Christmas is such a festive time. I love the lights and the decorations.
The most beautiful place to “do” Christmas is New York City and its boroughs. The big stores in Manhattan feature the most extraordinary window dioramas. Some have decorations that have obviously been part of the store’s collection for decades, if not generations. Doll figures of various sizes ice skate, ride in sleighs behind trotting horses, or re-enact scenes from “A Miracle on 34th St.” That’s the one where Santa had to prove he was legitimately Santa, and it all worked out in court when the U.S. Post Office sent all the bags of Santa’s mail for delivery to the jolly old gent.
Some of the window scenes are animated, with Santa’s sleigh and reindeer zooming wildly along a rollercoaster-like track, or moving characters that perform tirelessly through the Christmas season. If you can only do one evening of window viewing (they look their finest at night), start at Macy’s, the flagship store that started it all.
Decorations here and there
Macy’s is open late, and here’s a little fun tidbit about the store. The escalators are oak! Yes, they are wood, and as you ascend the store’s many floors, they get narrower…and narrower…and finally at the top floor, they are just wide enough for one person. Their design is just like today’s metal escalators, except that there are wood slats merging over and over into each step, instead of the metal grids. The patina of age and use shows that they’ve been doing their job since the beginning of store operations.
The streets of New York City have decorations here and there, as well as the standard overhead lights and banners. There’s a pile of giant Christmas ball ornaments, and the year we were there, it was over by Radio City Music Hall. The animated toy soldiers on the Music Hall marquee are not to be missed. The ice rink at Rockefeller Center is fun to watch, and the decorations in the plaza are also spectacular.
Various can’t-miss New York attractions
If you can, plan a trip out to the Bronx for a visit to the New York Botanical Garden Train Show. You have to have reservations, and you’ll be waiting a long time in line for your group to go inside, but it is all worth it. There are trains, trains, trains, everywhere, with multiple levels of track, touring past elaborate miniature models of New York buildings. It’s a grand sight. Before your time slot in the train hall opens, you can explore the gardens. Plan your train viewing for after dark, and winter’s early nights lend themselves to making the light show both inside and out a spectacle. If you’re staying in Manhattan, take the train out to the Bronx, not the subway. It’s a long walk through a somewhat dodgy neighborhood to the gardens from the subway stop, and I wouldn’t want to do it late in the evening.
Grand Central Terminal is another can’t-miss New York attraction. Take the architectural tour with a docent, who explains many of the features of the building. You’ll never look at the building on TV or in movies in the same way again.
Another fun thing is a boat tour around Lower Manhattan after dark to enjoy the lights. If that isn’t in your budget, hop on the Staten Island Ferry, which is free. Ride it back and forth, seeing the Statue of Liberty from a distance, and the bright lights of The City. And come New Year’s Eve, if you don’t want to face the crowds of Times Square, you can watch the fireworks from the ferry. You won’t have a super view, but you’ll see beautiful displays from both Times Square and Brooklyn. The boat doesn’t stop, so you’re going to be blocked out by buildings pretty quickly, but this is an insider’s way to enjoy a New Year’s Eve.