
During the whole festival day, Front Street is closed to traffic around the Downtown Riverbank area. Since you bought the wristband for the festival, you can go back and forth whenever you want. And you don’t have to worry about getting run over by traffic. You may want to go back to your hotel room or bed and breakfast for a rest if you’re booked in the historic district. Hopefully, you’ve booked a room well in advance so that you can do that. ‘Cause this festival goes on well into the night!
There are a ton of B&Bs in Natchitoches as well as hotels, most within walking distance of all the festivities down along the riverbank. One of my favorites is the Church Street Inn located a half block from Front Street and close to ALL the Christmas festivities. The Judge Porter House is a few blocks away in a quieter part of the historic district but still close to downtown. The Samuel Guy House tucked away in a corner of the historic district at the end of a quiet street is still well within walking distance to the riverbank.
There are hotels as well, though most are located a few miles from the historic district. There is a relatively new hotel on Second Street, one street over from Front Street, the Chateau St. Denis. I haven’t been inside so I can’t speak for the quality of accommodations but you can check out their website here.
My Secret Christmas Festival Tip
One of my favorite places to stay is the Ducournau Townhouse located right on Front Street. It is in the center of all the activities down on the riverbank. It’s an excellent place for two couples to rent. The entire second floor can be rented, including two guestrooms with private baths, a kitchen, and other common areas. The French doors opening out onto your private balcony overlook Front Street where all the action begins, including the parade!
Christmas Festival Fireworks and More
You’ll definitely want to head back to the riverbank before 6 pm or you’ll miss the main attraction of the evening. There is standing room only down there! The incredible fireworks show begins then, complete with intricately arranged and timed music accompanying each set of unique firework segments. The show costs around $100, 000 to produce and is always spectacular. This show is amazing and lasts for about 30 minutes including the grand finale that NEVER disappoints the thousands of revelers who attend. In case you miss the festival and its fireworks, I’ll give you a little tip. Every Saturday night through January 6, there is a small fireworks show for those who come just to see the lights, shop, and feast!
After the fireworks, you’ll want to hang around for the evening’s live music. Several performers play until about 9 pm. There’s plenty of room to grab your partner for a dance or two down on the riverbank. Or you can search out that restaurant you’ve been eyeing all day. The party doesn’t end at 6:30 just because the fireworks are over. There’s plenty more to see and do until the evening ends around 9 pm and folks head back to their accommodations to wind down and get some much-needed sleep after an exciting and busy day.
Natchitoches Christmas Festival Wrap Up
The BEST Christmas Festival, in my opinion, is in Natchitoches, Louisiana on the first Saturday of December. The colorful lights on the riverbank come alive on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Festival day starts early with a 5K run. Afterward, there are museums to visit, shopping in unique stores along Front Street, and more. The parade begins at 1 pm traveling along Front Street and Second Street. Then there is live music and Louisiana foods to eat down on the riverbank. You can choose to go back to your room to rest awhile in the many local B&Bs or hotels in the historic district. But before 6 pm you’ll want to be back on the riverbank to get wowed by the spectacular fireworks show. Then there’s more live music and dancing on the riverbank before heading back to your room for a good night’s sleep. It’s the best day ever!
While the 2018 Natchitoches Christmas Festival is over, the lights will remain shining brightly through January 6, 2019. So get yourself to Natchitoches to see the lights and fireworks (on Saturday nights) and shop until you drop, eat, drink, and be merry! Or add it to your travel list for 2019 and book your accommodations now! You’re going to LOVE it!
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