Home for the Holidays Team Member Traditions
Cultural traditions are deeply woven into the fabric of this city, so well known for its rich heritage and history. Most especially during this time of year, New Orleans' ethnic diversity shines brightly through the practice of holiday traditions.
To offer a window of insight into the different celebrations that are unique to our destination, we sat down with a few of our team members, showcasing the beauty of our family here at Loews New Orleans and what the holidays look like for them.
Debbie Williams, Concierge
Debbie grew up in Jefferson Parish on the West Bank of the Mississippi River where she currently resides with her family. One of their annual traditions is attending the Bonfires on the Levee in Algiers. Residents and visitors set tall, wooden pyres ablaze on the levees, (meant to light the way for Papa Noel) gathering around for live music, hot chocolate, and delicious food. Debbie and her daughter also love to explore the 25 acres of New Orleans City Park that are exquisitely decorated for Celebration in the Oaks. Though the hundreds of twinkling light displays are most captivating, Debbie prefers to admire the specially decorated trees; those are "her thing", she says. She loves the unique creativity and effort put into each tree and likes to get inspired for her own Christmas tree decorating in her own home. Debbie's house is a veritable Christmas wonderland during the holidays -- she puts up seven different Christmas trees every year, all with different themes and names like "Queen Victoria", "Santa's Jubilee", "Nautical Fantasy", "Disney Princess" and "Little Noel".
Because of Debbie's Greek heritage (she also speaks fluent Greek!), a big tradition of her family's is to bake baklava. They only bake this special dessert in December, in preparation for the holidays. Debbie is also an active member of her church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. She and her family always attend Christmas Eve Mass where they sing traditional Greek Christmas carols.
Debbie also co-chairs the New Orleans Greek Festival that is hosted by her church every year in late May. If you're in the Crescent City during festival season, be sure to add this marvelous event to your list!
Valerie Melancon, Banquet Captain
Valerie loves this time of year in the city that has been her home her entire life. Her and her two daughters, Jordan and Nile, and son Charlie, always don their comfiest pajamas on Christmas Eve and bake cookies together. Each child also gets the lucky chance to open just one of their gifts from under the tree before Christmas morning.
One holiday tradition they never miss is visiting the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, all decked out in elegant Christmas decor, with stunning lights and glittering trees that make this historic New Orleans establishment a magical scene to behold. Valerie and her children also love to venture over to Miracle on Fulton Street where it "snows" every hour on the hour in a landscape of twinkling lights and music.
On Christmas Day, after every present has been unwrapped and unveiled, Valerie and her children make rounds to spend quality time with their closest friends and family. Her cousin Ingrid is the first stop of the day where everyone grabs a bowl of her delicious homemade gumbo. In the background, Ingrid's specially chosen Christmas playlist belts out traditional tunes, setting the perfect festive mood. A full day of visiting also includes a stop at the home of Valerie's best friend, Chaval, who puts together a playland paradise for all the kids with bounce houses, inflatables and an outdoor fire pit for roasting marshmallows.
Jason Walter, Hotel Executive Chef
Normally Chef is dedicating his time to our guests during the busy holiday season, but if he finds himself able to spend time with family on Christmas Day, he loves to sleep in! A day of relaxation and quality time with his loved ones, he tends to let everyone else do most of the cooking.
One of his childhood memories from spending time with his family in Iowa has now turned into a yearly holiday tradition, all started with his cousin Mike. One year for Christmas, Mike decided he didn't like the traditional pecan and pumpkin pies his Grandmother was baking and requested a chocolate cream pie instead. Every year hence, Chef Jason, his brother-in-law, and Mike challenge each other to participate in what they call the "Piefecta" -- finishing ALL three pies in one sitting after the big Christmas meal. Even now that the family is no longer able to meet together in Iowa every year, they still uphold the "Piefecta" challenge over social media.
Chef lives on a lovely, wooded 10-acre farm on the Northshore of Lake Ponchartrain about an hour outside of the city. His plan this winter season is to commence planting fruit trees (and bushes) on his land including 10 apple, 4 blueberry, 3 boysenberry, 2 pear, 1 persimmon, as well as 6 varieties of muscadine vines. His garage is currently filled with approximately 300 Alpine strawberry seedlings also patiently waiting to be planted.
When asked about his favorite holiday pastimes, Chef said he can never pass up a steaming cup of hot buttered rum while exploring the light displays at Celebration in the Oaks with his wife, who must get her picture with the New Orleans iconic "Mr. Bingle". Glühwein is also a favorite that he learned to love while living overseas in Austria. Chef graciously shared his recipe for this hot, mulled wine so you can make it at home!
(I've made it twice already, and it's absolutely delicious!)
Chef Jason's Glühwein
2 bottles (750ml) inexpensive but tasty red wine
1.5 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise pods
Optional rum or brandy to taste
Glühwein is best made in smaller batches to avoid oxidation and overcooking when held for a long time.
Slice one of the oranges and one of the lemons into 1cm slices. Stud them with the cloves. With a vegetable peeler, peel the remaining fruit in thick strips, avoiding the white pith. Combine all ingredients in a 3-quart container (or a Crock Pot on the lowest setting). Stir gently to dissolve sugar. Bring to a very low simmer, covered. Allow ingredients to meld for at least 1 hour. Do not allow to boil, or the alcohol will begin to evaporate. Keep it covered when not serving, and drink from a small, sturdy mug. If you’re feeling creative, ingredients worth experimenting with include vanilla, cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg and tea!
Lizzie has been at Loews New Orleans since January 2016 and is a new resident of the Big Easy—but no stranger to its rich culture, colorful character and incredible cuisine. Her mom’s a NOLA native, and she’s excited to be returning to her roots.