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Holidays in New York

The holiday season in New York City is quite literally the stuff dreams are made of. Few other places reach such mythic proportions of holiday fantasy than New York and for both tourists and locals alike the city offers up an abundance of nostalgia, glitter and cheer even in these ‘belt tightening’ times. Manhattan’s landscape of skyscrapers awash in lights already brighten winter’s dark and dreary nights. The addition of rows of proud Christmas trees parading down posh Park Avenue, to the giant, glittering snowflake suspended high above fabled 5th Avenue and the shops below make for an altogether breathtaking sight.

Of course, those who live in the suburbs surrounding the city or elsewhere in the nation will point out their own showcase neighborhoods where each home attempts to outdo the next in holiday lighting splendor and variously arranged plastic reindeer and snowmen. What is unique about New York and specifically Manhattan during the holidays, however, is simply that it is the city. A giant steel, cement and cobblestoned island that grew from the five points neighborhood in its grittier, hard scrabble past to the international powerhouse it is today. This amazing city: serious, sophisticated, built by the labor of so many blue collar Americans, immigrants many of them, is like a world unto itself and to see it bedecked in it’s holiday finery is to truly understand the universal appeal of Christmas in America. The holidays in New York are not only about the Christian celebration of Christmas, a giant Menorah stands at the south end of Central Park across from the Plaza hotel and earlier in the month the Empire State Building glowed blue in observance of Hanukkah. However, Christmas, as it has come to be known in New York, far surpasses any ethnic or religious boundaries.

Tourists from all over the world, of all backgrounds come in throngs to gaze in wonderment at the sky-high Rockefeller Christmas tree, twinkling with millions of multi hued lights and towering above the ice skating rink below. As with many things in New York, if you want to take a twirl on the rink you will have to join the lines of all the other holiday revelers and wait your turn. The crowds may nearly dissuade some, but once on the ice it only takes a few turns around the rink, in the glow of the tree above and the gaze of diners from the rink side restaurants to make anyone feel like a star in their own holiday classic. A classic of New York romance and glamour, the rink at Rockefeller center has been the scene for many engagements leading savvy executives to come up with the ‘engagement on ice’ package which sets the scene for popping the question complete with a few minutes of private ice time.

The holidays would not be complete without the ornate holiday window displays of fabled New York department stores like Bloomingdales and Macys delighting the kid in all of us with their animated and dazzling designs. When the pocketbook is tight, window-shopping is the way to go and there is no better place than the city at the holidays to indulge in a bit of fantasy and sparkle without spending a penny. Macy’s windows are over the top holiday tableaus that have less to do with advertising the goods inside than creating a scene of gasp worthy holiday joy. They are that very same Macy’s that was the setting for the much beloved holiday classic, A Miracle on 34th Street, which pointed out some very universal truths about the existence of holiday spirit in all of us.

Bloomingdales windows feature an animatronic larger than life teddy bear covered in Swarovski crystals, typical New York holiday decadence, and even allows onlookers to literally become part of the window display with a hidden camera and video monitor. Some landmark stores such as Cartier on Fifth Avenue make the entire store the display, wrapping the entire building in a bright red bow of lights, and Saks Fifth Avenue covers it’s exterior with large snowflakes of lights.

For smaller scale shopping further downtown in Union Square stands one of the original holiday markets with the now ubiquitous red and white striped tents. These markets are found all over the city nowadays, in Bryant Park and Columbus Circle among others but Union Square seems to have one of the best locations surrounded by some of the city’s most distinct architecture. There is the blazing neon red sign for the W Hotel appearing above the tree tops in what used to be the Guardian Life Insurance building and further to the north the gilded pyramid topped New York Life building and Met Life clock tower which, like the Empire State Building, glows with different colored lights to mark holidays and special occasions. After the noisy hub-bub of midtown with a sense of the extravagance of the New York holiday season it is nice to wander about the market stalls with a cup of steaming hot apple cider and take in the holiday sights and sounds at a slightly less hurried pace.

Some of the most beautiful and iconic images of New York City come from the wintery holiday season, a lone horse drawn carriage trotting through a snow dusted Central Park, the festive lights of Little Italy where Christmas is celebrated with cannolis and old world cheer, skaters holding hands on one of the cities many iconic outdoor rinks. These heartwarming images have been recreated in books, movies and songs and when you next hear the classic tune, Silver Bells, with it’s lyrics, “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style, in the air there's a feeling of Christmas…” you can be sure it’s New York City they are talking about and the feeling of Christmas and the holidays can be had all for a mere stroll down the city street.

About the author

Jessica Horani Jessica Horani has lived in NYC off and on for over ten years since first coming to Manhattan as a 21-year-old law student. After a slightly traumatic address mix up in Greenwich Village on her first night, she fell in love with the City over a slice of pizza and the sparkling January night air. The love affair never ended and after a period of working for the Public Defender's office in Miami, she has returned to live in Brooklyn and pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. The roaring New York of her twenties remains a fond and sometimes bittersweet memory, like an old lover,but there is another New York; one of serene beauty, historical importance and vibrant diversity that she is discovering anew every day. She hopes to share her love for New York City, both new and old, and the personal journeys it can take you on with the visitors to NYCfoto.com.

Jessica Horani is an Editor-at-Large of NYCfoto.com

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