City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style...
New York shines during the holiday season. The city's energy reaches new heights from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve.
Santa Claus arrives in Herald Square at the end of Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The big Christmas tree sparkles in Rockefeller Center. The Rockettes dazzle at Radio City Music Hall. And on New Year's Eve, the crowds count down the last seconds of the year as the ball drops in Times Square.
But unless you're a tourist on vacation, you can't spend days sight-seeing during the busy holiday season. So what to do with the free time you carved out of your schedule? Where to begin...
The towering Christmas tree and the glamorous ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center are among the most indelible images of New York in December. Rockefeller Center's plaza takes up a chunk of real estate between 48th and 51st streets, between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
The 2015 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree will be lit for the first time on Dec. 2, with live performances from 7 to 9 p.m., and a live national broadcast on NBC.
The Rockefeller tree will sparkle with thousands of LED lights. The tree will remain lit throughout the season and can be viewed until 8 p.m. Jan. 6.
Hundreds of tubas can be heard at Rockefeller Center during the annual "Tuba Christmas" concert, a tradition at the ice rink since 1974. The event is scheduled this year for 3:30 p.m. Dec. 13, conducted by Chris Wilhejlm. Admission is free and spectators are encouraged to sing along to Christmas carols and holiday standards.
If you enter Rockefeller Center from Fifth Avenue, you'll be led to the tree by the elegant display of illuminated, horn-blowing angels. However, you'll also be clobbered by the crowds. If you walk from Seventh Avenue to 49th or 50th street, the tree will take you by surprise as it suddenly comes into view, and then you can work your way over to Fifth to see the angels, and perhaps proceed to St. Patrick's Cathedral.
The cathedral, a masterpiece of American Gothic Revival, is nearing the end of an extensive restoration project to the interior and exterior. The $100 million restoration is expected to be finished in December.
Masses continue to be celebrated daily at St. Patrick's, which was built between 1858 and 1879. The life-sized creche attracts locals and visitors at Christmastime.
Back at Rockefeller Center, an entirely different view of the tree can be had from the ice. The rink offers 90-minute skating sessions daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. General admission during the holiday season is $27 or $32, depending on the date. Seniors and children under 11 are admitted for $15. Skate rental is $12.
New this year is online reservation access to "Starlilght Skate," the final skating session of the night, from 10:30 p.m. to midnight. Online reservations can be made for Dec. 7, 8, 9 and 10, and Dec. 14, 15, 16 and 17. Admission is $45, and you don't have to wait in line.
For an extravagant treat, families can indulge in "Breakfast With Santa," rink-side. From now through Dec. 24, there are early-morning seatings at Rock Center Cafe, at 7:15 and 9:15 a.m., and The Sea Grill, at 8:15 a.m. Dates are weekends plus Dec. 18, 21, 22, 23 and 24. A buffet breakfast, visits from Santa and elves, music by carolers, gifts for children, a holiday frame for the family, and admission to the skating rink, without having to wait in line, are included. Prices are $115 to $150 for adults, $75 to $95 for children under 10 at The Sea Grill, and $80 for adults or $50 for children under 10 at Rock Center Cafe.
For breakfast availability, or to reserve a skating time, call 212-332-7654 or go to therinkatrockcenter.com. To reserve a private, 30-minute skating lesson, call 212-332-7655. Lessons are $50, which includes admission to the rink.
Skating is also available at Bryant Park, or at Wollman Rink (now called Trump Rink!) in Central Park.
Bryant Park is between 40th and 42nd streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues. The park is behind the New York Public Library, whose marble lions, Patience and Fortitude, wear evergreen wreaths around their necks at holiday time.
The ice skating rink is the centerpiece of Bryant Park's Bank Of America Winter Village, and it is especially noteworthy because admission is free. Skating hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. There is a Christmas tree and more than 125 boutique-style vendors in the Holiday Shops section.
Le Carrousel, a merry-go-round designed to complement Bryant Park's French classical style, is open in the winter. Hours in December are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sundays through Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. January hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Holiday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dec. 24, 25, 31 and Jan. 1; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Dec. 26 to Dec. 30. A ride on the carousel costs $3. Call 212-768-4242 or go to bryantpark.org.
For Wollman/Trump Rink, enter the park at Central Park South (59th Street) and Sixth Avenue. Follow the foot path into the park and stay to the right. Public skating hours are 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Admission is cash only.
Rates are $11.25, $5 for seniors and $6 for children under 12 Mondays through Thursdays; and $18, $6 for seniors and $9 for children under 12, weekends and holiday weeks. Spectators pay $5. Skate rental is $8. For info, call 212-439-6900 or go to wollmanskatingrink.com.
From 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 7, Wollman Rink will celebrate "Chanukah On Ice," observing the first night of the holiday with live music, kosher food and a menorah made of ice. For more info, go to chanukahonicenyc.com.
