Christmas is all about tradition. Many people make the same food, use the same ornaments, visit the same special holiday shows and activities. Even Jews in New York have their Christmas Eve routine: Chinese food and a movie. Read on to discover some new Christmas fun in NYC and other things to do around the holidays.
Christmas is a great time to visit NYC. Yet, the holidays make the city so crowded, no one should come here. This duality becomes more apparent every year, as more and more places host exciting Christmas lights and other holiday spectacles.
And driving around the city can be either the most frustrating experience, as you sit in gridlock, or the easiest way to get to some of these outer borough attractions. Though Thanksgiving Day driving (particularly to the parade) can be soul crushing, the Christmas weekend itself offers virtually traffic free rides.
Every year, The Brooklyn Museum also hosts a latke festival. This potato pancake contest is open to all religions and eaters. These are not your Bubbe’s* latkes. Toppings may include pork belly or lobster, and even the potatoes may be subbed out for beets, carrots or parnsips. The latke festival is December 16, 2019. Proceeds benefit The Sylvia Center, which teaches healthy eating habits to children and families. (*Bubbe is the Yiddish word for grandmother.)
Christmas in New York: NYC Winter Lantern Festival
Last year, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island started this new holiday festival. In 2019, the NYC Winter Lantern Festival returns, running November 20, 2019 to January 12, 2020. The gardens will be lit up by over 1000 lanterns. There will also be live performances of traditional Chinese dance. You can take the Staten Island Ferry (bundle up) and a free shuttle from Empire Outlets. The Winter Lantern Festival starts at 5 p.m.
Christmas at New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx
Only a Grinch would point out that the Holiday Train show is not technically new. The show, which runs for more than two months, began in 1992. My kids grew up with it. But it has grown and transformed so much over the years that when we visited last year, it was as if we had never been before.
When we took our young children, the model trains were the main attraction. Now that the kids are older, they were more interested in examining the model buildings. Bark, leaves, acorns and stones comprise the 175 buildings, bridges and structures. Yankee Stadium, (though not Citifield – this is, after the Bronx) the Cyclone and the Brooklyn Bridge are also represented.
Back in the day, we just showed up at the botanic garden when it was convenient. Now, you need timed tickets. Then you wait in a holding area where a man on stilts and people dressed as engineers corral the crowds. Next, there’s a video about the exhibit. But that was quite interesting and we had our daughter, who is fluent in Spanish, watch the Spanish version and translate.
Note: If you drive to the botanic garden, don’t despair if the parking lot is full. Street parking across the street is free.
Christmas in NYC can be Dog Friendly
As a Brooklynite and native New Yorker, I assumed everyone in Brooklyn went to the Dyker Heights Christmas extravaganza at least once. We go every year and don’t even celebrate Christmas! It’s a great evening outing with your family – and your dog.
You can drive to Dyker Heights and park a couple of blocks away, or take the subway. The streets with the highest concentration of holiday lights are closed to traffic. Seeing these holiday decorations is free. Some houses spread holiday spirit by offering free cookies and hot chocolate.
Our holiday season always includes ice skating, whether the free rink at Bryant Park, the tourist bait Rockefeller Center or the winter wonderland skating rinks in Central Park and Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Central Park actually has two rinks: Wollman Rink and the less crowded (and less expensive) Lasker Rink.
There is also The Rink at Brookfield Place. The downtown Manhattan ice skating rink, run by United States Olympians Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, has views of the Statue of Liberty and the Hudson River. Gregory and Petukhov have a “Stars United” ice skating show with live music. “Stars United” is December 10 and 11 at 7 p.m.
You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to enjoy the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. I’ve always gotten a kick out of the high stepping Rockettes, who will perform this holiday season from November 8th through January 5th, 2020. The Rockettes started in 1925, and first performed at Radio City Music Hall on the night it opened, December 27th, 1932. No wonder the Christmas Spectacular is a holiday tradition!
You can spend a day at 30 Rock, with a package including Radio City Christmas Spectacular tickets, VIP skating (with a special warming hut Igloo and free hot chocolate) and dinner at the Rock Center Cafe. And hey, while you are at 30 Rock, check out Top of the Rock. From this rooftop vista, you can see the Empire State Building lit up for Christmas, the lights on Broadway and a lot of the Big Apple. You also get a bird’s eye view of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
The New York City Ballet has the quintessential Nutcracker, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. But this is not the only Nutcracker. The Brooklyn Nutcracker combines ballet, hip-hop and world dance. Best of all, it is at the newly renovated King’s Theater in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Getting Around NYC in Winter
I love driving around the city over the holidays. So many people leave the city that street parking is easier this time of year. And waiting for a bus in the cold, or a subway in a freezing train station, is no fun. I recently had the opportunity to drive the Lexus UX, a family crossover designed for urban driving. The compact SUV is easy to park on the street, and has pedestrian detection, so you can safely navigate around jaywalking New Yorkers.
If you are planning to ice skate during your winter holiday in NY and you are driving, bring the family’s ice skates. Rentals can be as high as $20 a pair, so bringing your own is a huge savings.
Another plus about driving in Manhattan or around the boroughs in winter – streets are not closed for street festivals. Spring, summer and fall, you can find street fairs all over, which means you can’t drive down the block. When I was a kid, Fifth Avenue used to be closed to vehicles one Sunday every year. We would walk through midtown, looking at the window displays and eating roasted chestnuts.
But with the closing of some major department stores, and the spread of window displays in other parts of the city, shutting down 5th Avenue doesn’t make sense anymore. Bloomingdales, on Lexington Avenue, has wonderful holiday window displays. Macy’s Herald Square, on Broadway, is also a draw. And this year will also be the first Christmas season for Hudson Yards, and NYC’s first Neiman Marcus.