Grab the kids and get into the holiday spirit by experiencing all that Christmas in New York City has to offer during the winter holidays, when most family activities are free. Things will be different this year, of course, as many of the indoor celebrations we cherish will be online virtual spectaculars that everyone can share in. Let’s see what’s on this season.
Top Christmas in New York City Holiday Trees
The 88th Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting on Dec. 2, 2020 is a must-see event that’s going digital this year, to be broadcast on NBC TV at 7pm EST. After we all read about the tiny saw-whet owl hiding in the tree as it was trucked to Manhattan from Oneonta, New York, we’re still anticipating an exciting night.
Typically, A-list celebrities, the Radio City Rockettes and ice skaters twirling on the Rockefeller Ice Rink perform in person, but this year’s Lighting Ceremony will be virtual. Thanks to Rock Center’s best press release service, however, we know that you’ll be able to see the illumination of more than five miles of lights and a giant star in person from Dec. 3rd to after New Year’s. It’s lit up from 6am to midnight daily (24 hours on Christmas Day.) Located in the center of the complex of buildings between 49th and 50th Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues, the tree attracts gawking tourists from all over, so be sure to wear masks and keep at least six feet from other visitors not in your party.
The recently reopened American Museum of Natural History has its own Christmas tree. Look at what’s dangling from this pine — it’s arguably much more interesting than just bright lights. Its boughs are decked with hundreds of paper origami shapes, adhering to this year’s theme,
“Cranes and Colors.” Download instructions to make your own origami cranes and color them in for the tree at home. On display between Nov. 25 and Jan. 10, 2021; book entry times online for a fun Christmas in New York City celebration.
Favorite Christmas in New York City Events
We’re sorry to say the Radio City Christmas Spectacular has been cancelled this year, but you can still feel the warmth of the Radio City Music Hall footlights. Join the Rockettes each Wednesday on Instagram Live at 3:00 pm EST for their weekly dance classes.
This year, kick off the holiday season with the Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair. Although it’s being held virtually on their website, the excellent craftsmanship, arts n’ crafts, gift items and clothing boutiques reflect the high quality of traditional European Christmas Markets. Shop till Dec. 24 and arrange to have purchases shipped or pick them up at the stunning terminal. If it’s your first visit to Grand Central, put on a mask and begin a tour of this famous railway station at the round Information Booth. (According to their website, it has a hidden, spiral staircase leading to the Information Booth on the Lower Level.) The Holiday Train Show is closed.
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The famed Constellation Sky Ceiling is an astronomical mural inspired by the French painter Paul Helleu that floats above the 80,000-square-foot Main Concourse. Its view of the Mediterranean sky with 2,500 stars (60 of which are lighted with fiber optics) is said by astronomers to be backwards but it’s extraordinary anyway.
Then, take the subway over to the just-reopened Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, where you’ll need to purchase an advance timed ticket. (NY Healthcare Workers and guests age 16 and under get in free.) There’s forever something going on at MoMA, though events are limited in line with New York City protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Christmas in Manhattan: The Great Outdoors
While you can certainly mask up, bundle up, walk around and enjoy the sights New York City has to offer, remain vigilant to current health and safety guidelines. Cruising along on one of the city’s double-decker buses is perfect for the older generation or littler ones. Book ahead, wear your mask and board early as seats are socially distanced. Plan ahead and dress according to the weather.
Whether you ride a bus or stroll along, make time for the unique storefront windows and displays of the big 5th Avenue stores. Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf’s are incorporating pandemic-era themes in their cheerful windows. The smiley faces along Bloomingdale’s Lexington Avenue entry are unmissable. Of course, Macy’s is going all out to praise and thank the first responders who have worked so hard all year. Check out the 50 miles of red and white lights turning Nordstrom into a candy cane this year.
The Fifth Avenue Association is also showing off something brand new: larger-than-life, illuminated holiday toy installations along 5th Avenue from 50th to 59th Streets. They’ll be illuminated from about 4pm-10pm nightly with the Pulitzer Fountain (the one opposite the Plaza Hotel at 58th Street) lit full time. Share photos on our Facebook page!