Seeing is believing
Window shopping takes on new meaning for visitors to New York in December, as many department stores dress up for the holidays. Macy's Herald Square location, immortalized in "Miracle on 34th Street" and sponsor of the big Thanksgiving Day Parade, is a great place to start if you take the train into the city, as it's across from Penn Station on Broadway at 34th Street. The theme this year for the six windows on Broadway is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Saks Fifth Avenue, across from St. Patrick's on Fifth Avenue at 50th and 51st streets, also is known for its holiday window display. Among other big draws are Lord & Taylor, on Fifth Avenue at 38th and 39th streets; Bloomingdale's, on Lexington at 59th and 60th streets; Barney's, on Madison Avenue at 60th and 61st streets; and Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany & Co., on Fifth Avenue at 57th and 58th streets.
Also on Fifth Avenue, at 59th Street, a massive menorah will be lit from Dec. 6 to 13 to celebrate Hanukkah. The 32-foot-high, gold-colored steel menorah is billed as the world's largest. It stands in Grand Army Plaza, at Fifth Avenue and W. 59th St., across from The Plaza hotel, where afternoon tea in the Palm Court is a luxury at any time of the year. Afternoon tea is served from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Price ranges from $65 to $105, per person.
The Eloise tea menu, inspired by the children's book about a spirited girl who lives at The Plaza, costs $39 for children under 12 and $55 for adults. For reservations, call 212-546-5311 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info, go to theplazany.com.
For the holidays, The Plaza hosts a special Eloise tea with Santa, at $100 per child and $50 per adult. The teas are offered on Wednesdays, Dec. 9 to 24, and Fridays, Dec. 4 to 18, from 2 to 3 p.m. and 4 to 5 p.m. Reservations are required. Call 212-546-5460 or e-mail Eloise@ThePlazaNY.com
Get your kicks
Not too far from Rockefeller Center stands the fantastic Radio City Music Hall, at 1260 Sixth Ave., where the "Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular" showcases the precision dance troupe, The Rockettes. Whether as wooden soldiers or high-kicking candy canes, The Rockettes have been celebrating the holiday season with style since the Great Depression. The "Christmas Spectacular" is performed multiple times daily now through Jan. 3.
Make sure you get there early, as soon as doors open, if possible, to avoid long lines. Plus, you'll want to have time before curtain to enjoy the grandeur of Radio City, where the chandeliers are like constellations and where the ladies' room has a lounge. The Wurlitzer organ in the theater provides pre-show entertainment.
If you go, look for Nikki Hester on stage. This Rockette is a Jersey Girl, a native of Westfield and a former dancer with Garden State Ballet and American Repertory Ballet. She has been a Rockette for 10 years.
"It was always a dream for me to be able to audition for The Rockettes," Hester said. "I remember when I was told I had made it, I went running out of the building, screaming and overwhelmed with joy. It's an honor to be part of such a legacy."
Hester appreciates the glamour, as well as the hard work, that comes with the territory.
"With 36 women on stage, there's a wow factor, and I love being part of that," Hester said. "The orchestra, the lighting, the stage itself all make for a breathtaking show."
The "Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular" ends with a "Living Nativity" that includes camels and other live animals on stage.
Tickets range from $45 to $250. For info, call 212-247-4777 or go to radiocity.com.
At the Theater at Madison Square Garden, "Elf The Musical" will present a quirky take on the holiday season from Dec. 9 to 27. The musical, based on the Will Ferrell comedy, tells the story of Buddy, an orphaned child who mistakenly crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and is transported to the North Pole. Unaware that he is actually human, Buddy’s enormous size and poor toy-making abilities eventually cause him to face the truth. With Santa’s permission, Buddy embarks on a journey to New York City to find his birth father, discover his true identity, and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.
One of the characters most in need of Buddy's good cheer is Jovie, a harried department store clerk played by Spotswood native Veronika Kuehn, a graduate of St. Bartholomew School in East Brunswick and Bishop Ahr High School in Edison.
While Jovie is a homesick California girl who has never seen snow and is down on Christmas, Kuehn herself had no trouble keeping her holiday spirit during rehearsals.
"I happen to love Christmas, and Christmas in New York in particular," Kuehn said. "So every time I heard that overture and those sleigh bells, I got excited. The whole cast really seems to love Christrmas, so there's been a buzz that gives us a lot of energy. The spirit of the show will keep you in the mood, definitely."
Tickets are $39 to $160. For more info, go to theatermsg.com.
Charles Dickens' holiday classic will come to life in a new musical at the Davenport Black Box Theatre, 354 W. 45th St. "A Christmas Carol: A New Musical" re-imagines the story of Scrooge by setting the story in modern times. The play features original lyrics by producers Daniel Orama and Tami Orama, with music by Daniel Orama. Bryan Radtke directs.
