It’s December. You’ve gotten through Friendgivings and Thanksgiving, but the race has barely begun. Break out your warm coat, pull up your holiday shopping list, and start stringing lights. There will be events to attend every night of the week: mandatory company Christmas parties, tree lightings, caroling, secret Santa brunches, cookie swaps and bake-offs, toy drives, ugly sweater parties, white elephant gift exchanges, and cocktail after cocktail after cocktail. You will wrap gifts, trim the tree, watch Elf or Love Actually for the hundredth time, consume all the chocolate on your Advent calendar and collapse onto the couch just in time for the New Years festivities.
It might be hard to imagine having a moment for anything else during the most wonderful time of the year. But, for those living in New York, I highly recommend squeezing in a little culture. For Christmastime is truly the city at its best, and there are oodles of not-to be-missed activities at your fingertips.
Read on for several recommendations.
Ah, the Sugar Plum Fairy. Little Polichinelles. Um, hello! The Land of the Sweets! What is there not to like about this story? Add in Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, and you’ve got a recipe for wonderland. In my opinion, New York City Ballet is home to the pre-eminent Nutcracker performance. It’s hard to beat Karinska’s costumes, Balanchine’s legendary choreography, and the onstage presence of NYCB’s incredible dancers (as well as the darling addition of students from the School of American Ballet). But if the ticket price is out of your budget, there are many other wallet-friendly options throughout the five boroughs.
A traditional interpretation: New York Theater Ballet stages a traditional version of The Nutcracker. This performance is set to Tchaikovsky’s score, but told in a family-friendly one-hour time frame. The small company will be in residence at Florence Gould Hall on December 13, 14 and 15.
A smorgasbord of dance: Brooklyn Ballet’s The Nutcracker is not only for fans of ballet. This take on the traditional story, choreographed by Lynn Parkerson, blends street dance, flamenco, hoop dance, hip-hop and other forms of physical expression, alongside the classical ballet interpretation.
Tap dancing through the sugar plums: Dorrance Dance’s stay at the Joyce Theater in Chelsea includes a premiere of Michelle Dorrance’s latest work, a piece set to Duke Ellington and Bill Strayhorn’s 1960 jazz interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
Not for the whole family: Company XIV, a dance group based in Buschwick, is staging an erotic retelling of the holiday tale. Nutcracker Rouge includes circus performers, stripper poles and partial nudity.
Nutcracker x Hip-Hop: rapper Kurtis Blow acts as MC during The Hip-Hop Nutcracker, a fiercely contemporary version of the classic story, set to rap and told though hip-hop expression.
Lights, Lights, all kinds of Lights.
You’ve got the infamous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the window displays at Saks and Bergdorf Goodmans. There is Bloomingdales and Macy’s, the Bryant Park Christmas decorations and the ‘World’s Largest Menorah’ just across from the Plaza Hotel. But outside this center of commercialized holiday bliss, there are many more displays to be dazzled by.
The Christmas House of the Garabedian Family: this infamous holiday display, located in the Baychester neighborhood of the Bronx, has been a cornerstone of the city’s holiday celebrations since 1974. You will see renditions of the Virgin Mary and St. Theresa, angels and Baby Jesus crowded alongside celebrity visages, wreaths, strung lights and, of course, dear old Santa Claus riding in his sleigh.
Santa’s Corner: at a house in Flushing, Queens, New Yorkers and tourists alike come to gawk at the elaborate, glowing tableau put up each year by resident Kevin Lynch.
Little North Pole: it isn’t called the little North Pole for no reason! This display, in Far Rockaway, Queens, is transformed each year into Santa’s hometown. The larger-than-life decorations feature Santa’s workshop, Candycane Lane, and 20-foot tall toy soldiers.
Dyker Heights Lights: this entire neighborhood goes all-out for the holidays! The Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn has become a major attraction over the years, thanks to its over-the-top decorations. In fact, this area has become such a staple of Christmastime New York, there are guided tours every night in December!
Hudson Yards: the newest addition to the holiday entertainment list, Hudson Yards is offering an indoor-outdoor light show entitled Lyra. The light and music installation, designed by Christopher Schardt, includes 12,000 LED lights that are synced with a musical soundtrack to create an interactive viewing experience.
On Broadway (or close enough).
If you want to take a break from entering the Hamilton lottery, here are some options for good theater around the holidays.
Radio City Christmas Spectacular: if the high-kicking Rockettes aren’t enough to get you to the Christmas Spectacular, the entertaining song and dance throughout should be!
New York Philharmonic: every year, the philharmonic performs Handel’s Messiah throughout December. For music aficionados, this is a must-see.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Dr. Seuss’ famous story told on-stage at Madison Square Garden.
A Christmas Carol: Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas are brought to life in Dickens’ classic tale.
For the Kids.
They’re writing their lists, Santa is checking his twice. In the meantime, ramp up the holiday excitement with some of these fun, family-friendly activities.
FAO Schwarz: the iconic bazaar of childhood dreams is back in business, people! Check out the toy store’s holiday displays and let you kids run wild. Giant toy soldiers included.
New York Botanical Gardens: each year, the NYBG puts on a holiday train show. The show, set in a beautifully decorated space, displays model trains moving about over 175 NYC landmarks.
The Winter Village at Bryant Park: there is something for every kid at Bank of America’s winter village. Whether it be ice skating, pop-up shops, or plenty of food and drink — there is more than enough to keep everyone entertained.
O Holy Night.
For a healthy dose of spirituality.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral: in addition to the various Christmas-related masses, St. Patrick’s cathedral hosts a Christmas concert with performances by The Young People’s Chorus of New York, New York Symphonic Brass, and many other notable groups.
Park Avenue Tree Lighting: the Brick Church on the Upper East Side welcomes one and all for an evening of song and reflection before the cherry trees all along the avenue’s median are lit for the season.
The Chelsea Symphony: St Paul’s Lutheran Church hosts the Chelsea Symphony for a one-night-only musical event.
Holiday Joy – A Gospel Concert: The Apollo Theater offers a holiday concert featuring Yolanda Adams.
Shop til you Drop.
If you decided to avoid the Black Friday madness and your eyes are hurting from all that Cyber Monday screen time, check out these other options around town.
Union Square Christmas Market: the quintessential holiday shopping market, featuring local vendors and one-of-a-kind goods. There is something different every year!
GCT Holiday Fair: Grand Central Terminal is not just a beautiful building for trains to go in and out of. Every year, the space organizes a holiday market dedicated to unique, handmade goods. A perfect place to find a gift for that friend who has everything.
Brooklyn Navy Yard Holiday Market: over 40 vendors, each one exclusively selling Brooklyn-made goods. Afterwards, stroll around the navy yard for a quick history lesson.