Natchitoches, Louisiana is blessed with natural beauty, numerous historic sites, and a rich and legendary history. It also has one of the longest running Christmas Festivals in the nation. What a great reason to visit this National Historic Landmark District and see this epic Christmas celebration event for yourself. In fact, it’s almost a century old. This year marks the 96th annual “Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights.” That’s a lot of years of spreading Christmas Cheer in one of the oldest settlements in America on Natchitoches’ beautiful River Front.
This little town has BIG history, Natchitoches is the oldest permanent European settlement in the Louisiana Purchase Territory and is named after a local Native American tribe. It was founded by the French in 1714 and yes…it is even older than New Orleans.
Starting back in 1927, this annual holiday event is now one of the oldest community-based holiday celebrations in the country. It began as a one-day festival, but now the Natchitoches Christmas Festival has evolved into a six-week long Christmas Season. The Saturday before Thanksgiving is when it officially begins and concludes on January the 6th, the Epiphany. Over 300,000 lights and 100 plus set pieces are on display every night at the beginning of dusk. I was really surprised to learn that the festival actually runs for 45 consecutive nights!
This fun Christmas Celebration is full of excitement and is visually stunning. It is filled with music, entertainment, arts and crafts, food vendors, and the famous festival fireworks show – which is truly impressive! One thing that makes the fireworks show so special is that it is choreographed to traditional holiday music, while the vibrant bursts of colors reflect over the Cane River. One of the most popular and unique events is the beautiful River Christmas Parade. It’s a treat to watch these elaborately lighted barges parade up and down the river! This festival is very memorable and is honestly like being on a movie set. I thought it was very picturesque. In fact, there is a scene of the Christmas festival and fireworks show in the block-buster movie, Steel Magnolias. By the way, this movie was filmed entirely in Natchitoches.
One of my favorite memories was riding around town in a horse drawn carriage. This was just dreamy, and Cane River Carriage Rides offers the best tours while giving an interesting and informative commentary. It’s a great way to see a broad-brush tour of the area.
Throughout the festival, you’ll find fantastic cuisine and a nice variety of food booths stocked by local restaurants and home-bakers, many serving a local favorite…alligator. But my pick is the popular Natchitoches meat pies. No one really seems to know the origin of the Natchitoches meat pie, but it has several international ties. There are meat stuffed empanadas in Spain as well as early French references to a savory turnover known as a pâté, which is made with venison or other meats. All I know is that the legendary Natchitoches meat pies are delicious and a must!
Another thing to consider is the “Christmas by Candlelight Tour of Homes” sponsored by the Natchitoches Historical Society. We really enjoyed these home tours and learned so much about the city’s history and legends. We saw typical Christmas decorations and crafts from long ago inside these historic homes with people dressed in period clothing. There are over 200 historic structures in Natchitoches, including a significant concentration of 18th and 19th century buildings built using the French colonial construction.
This vibrant community does a great job of preserving its incredibly rich and diverse heritage. Natchitoches’ Christmas Festival of Lights is truly unique and enchanting. There is something magical about this charming, little southern town and this wonderful Christmas tradition that is for everyone to enjoy!
Check out NatchitochesChristmas.com for schedules and details.