We are now past the blissful gluttony of Thanksgiving and have finally entered that wonderful time of year when Adderall-popping department store ad teams produce an insurmountable tsunami of full page “must-haves”, while we attend sweater-centric Yuletide parties and revel in Christmas light displays that make you feel as if you are on a shroom-bolstered hike through the Rainbow Bright forest from Avatar. (Pause for breath…) If this is your first holiday season in the city, you are definitely in for a treat and if you’ve been jumping in mid-December slush oceans in New York for decades, then welcome back to the greatest time of the year.
The city undergoes some festive changes come December, bolstered by the coldest weather of autumn combined with the holidays and colors of winter. There are many incredible things to see and do in New York, but a lot of us tend to avoid places like Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park and the throngs of people that pour into the city for the holiday season. Keep in mind, those crowds are there for a reason: stereotypical ‘New York Christmastime’ is rather awesome. If you have never seen the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, you should definitely drop by (and while you are at it, block off an afternoon to go ice skating in Central Park). Think of this as the yuletide Statue of Liberty: you should definitely do it once, but after one trip, you are good to go for the next 10 years.
For those looking to avoid obvious December revelry, there are plenty of other things to see and do in the city before the New Year. They may (of course) be crowded, but are unique to New York and hopefully a bit easier to enjoy than Times Square and the Trump Ice Skating Rink.
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If you have never been to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, do yourself a favor and head up to Harlem sometime soon. This giant Episcopal church is thought to be one of the largest cathedrals in the world and the artwork and architecture is amazing. For festive fun, check out ‘A Cathedral Christmas’ on Saturday, December 11th, featuring Part One of Handel’s Messiah as well as a carol concert with their full choir. Tickets range from $30-$60, but it’s definitely something worth seeing. Can’t make the 11th? St. John’s also has Christmas Eve events including a Festival of Lessons and Carols.
It might not be your traditional Hanukkah celebration, but any event that starts off with an interactive rave/ fashion show/DJ concert is sure to be awesome. This is actually a week-long series of events focused on the arts with various DJ sets around town. It wraps up on December 8th at the Knitting Factory.
On the first Sunday in December, trucked in trees along Park Avenue’s median are lit for the season. This began as a memorial to New Yorkers lost in WWII, but has expanded to a celebration of all faiths furthering the cause of peace while remembering those lost. Trees are visible throughout the month from 97th Street to 48th Street, but if you visit Park and 91st on the night of the lighting, you’ll be treated to performances by a children’s choir and the U.S. Army Band.
If you don’t like the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, then this whole HOLIDAY SPIRIT thing just isn’t for you. The IFC Center on 6th Avenue does an annual run of the seasonal staple from December 17th-26th. I’d venture to say most people have never seen the movie on a big screen, and it’s definitely worth the $13, especially if you walk out of the theatre into a snow-covered West Village.
The tree lighting ceremony at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an event you are unlikely to forget. Tickets to the actual event may be out of your price range ($200/person if you are a member of the museum, $750/person if you are not), but it’s a magnificent ceremony in a beautiful setting. For those of you who don’t mind missing the flipping of the switch, you can visit the tree (for just the suggested price of admission) any time after December 2nd. Watch for the string ensembles that play holiday tunes in the background throughout the season, as the Met tries to instill the spirit in everyone who walks through the door.
Pete Greenaway has created a beautiful piece of multimedia art that will be on display at the Park Avenue Armory from December 3rd-January 6th. He recreates the refectory of the original home of the Last Supper and augments it with light and sound to tell the story of this magnificent painting with vantage points most visitors have ever seen. Tickets are $15 for adults, and if you have never been to the Armory, this is certainly a great reason to go visit this great New York space.
Starting December 21st, the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center will be performing Mozart’s The Magic Flute (on through early January). While not necessarily holiday-themed, the opera, and this performance in particular, is a wonderful way to spend a wintery evening in the city. Tickets range from as low as $22 to as high as $200, so there is a seat for everyone. My recommendation: The Dress Circle offers an excellent view of the stage without being terribly expensive (I’ve never paid more than $85 for a ticket and have always managed to be in the first few rows of the mezzanine).
Across the city, there are dozens of street fairs and markets that pop up for all your holiday shopping needs. Some tend to be crowded, while others are sparsely populated, but they all offer a great opportunity to find unique gifts for friends and family. So, wear a scarf, buy some hot cider and check out a few of these outdoor fairs around town. Bryant Park, Union Square, and the South Street Seaport all have popular holiday markets, and don’t forget the great setup at Brooklyn Flea as well as the Hester Street Fair in SoHo. For other markets to check out this season, visit Markets of New York.
If you are feeling a bit Scrooge-tastic this month, you can always go see the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. With tickets from $15-$200, take your pick on seating/views of the ice. I’ve never been to a Rangers game, but I hear it’s a great time, even if you don’t follow hockey. Don’t forget, it’s generally recommended that you enjoy a bit of ‘holiday cheer’ at a nearby watering hole before the game so you fit in with the other fans. And don’t wear anything ‘Boston’, or break this rule at your own risk.