While outdoors, you can catch a bit of the city’s famous lights and 360-degree views of the boroughs of New York City and beyond from a very high vantage point. At the Empire State Building, the 86th-floor Observatory is installing new heat lamps for the winter season that will keep you extra cozy when the temperature drops below 50 degrees. Their fun indoor museum on the 2nd floor is open also, to limited capacity, so book ahead.
Wherever you walk, be sure to gaze skyward to see the lights on the Empire State Building, whose colors change according to specific dates and holidays.
Cruising Around Holiday Manhattan
Sometimes, you just get lucky and there’s an opportunity to be outdoors, packed with teachable moments and wonder, a way to scratch off a bucket list item in a fun and fruitful way.
Author Keith McCarthy’s cruise account encourages New Yorkers and visitors to “spend the day crushing on Lady Liberty, rekindling a sorely-tested faith in Democracy, touring Ellis Island’s National Museum of Immigration to uncover the truth about our mixed attitudes towards immigrants.” This winter, get up close to “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World,” a New Yorker since 1886, on a Statue Cruises boat tour that includes stops at Liberty Island and Ellis Island.
Holiday Beauties in the Bronx
On select dates Nov. 20 to Jan. 10, 2021, the Bronx Zoo will hold “Holiday Lights” with animal lantern safaris, ice-carving demonstrations, holiday treats, costumed characters, wildlife theater, stilt walkers and more. Book ahead as capacity is limited.
Also in the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden is presenting its annual Christmas “Garden Holiday Train Show.” This year, however, due to limited capacity, it’s a members-only event. If you’re not members, get the family tickets to NYBG GLOW, open Nov. 27 to Jan. 9, 2021. Keeping other visitors in masks at a comfortable social distance, tour these gardens and the lovely crystal Haupt Conservatory as they glow with thousands of dazzling lights and photo-worthy installations fill the Reflecting Pool. Look for artistic ice carving displays, roving dancers and musicians plus more outdoor fun.
Holiday Lights #StarryLights in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
Brooklyn is known for many things. One of our favorite holiday activities is to explore the Dumbo area between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. From here, the lights of Manhattan reflected in the East River and those of the growing city of Brooklyn surrounding you will put you in the holiday spirit year round.
For an even bigger dose of holiday lights, join more than 100,000 annual visitors to view the amazing decorations in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Take the R or N train and bundle up for the 15-minute walk through Brooklyn’s quiet neighborhoods to reach 10th through 13th Avenues between 81st and 86th Streets in this neighborhood near the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Whether you drive or take a car service, get out and walk by the homes so you can appreciate the animatronics and lightshows. Do wear masks and keep away from other groups as you sightsee. Ask the kids to bring a few dollars to contribute to a local charity as some homes take collections.
Favorite Christmas in New York City Shopping
We love Christmas Markets and best of all, they’re free to roam around in, providing endlessly fascinating art objets, crafts, clothes, jewelry and other gift items your kids will want to see… but probably not own.
At Bryant Park, a reduced Christmas Market of small shops is surrounding the ice skating rink from Oct. 30-Jan. 3, 2021. Look for one-of-a-kind arts and crafts, plus hot cider and hot chocolate to keep the chill off. Masks are required and hand washing stations will be widely available so you can feel free to admire the merchandise. The skating rink is open daily through March 7, 2021 with free admission; book your skating time online in advance of arrival. There’s a modest fee for skate rentals and equipment will be sanitized between every use.
The Union Square Holiday Gift Market will not be operating in its usual way. Instead, support local businesses by doing USQHoliday shopping online and buying your produce, etc in person at the famous Green Market, open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
While there are certainly thousands of stores eager for your support, and many more things to do at Christmas in New York City, we urge you stay safe and help New York businesses recover some of their holiday cheer. For more information and current events schedules, check out the NYC & Company website.
What’s your favorite way to celebrate Christmas in New York City? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
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