Over the years, I have been lucky enough to spend the holidays in various parts of the globe. Of all the world’s major cities, I sometimes think London enters into the festive spirit with the greatest gusto. But then I return to New York, and conclude that it is really the Big Apple that puts on the finest show of all. Here is a list of some of my favorite sights and events.
With its panoply of skyscrapers, landscaped plaza and key Midtown location, it is hard to conjure up a more ideal setting for the tree that has come to symbolize New York’s Christmas. This year’s tree is a 78-feet-tall Norway spruce that weighed in at 10 tons. Forty-five thousand LED lights grace its branches, all topped with a sparkling Swarovski crystal star. The lights come on every day at 5:30 a.m. and remain so until 11:30 p.m. every night except Christmas, when they will stay illuminated all through the night. After January 7, the tree’s last day, it will be recycled as lumber that is donated to Habitat For Humanity. My favorite viewing spot is from the delightful ice skating rink at its feet.
A key part of the Rockefeller Center complex is the splendid Radio City Music Hall, one of the most-beloved theaters in the world. Just seeing the interior for its art deco splendor alone makes attending an event here worth the effort. Perhaps not to my credit, I resisted the Christmas show for many years. But having seen it, I can attest to its enormous appeal: spectacular it is, a show that will pop the eyes of children and adults alike. Among the best moments belong to the renowned Rockettes, who, with astonishing precision, do an unforgettable routine dressed as toy soldiers. Just as memorable are Santa and his sleigh soaring into the sky, and the living nativity, with a full complement of live animals. The show runs through January 3.
Even those who are immune to the lure of shopping will find pleasure in the many eye-catching settings created for the shop windows in the city. A stroll along Fifth Avenue will provide a look at some of the city’s best. Among those I never try to miss:
Bergdorf Goodman: In honor of the 120th anniversary of crystal maker Swarovski, the store is utilizing more than seven million crystals to create displays that depict a cave, lions and a ballroom set for a birthday with crystal-encrusted cakes and gifts.
Henri Bendel: This fashionable shop is outdoing itself this year with a decorations that start at the front of the store with the depiction of a Parisian apartment, and inside the two-story atrium where a huge tree glistens with outsize ornaments.
Lord & Taylor: In this, the 78th year that the store has mounted its celebrated animated displays, Lord & Taylor marks its affiliation with Habitat For Humanity New York City with shows of wonderful houses and dwellings.
Macy’s: To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts, each of the six Broadway widows of the store will feature the Christmas adventures of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the Peanuts gang.
Saks Fifth Avenue: Directly across from Rockefeller Center, Saks this year not only filled its windows with wondrous dioramas, it transformed the entire façade of the store into a depiction of a winter palace with more than 225,000 lights. Windows expand the winter themes with depictions of a frozen Great Barrier Reef, a snow-covered Great Wall of China, and an ice-clad Colosseum.
Tiffany: I have always made an effort to see these smallest of windows (to foil jewel thieves) for the stylish, imaginative, beautiful displays. This year, Tiffany hearkens back to the 19th century to create lovely winter scenes. The entire exterior of the store, however, will be a 21st-century light extravaganza based on the exhibit of Tiffany diamonds at the 1939 World’s Fair.
Since 1984, a giant snowflake has hovered above the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. In 2002, the snowflake was donated to UNICEF, and in 2004, the current version made its debut. Designed by Ingo Maurer, this beloved holiday feature of the city measures 28 feet in height and sparkles with 16,000 Baccarat crystal prisms.
Culture vultures will be quick to point out that several versions of can be found on New York stages. For me, there is only one: the George Balanchine classic dances by New York City Ballet. I went as a skeptic many years ago as an adult, and it took me back to childhood in a way I have rarely experienced. With dancing snowflakes, battling mice and the Sugar Plum Fairy, this production could charm Ebenezer Scrooge.
Sponsored by neighbor Bank of America, whose headquarters is just across 6th Avenue, this New York holiday fixture features free ice-skating on a 17,000-square-foot outdoor rink (you need your own skates). After or before your slide on the ice, you can explore the 128 shops and food establishments arrayed along the rink’s perimeter.
If you know any children who have never seen the dinosaur exhibits or the life-size model of a blue whale, you will earn a place in their affection if you take them to this iconic New York institution. The special attraction at the holidays is a Christmas tree decked out with more than 800 handcrafted paper animals. If you’d like to try your hand at this art, volunteers from OrigamiUSA will be giving lessons.
The venerable Met has its own special Christmas tree, a 20-foot blue spruce set before a stately 18th-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid. Arranged among the branches of the tree are 22 cherubs and 55 angels, all from 18th-century Naples. A nativity scene graces the base of the tree, complete with the Holy Family, shepherds, the three magi and, typical of a Neapolitan setting, peasants and townspeople.