This year, the celebrated New Orleans tradition of taking in the Christmastime spectacle of City Park, known as Celebration in the Oaks, will once again adapt to recent events, echoing its 2005 pivot, caused by Hurricane Katrina, according to a nola.com article.
The Crescent City was in this situation fifteen years earlier when downed trees had decimated much of the city’s electrical infrastructure, Celebration in the Oaks had to adapt to become an event with a reduced footprint. In 2005 the damage and darkness left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina had turned the event into a pedestrian-only tour in theCarousel Amusement Park and New Orleans Botanical Garden, and due to the social distancing measures placed in effect by the city as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the event will shift back to a driving tour, eliminating the pedestrian portion.
City Park’s CEO Bob Becker, remarked on the need of the adaptive plan, “in the age of COVID, where social distancing and mask wearing is necessary and there are capacity limits, we thought the safe way to do Celebration in the Oaks would be to bring back the driving tour. That way, people can enjoy Christmas lights from the safety and security of their car.”
The driving loop will be 2.5-miles long and it will take participants through the live oaks and lagoons of City Park, meaning that over 1 million lights will be visible to all attendants from their vehicles. Despite the lack of live entertainment and amusement park rides, the event is sure to bring back nostalgic memories of the Celebration in the Oaks’ return to its driving-tour roots, mimicking the event from its time in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000’s.
Becker remarked on the irony of reverting to an older plan for the event, saying, “some people say, ‘This is fantastic — I loved the driving tour before Katrina ruined it, and we’re glad you’re bringing it back.’” Though the driving tour isn’t the only thing from the past being brought back, as familia light displays from years past such as a 15-foot waving santa are set to make a return. One such historic display is Monstro, the 24-foot whale from Pinocchio making an appearance for the first time since 2004, the last time the event was on a driving-path.
What sets the light show of Celebration in the Oaks apart from light displays in other parts of the country is that all of City Park’s installations are made in-house, with many of the displays being handmade or indicative of uniquely New Orlans imagery. Some of the city’s iconography to be seen will be light displays that resemble crawfish, mardi gras beads, alligators as well as more traditional holiday motifs and whimsical displays. Setting this year apart from the previous is a newly installed light-up tribute to health care workers.
Preparations for this year’s event began in August with electrician Richard Martinez and builders Rusty Van Velsen, Steve Birney, and Joey Donnelly working seven-day weeks installing all of the displays and infrastructure found in the park.
The city of New Orleans is all too familiar with last minute changes in plans, and yet the city recognizes when moral is in desperate need of christmas cheer, so just as 2005’s Celebration in the Oaks gave positivity in December from the disasters of August, so will the event do once again to give a light at the end of a tunnel of the obstacle-laden year of 2020.
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