The musical showcases young talent as well as established actors. Among the children in the cast is Anna Veres, 10, of South River, who plays Scrooge's kind and hopeful sister, Fan.
Veres, a fifth grader at Immaculate Conception School in Spotswood, bubbles with enthusiasm and even bursts into song when asked about her New York debut.
"It's so fun to watch all the professional actors up there," Veres said. "They really inspire me. I've met other kids through this, too, so it's been great."
A "triple threat," Veres acts, sings and dances in "A Christmas Carol: A New Musical." She admires the show's choreographer, Kristen Smith.
"She's awesome," Veres said. "I love her choreography. I get to do tap and jazz, and it's really fun."
Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m., Dec. 4 and 11; 2, 5 and 8 p.m., Dec. 5 and 12; and 2 and 5 p.m. Dec. 6 and 13.Tickets are $25 for ages 13 and older, and $20 for seniors and children 12 and under. For more info, go to achristmascarolmusicalny.com.
"The lesson of the story is mostly about being nice to everybody, especially on Christmas," Veres said.
Sounds of the season
Holiday concerts abound. Among them are "Sights & Sounds Of Broadway With David Jeremiah," at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3, and "Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home For The Holidays," 8 p.m. Dec. 5, both at The Beacon Theatre, Broadway at 72nd Street.
Carnegie Hall, at 881 Seventh Ave. between 56th and 57th streets, offers lots of holiday programming, including "A Charlie Brown Christmas" with The New York Pops at 3 p.m. Dec. 20. Tickets are $10 to $25. The New York Pops also present "It's Christmastime In The City" at 8 p.m. Dec. 18 and 19. Tickets are $20 to $122.
Several performances of Handel's "Messiah" are scheduled at Carnegie Hall, including one by The Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23. Tickets are $13.50 to $90.
Carnegie Hall's season also will feature "Joy: An Irish Christmas with Keith and Kristyn Getty," starring a husband-and-wife duo from Northern Ireland who write contemporary hymns. They also perform traditional carols and Irish folk music, joined by a choir and musicians on Celtic and bluegrass instruments. Show time is 7 p.m. on Dec. 11. Tickets are $15 to $150.
For info, call 212-247-7800 or go to carnegiehall.org.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Episcopal cathedral near Columbia University, will host Paul Winter's 36th annual Winter Solstice Celebration at 8 p.m. Dec. 17 and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19. This year's solstice event features the Brazilian singer/guitarist Renato Braz and the gospel singer Theresa Thomason. Tickets are $55 and $90. The cathedral is on Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street. For more info, call 212-316-7540 or go to stjohndivine.org.
Lincoln Center, the arts complex between 60th and 65th streets at Broadway and Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, boasts a long roster of holiday events, from the New York City Ballet's production of "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker'' at the David H. Koch Theater to the New York Philharmonic's concert on New Year's Eve, "La Vie Parisienne." Among the featured dancers in "The Nutcracker" are New Jersey natives Brittany Pollack of Woodcliff Lake and Meagan Mann of Lakewood. Other Lincoln Center highlights include the 48th annual "Messiah Sing-In," at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 in David Geffen Hall; and Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's "Big Band Holidays" Dec. 17 through 19 at the Rose Theater.
For general inquiries about Lincoln Center, call 212-875-5456 or go to lc.lincolncenter.org.
In recent years, the tree-lighting at Lincoln Center has become a popular event, with entertainers and crowds. But the Lincoln Center tree commands nowhere near the attention of the more famous Rockefeller Center tree, so it remains a relatively peaceful place to visit, and a fine backdrop for a Christmas photo.
Two of the city's greatest museums display some of their treasures on Christmas trees each December.
At the American Museum of Natural History, the theme of this year's 13-foot tree is "Mighty And Microscopic Life," with models inspired by the upcoming exhibition "Dinosaurs Among Us," as well as the current exhibitions "The Secret World Inside You" and "Life At The Limits: Stories Of Amazing Species." Among the unusual ornaments are a dragonfly, elephant seal, porcupine fish, coral, Hercules beetle, corpse flower, tube worm, nautilus, axolotl, bacteria on a tooth, DNA, spiral bacteria, and a titanosaur.
Volunteers will be on hand throughout the holiday season to teach the art of origami to visitors. The tree will be on display through Jan. 12. The American Museum of Natural History is at Central Park West and 79th Street. For info, call 212-769-5100 or go to amnh.org.
The Natural History museum hosts its 37th annual Kwanzaa celebration at noon and 3 p.m. on Dec. 27, with Doug E. Fresh and filmmaker MK Asante.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art displays its Christmas tree in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. The 18th-century decorations are from Naples, and include an elaborate creche. The Met is at 1000 Fifth Ave., at 82nd Street. For info, call 212-570-3949 or metmuseum.org.
