25 Ways to Celebrate the Festive Season in New York City

New Year's Eve Ball Drop
New Year's Eve Ball Drop

Is there anything quite so exciting as New York City in the holiday season? From Manhattan to the Bronx, here’s what’s happening in the Big Apple in the lead up to – and after – Santa’s arrival

From the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—which officially kicks off the holiday season—to the Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center and the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, there’s nothing quite like the holiday season in New York City.

Beginning in November and extending into January, New York City holds a slew of events celebrating the festive season such as the  NYC Winter Lantern Festival in Staten Island, and awe-inspiring window displays at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s Herald Square and the new Nordstrom Women’s Store.

Where to begin? You can start with the 25 things below…

1. Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes

  • November 8 – January 5
  • Midtown, Manhattan

The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes returns to Radio City Music Hall, dazzling audiences of all ages. The production sparkles with incredible costumes, festive songs and the iconic synchronised high kicks.

The Radio City Hall Rockettes
The Radio City Hall Rockettes

2. The Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History

  • November 25 – January 12
  • Upper West Side, Manhattan

One of New York’s beloved traditions includes a 13-foot tree and 1,000 origami models. Hosted at the American Museum of Natural History, the signature Origami Holiday Tree has been an annual tradition for over 40 years. Volunteers, including local, national and international origami artists, fold year-round. Each year, the tree features a different theme relating to special exhibitions or collections at the museum.

3. NYC Winter Lantern Festival

  • November 20 – January 12
  • Randall Manor, Staten Island

The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is returning to Staten Island. Sponsored by Empire Outlets and venue partner Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, eight acres at Snug Harbor will be lit up by more than 50 LED installations. The LED lanterns will be accompanied by live performances of traditional Chinese dance and art.

NYC Winter Lantern Festival
NYC Winter Lantern Festival

4. Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo

  • November 21 – January 5
  • Fordham, the Bronx

Returning for the first time since 2007, the light displays at the Bronx Zoo will cover several acres in a walk-through experience with wildlife-themed LED displays, custom Asian lanterns and animated light shows on Astor Court. Entertainment will include holiday-themed music, performances, ice carving, train rides, seasonal treats and souvenirs.

5. New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

  • November 23 – January 26
  • Fordham, the Bronx

Head to the New York Botanical Garden to be enchanted by model trains zipping through a display of more than 175 New York landmarks, each re-created with bark, leaves and other natural materials. The New York Botanical Garden is conveniently accessible via the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Terminal.

New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show

6. Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science

  • November 23 – January 13
  • Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens

Holding the record for the largest gingerbread village, Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science is back and more edible than ever. Visitors are invited to witness the vast collection of gingerbread structures which are embellished with candy canes, chocolate and frosting.

7. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

  • November 28
  • Manhattan

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic New York City celebration of the holidays, featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, Broadway musical performances, celebrity appearances and more. The parade begins at 9 am on 77th Street and Central Park West and makes its way to 34th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

8. Empire Outlets

  • Various dates
  • St. George, Staten Island

As New York City’s first-ever outlet destination, Empire Outlets will ring in the holiday season starting with a special Black Friday sale and their first annual festive tree lighting ceremony. The outlets, easily accessible by the free Staten Island Ferry from Lower Manhattan, will be adorned with thousands of lights, garland wraps and a 40-foot tree. Holiday revelry will be available for all visitors and families with live music, carolling, in-store shopping deals and promotions.

9. See the Holiday Classic, A Christmas Carol

  • Various dates
  • Greenwich Village, Manhattan and Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens

Throughout New York City, theatres bring Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future alive onstage. For a unique venue, head to the 1832 Merchant’s House Museum in Greenwich Village as an actor portrays Charles Dickens and shares this memorable Christmas story in the Greek Revival double parlour November 29 – January 4. The Players Theatre will also present their 11th annual A Christmas Carol the Musical December 1–30 in Greenwich Village, while A Christmas Carol at Queens Theatre brings back their fresh and fast-paced musical production December 6 – 22. The cast transports the audience to Victorian England to experience Scrooge’s iconic journey.

10. Belmont BID Arthur Avenue Tree Lighting Ceremony

  • November 30
  • Belmont, the Bronx

Experience Christmas in the Bronx’s Little Italy at the Belmont BID Arthur Avenue Tree Lighting. The annual event features a visit from Santa, cookies and hot chocolate among the twinkling lights. Explore the neighbourhood following the lighting and warm up with an authentic Italian dinner.

11. A Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights Tour of Dyker Heights

  • December 1 – 30
  • Dyker Heights, Brooklyn

Considered one of Brooklyn’s most popular holiday attractions, the Christmas Lights Tour of Dyker Heights is home to the most extravagant and glamorous display of Christmas lights across New York City. A Slice of Brooklyn Tours gives an inside look at these bright and cheerful neighbourhoods.

Christmas Lights Tour of Brooklyn Bus Tours
Christmas Lights Tour of Brooklyn Bus Tours

12. 23 Days of Flatiron Cheer

  • December 1 – 23
  • Flatiron District, Manhattan

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer will include free, holiday-themed events showcasing the intersection of shopping, dining and culture in this vibrant neighbourhood.

13. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

  • December 4
  • Midtown, Manhattan

The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center has been a tradition for more than eight decades. Lighting up Rockefeller Plaza, the tree lighting ceremony features performances and classic Christmas songs. Visitors can enjoy the tree through early to mid-January, and can ice-skate at The Rink at Rockefeller Center beginning in October 2019.

Rockefeller Center Holiday
Rockefeller Center Holiday

14. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center

  • December 4 – January 5
  • Midtown, Manhattan

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s holiday season opens with premieres, new productions and repertory favourites, including the masterpiece Revelations. The performances feature the Theater’s incredible 32 dancers led by artistic director Robert Battle.

15. Los Nutcrackers: A Christmas Carajo

  • December 6 – 21
  • Westchester Square, the Bronx

During December, the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance presents its annual Los Nutcrackers: A Christmas Carajo! This gay, Latino comedic play intertwines two holiday classics: The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol.

16. Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill

  • December 7 –8
  • Riverdale, the Bronx

Create one-of-a-kind holiday decorations by the gorgeous gardens and galleries at Wave Hill during their Holiday Workshop Weekend. The interactive workshop is geared towards everyone’s creative spirit from miniature tree arrangements to multicultural decor.

Wave Hill Holiday Workshop Weekend
Wave Hill Holiday Workshop Weekend

17. A Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular at the St. George Theatre

  • December 7
  • St. George, Staten Island

The famous St. George Theatre presents its annual Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular featuring rhythm and blues. Audiences can enjoy the soulful presence of critically acclaimed performers such as: The Vogues, The Crystals, Eddie Holman and the Fireflies.

18. Three Extraordinary Versions of The Nutcracker in Three Boroughs

  • Various dates
  • Upper West Side, Manhattan; Flushing, Queens; Flatbush, Brooklyn

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center Plaza brings the classic Christmas Eve tale to life with breathtaking music and choreography. Visitors are invited to experience the magic in Manhattan from November 29 to January 21. The Nutcracker at the Salzburg Marionette Theatre is, too, coming to Flushing, Queens on December 4 with a twist on the original characters. A historical puppet cast that is hand carved and traditionally painted is bound to entertain children and adults alike. And lastly, The Brooklyn Nutcracker at Kings Theatre is a re-imagined holiday classic opening its doors on December 14. The production transforms familiar Nutcracker characters and scenes to represent the diverse traditions and vibrant culture that makes Brooklyn a melting pot.

Brooklyn Ballet Nutcracker
Brooklyn Ballet Nutcracker

19. Holiday Performances at the World Famous Apollo Theater

  • Various dates
  • Harlem, Manhattan

The iconic Apollo Theater, celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2019, hosts a variety of holiday events at the iconic Harlem theatre this winter. On December 14, gospel choirs from the Harlem community will perform for free under the theatre’s famed marquee in the return of holiday favourite Coca-Cola Winter Wonderland followed by the Amateur Night Holiday Special showcasing recent winners of the show’s “Apollo Stars of Tomorrow.”  Gospel legends Yolanda Adams and Donald Lawrence headline the return of the theatre’s annual concert Holiday Joy: A Gospel Celebration on December 21. As a grand finale, the Apollo Theater celebrates its annual Kwanzaa Celebration on December 28 featuring Abdel Salaam’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre and guest performances.

Kwanzaa Regeneration Night
Kwanzaa Regeneration Night

20. Candlelight Tours

  • December 14 – 21
  • Richmond Town, Staten Island

This Christmas season experience the taste, smell and touch of centuries past at Historic Richmond Town. Step back in time while touring the unique New York town which is illuminated by candles and oil lamps. Reservations are not required, but they are recommended.

21. 11th Annual Latke Festival at the Brooklyn Museum

  • December 16
  • Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

One of New York City’s most unique and delicious holiday tasting events, the Latke Festival is a charity event that celebrates the best and most creative potato pancakes in New York City.

22. Melrose Holiday Parranda

  • December 21
  • Melrose, the Bronx

The Melrose Holiday Parranda follows in the footsteps of Puerto Rican holiday carolling with a procession based on plena music and other holiday songs from the island. The festive parade will be led by members of the Bronx’s music and cultural community and is co-sponsored by the Bronx Council on the Arts, Bronx Music Heritage Center and We Stay/Nos Quedamos Committee.

23. Lighting of the Largest Menorah in Brooklyn and Lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah: Manhattan

  • December 22
  • Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; Grand Army Plaza, Manhattan

Both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Grand Army Plazas host competitors in the race for the World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah. The Largest Menorah in Brooklyn has been lit since 1985, and the annual concert to kick off the holiday will be held on December 22.

Brooklyn Grand Army Plaza Holiday Menorah
Brooklyn Grand Army Plaza Holiday Menorah

24. New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop

  • December 31 – January 1
  • Times Square, Manhattan

Each year, millions of viewers watch the Times Square Ball Drop from New York City and around the globe. The Waterford Crystal Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball sparkles in Times Square for visitors to see all season, but its descent on December 31 is a specular, once-in-a-lifetime way to ring in the New Year.

25. New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park

  • December 31 – January 1
  • Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Tucked far away from Central Park’s frenzy is the Grand Army Plaza’s iconic New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park. This spectacular celebration includes live music followed by a fireworks show at midnight.

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