The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as "Black Friday," the biggest shopping day of the year and the frenzied confirmation that the holiday season is in full swing. But the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend seems brighter as many old and new holiday lighting traditions turn on the switch. Here's a rundown of Thanksgiving and holiday events kicking off this week and brightening spirits.
Celebration in the Oaks and holiday lights
Since the mid-1980s, New Orleans City Park has decorated parts of the park for the holidays, and it now places roughly 600,000 lights and displays on trees, bayous and its attractions across 25 acres. There are all sorts of Christmas and holiday decorations and many illuminated figures are non-seasonal, including dinosaurs, Victoria the Unicorn at the Carousel Gardens and the Treasure Island pirates ship in the lagoon near the park's Esplanade Avenue entrance. The Peristyle, Storyland and the New Orleans Botanical Gardens shine under thousands of strands of lights. Visitors can walk through the park, visit the Carousel Gardens and Storyland or ride the mini-train on a two-mile journey around the lighted attractions.
Celebration in the Oaks (www.celebrationintheoaks.com) is open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday Nov. 28 through Jan. 3, 2015, and there are special events, including a run/walk Dec. 13. Admission to Celebration in the Oaks is $8 and free for children under 3. Train rides cost $4 and amusement ride tickets are $3 each.
Mr. Bingle, a snowman with an ice cream cone for a hat, has appeared in Celebration in the Oaks since 2005. Mr. Bingle originally debuted on Canal Street in 1948 in the shop windows of the Maison Blanche department store.
The Canal Street corridor between the French Quarter and CBD will be lit with one million holiday lights this season. The official lighting ceremony is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in front of the Crowne Plaza New Orleans French Quarter (739 Canal St., 504-962-0500). There's complimentary apple cider, hot cocoa and holiday cookies in the hotel's St. Charles Ballroom from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Visit www.canalstreetholiday.com for details.
The Arts Council of New Orleans http://www.artsneworleans.org/events/) launches LUNA Fete this week. The first project is designed to link different aspects of New Orleans culture via a projected light installation at Gallier Hall.
"There's a lot of growth in contemporary art and lots of films being shot in New Orleans and great architecture, but there wasn't a lot of overlap," Arts Council President Kim Cook says. "We are creating something that's spectacle-based and beautiful."
The presentation uses a technique called video mapping, in which the French artist Damien Fontaine makes illustrations and animates and enhances them for large-scale projection on a building or public space. Fontaine created images of New Orleans scenes and cultural events. The high-tech mapping accounts for the dimensions of the building, such as Gallier Hall's columns, and creates the illusion of movement. The video mapping display begins Sunday, and there are screenings of the 10-minute piece at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. nightly from Nov. 30 through Dec. 6.
LUNA Fete officially kicks off Saturday at the Arts Council's art market in Palmer Park (South Carrollton Avenue at Dublin Street). The market is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and there's live music from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
LUNA Fete is a five-year project, and future light installations will include lasers, motion graphics, fire and more.
Thanksgiving at the track
Traditionally, Thanksgiving Day has been opening day at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots (1751 Gentilly Blvd., 504-944-5515; www.fairgroundsracecourse.com). It's a big day at the track because of the holiday and Thanksgiving Handicap, but the track opened its season Friday with the 2014-15 season's first Starlight Racing event. The popular evening racing series happens once a month (the first post time is 5 p.m.), and there are added entertainment features such as live music, DJs, food trucks and more. The next Starlight Racing event is Dec. 26.
Many New Orleanians dress up and start Thanksgiving at the track. For those who wish to spend the holiday there, reservations are recommended for seating in the clubhouse. Reserved seating includes traditional Thanksgiving fare, and prices range from $70-$125. There's also a Thanksgiving buffet offered in the grandstands ($34 adults, $12 children). The first post time is 11 a.m. for opening day (and 1:25 p.m. regularly). The 89-year-old Thanksgiving Handicap features top sprinters and offers $60,000 in prizes.
Racing season extends through March 29, and its pinnacle is the Louisiana Derby on March 28. The thoroughbred racing season features 47 stakes races worth $5.73 million.CORRECTION: Due to an editor's error, an earlier version of the story misidentified the origin of Mr. Bingle.