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New York City is magical any time of year, but especially during the holiday season, when the city is ablaze in festive lights, lavishly decorated trees, and awash in seasonal entertainment for all families. Heading to the Big Apple this holiday season? Consider this your guide to Christmas in the city.
Rockefeller Center’s holiday tree
The first Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was erected in 1931, in the midst of the Depression as a symbol of hope during one of one of the largest urban renewal efforts in U.S. history. These days, more than 50,000 energy-efficient bulbs illuminate the world-famous tree, and at the end of its life, it’s cut into logs used by non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity to construct homes, and also made into mulch for trees and plants in NYC parks. The inaugural lighting of the tree happens December 1. And while the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree gets most of the attention, it’s not the only one overlooking an ice skating rink. There is another in Bryant Park, which also features a European-style outdoor market for handmade gifts and holiday foods.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
After a pandemic pause, The Rockettes are back with their precision chorus line kicks and turns, and colorful costume changes. Simply put, everyone needs to see this show at least once in their lifetimes. There are two, and sometimes three performances daily on weekdays, and four a day on weekends, from early November to New Year’s Weekend, so there’s no excuse to skip it.
Department store windows
Saks Fifth Avenue & the Macy’s flagship in Herald Square always put on a great show.In what is a new tradition, the entire block-wide front of Saks, across Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center, is fully covered with digital lights resembling a castle, which shape-shift and change colors to music in a mesmerizing 10-minute sound and light show.
The theme of Macy’s 2021/22 windows is the journey of discovery by Santa, his elves, and a special reindeer who leads the way, with his nose so bright. There’s also the opportunity to visit Santa himself, in Macy’s Santaland, by appointment only. Santa, of course, makes his first appearance of the season at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC, but that’s another story.
Holiday light shows and displays
The canopy of the 10-story glass atrium Winter Garden at Brookfield Place in Manhattan is covered with more than 650 LED lights to create Luminaries, a light show happening hourly November 29–January 2. On select days (Dec 4–7, 11, 12, 16–19) the display is called Maestro and the lights are controlled by visitors, using touch screen panels at so-called “wishing station” kiosks, to create an ever-changing show of dancing colors in various intensities, to a soundtrack of holiday favorites.
Who doesn’t love trains? The annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx features a miniature wonderland of New York City, with tiny trains traversing it. Famous landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, the equally iconic gigantic NYBG greenhouse and other favorites, are all crafted from natural materials such as pine cones, birch bark, acorns, and seeds.
Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo is another new tradition that has grown in popularity each year, and features hundreds of life-sized illuminated animals, including giraffes, lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my! There also are illuminated tunnels and arches to walk through. The annual exhibit includes entertainment, and several dates are adults-only and include a sampling of beer, wine, and various nibbles.
Lightscape at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a one-mile trail winding through BBG’s 52-acre landscape. Be dazzled and delighted by international showstoppers like the Winter Cathedral tunnel, Fire Garden, and Field of Light, as well as site-specific light works created by local artists.
Dyker Heights, a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn, has become known for its extravagant displays created by homeowners, who don’t admit they are competing with one another for the best and brightest. Take the N or R subway to 86th Street and walk around, since driving there will have you stuck in gridlocked drive-by traffic.
Hanukkah in NYC
NYC has one of the world’s largest Jewish populations in the world, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the world’s two largest menorah lighting ceremonies are here, one in Manhattan and the other in Brooklyn.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of the Lights, celebrates the miracle 2,000 years ago when there was only enough oil to light the Second Temple in Jerusalem for one night, but it lasted for eight. These days, for every night of Hanukkah, an additional light, or candle, is added for eight consecutive nights to a ceremonial menorah.
The world’s largest menorah, at Grand Army Plaza, Fifth Avenue at 59th Street, adjacent to Central Park, requires somebody on a cherry-picker to light the light. Ditto at the world’s second largest Menorah, at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, adjacent to Prospect Park.
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