The lights, the tree, the festive atmosphere, only without the crowds (and hefty prices)
Consider this post a special edition: some of the locations pay respect to different holiday films. See if you can fill in the missing movie title in each blank space. (hint: all take place in New York City)
For nearly a decade, I kicked off the holiday season in New York with an evening walk in Midtown Manhattan to see the lights and decorations. Sean and I began an annual tradition of doing this together when we began dating. We brought Eliza along in her baby carrier for the first time when she was four months old. But 2018 was the first time we weren’t around to enjoy the sights and sounds of New York before Christmas. And as much as we had plenty of good reasons, I was glad we were able to make it back to visit at the start of the new year.
Sure, it felt strange booking a hotel in Tribeca rather than returning to our former place in the East Village, but after a massive surge for New Year’s Eve, the per night rate ended up being about the same as we would have paid (on a per-night basis) for our apartment rent. And it came with a free daily breakfast, something our previous apartment certainly did not.
If you’re likewise thinking about when to visit New York City, consider the first full week of January. Residents have typically returned from their holiday travels and are back to work, students are returning to school, and New Year resolutions have people spending time at the gyms instead of the bars, which means you’ll find fewer crowds and marked-down rates. Sure, the weather risks being brutal, but there are more than enough places in the city to help you stay warm.
But back to the holiday decorations in Midtown: I assumed we missed our chance for the holiday fun, but turns out most decorations stay up a few days past January 1st. We planned to do a family walk together on Saturday, January 5th, but that evening proved to be too cold, rainy, and past Eliza’s bedtime to bring her along. So, we spared her the fun! Sean stayed in with her and I set off uptown on my own.
A perfect evening seeing the sights
I started off at the festive food hall at the Plaza Hotel, which was nicely decorated but rather quiet, since most of the restaurants had closed by just-past-8pm arrival. If Eliza were with me, she would have been so impish that even ___________1 would’ve been given a run for her money.
Up next was the hard-to-beat-or-miss Rockefeller Tree at Rockefeller Center. There were about 10% as many spectators this time around versus our last visit. Still, people were lined up to skate in front of the onlookers at the Rockefeller Rink.
After seeing the tree, I texted Sean that I felt like Kevin McCallister from ___________2, lost in NYC seeing the sights all by myself. It felt delightful and lonely all at once. I don’t think there were any sinister bandits following me home, though one can never be too cautious.
Nearby, the Saks Fifth Avenue light show never disappoints, especially the Broadway theme of this year. (I’m a musical theatre geek at heart.) I had a panic-stricken moment where I thought that this would be the last year of the show, since I’d heard that several Saks locations are shutting down. But rest assured, that’s not the case for the flagship location.
I ventured over to Park Avenue for a new sight: each year since 1945, hundreds of trees are lit up from 97th street to 48th street to honor those lost in WWII. It’s since become known as Park Avenue Memorial Trees. This was my first year seeking out the Park Avenue Trees after hearing about it only recently, which is a great reminder to continue learning about your own city.
While checking out the trees, I walked past the Seagram building on Park and 53rd, where a dour man worked and was about to get ___________3 by meeting the eerie Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
Next, I walked on 5th Avenue southward to check out the many glittery storefronts, a mix of gaudy and delightful.
When I got to Bryant Park, I walked down the lane of empty holiday shops, since they close on January 2nd there, and felt quite serene. I caught a glimpse of the Empire State Building lit up red and green, as if ___________4 himself had selected the hues. I searched and searched for the “World’s Best Coffee” but came up short and enjoyed a hot chocolate from Starbucks instead.
The ice rink is lovely to watch and fun to skate (though it’s been several years since I’ve done so) and boasts free admission—that is, if you bring your own skates (it’s a $20 rental fee otherwise). The Bryant Park Winter Village is open through March so there are plenty of chances to visit, and there’s no shame in just visiting only the heated beer garden.
One I didn’t make it down to this year that I usually see was Macy’s and their displays, as it’d take ___________5 to get me there from Bryant Park quickly enough given how tired I was feeling. I made my way back with a smile and a slight sugar rush (I forgot to mention that I’d brought candy along the way to really feel festive).
The above spots are some of the most popular holiday favorites that I’ve loved over the years (and all within walking distance of each other) but I want to note that there are tons of other decorations and festivities and favorites all around the city that I didn’t mention, from Dyker Heights lights to Central Park’s lighting ceremony and many more.
I’ll leave you with my favorite reason of all for visiting this time of year: it feels like a bonus to have a few days to savor holidays well after others have already moved on. Afterwards, Sean and I both agreed that there’s something invigorating about crowds hustling to get a piece of the action; most of us don’t visit NYC hoping to have a relaxing, rejuvenative time—we expect a certain amount of bustle. So if this feels like an essential part of your holiday festivities, perhaps coming after the holidays isn’t for you. If not, start planning your January 2020 trip!
And though we missed New Year’s Eve in NYC this year, I have so many happy memories over the years and think that it’s hard to go wrong with spending New Year’s Eve in NYC; just ask the characters of ___________6, who finally got up the nerve to kiss on NYE after many years of friendship. I’ll have what she’s having indeed.
Now, scroll on for answers to the blanks above of holiday movies that take place in NYC:
- Eloise at Christmastime*
- Home Alone 2
- A Miracle on 34th Street
- When Harry Met Sally
*this was a made-for-TV-movie and not all that great, but is still worthy of a mention since we have a daughter that will probably love it one day