The Met also makes room for music of the season, with several concerts in front of the tree in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. "Byzantine Pop-Ups," in which Eastern Orthodox cantors will sing antiphonal works in Russian, Armenian, Greek and Arabic, will take place at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Dec. 11 and 18. The performances are free with museum admission.
The women's ensemble Anonymous 4 will present its final concerts at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 22 in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. After nearly 30 years of touring and recording, the a cappella group is retiring. Tickets start at $75.
Holiday concerts also will take place in the museum's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, including "Apollo's Fire: A Celtic Christmas Vespers" on Dec. 11, the American Boychoir on Dec.16, Tiempo Libre on Dec. 18 and "The Little Match Girl Passion" on Dec. 23. Show time is 7 p.m. and tickets start at $65 for each show.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," the Met has scheduled screenings of the cartoon in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, complete with live accompaniment by the Rob Schwimmer Trio. There also will be a holiday sing-along. Screenings are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Dec. 19 and 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 20.
Tickets start at $45 and children under four will not be admitted.
The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Ave. at 36th Street, is a cozy place to visit throughout the year, but especially at holiday time, when Charles Dickens' original manuscript for "A Christmas Carol" goes on display. This year, the library will display page 59, which involves Scrooge and the Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come. Also available to view are dozens of handmade holiday cards, by American artists such as Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler and Saul Steinberg. The exhibit runs through Jan. 10.
From 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 6, the Morgan offers its Winter Family Fair, with Dickens-themed activities and performances, ornament crafts and a puppet show of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier.". The fair is designed for children ages 3 to 12.
Hours at the Morgan are 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. The Morgan closes at 4 p.m. Dec. 24 and at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31, but is open on Dec. 28.
Admission is $18, or $12 for seniors 65 and older, students and children ages 13 to 16. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Admission is free to all from 7 to 9 p.m. Fridays.
For info, call 212-685-0008 or go to themorgan.org.
The Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Ave. at 103rd Street, always does an excellent job of incorporating aspects of New York history and culture into its holiday events.This season's programming includes "A Victorian Christmas Magic-Lantern Show" at 3 p.m. Dec. 6. Tickets are $12, $7 for children. For more info, call 212-534-1672 or go to mcny.org.
The New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx, makes the most of its annual Holiday Train Show, which runs through Jan. 18 in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Renditions of more than 150 city landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Brooklyn Bridge, the old Penn Station, and the 1964 World's Fair Unisphere in Queens, line the tracks. The model trains chug alongside the miniature landmarks, which are created from natural materials such as bark, twigs, seeds, and pine cones by designer Paul Busse's team at Applied Imagination.
This year's exhibition features 3,000 square feet of additional space and includes new features, including new trains, tracks and bridges, as well as a short film about the making of the display.
In adddition, there are "Bar Car Nights'' on select Fridays that cater to adults, with ice-sculpting demonstrations, performances and cocktail specials. For info, call or go to nybg.org.
Off to market
The 2015 installment of the Union Square Holiday Market, at 14th Street and Union Square, features a new warming station around the statue of George Washington, where refreshments can be purchased from such restaurants as Delaney Barbecue, Maiden Lane and Momofuku Milk Bar. A craft area for children and grown-ups alike is open from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends. Visitors can design wrapping paper, make ornaments and decorate cookies.
The market, presented by Urbanspace and the Union Square Partnership, also now features two performance stages, one near 14th Street and Union Square West, and the other near 17th Street, adjacent to the Union Square Greenmarket and Pavilion. The Market Stage will feature independent acts, including popular subway musicians, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, while the Pavilion Stage will feature children's choirs and other family-friendly performers on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Urbanspace also will host a public carol sing at 6 p.m. Dec. 17. Singers are are invited to bring their own candle or light, and Urbanspace will provide the music and holiday cheer.
As always, Union Square Holiday Market highlights local artisans.
Kerri Giovanelli, who grew up in Manchester Township, will be selling hand-carved wooden objects from Natural Olive Wood, the company she owns with her husband, Hatem Alimi, who is from Tunisia, where the products are made. In addition to Union Square, Natural Olive Wood has booths at the holiday markets in Bryant Park and Columbus Circle.
For 2015, Union Square Market's “Little Brooklyn” section has been expanded to include new vendors, such as Kiln Design Studio, Two Arms Inc. and Boneyard Pets, as well as returning favorites Brooklyn Charm, Brooklyn Brew Shop and Momofuku Milk Bar.
The Union Square Holiday Market is open through Dec. 24. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.
If you'd like to admire the New York skyline, there are holiday options on the harbor.
Bateaux New York, which offers cruising year-round from Chelsea Piers, will have special cruises from 7 to 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve and from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on New Year's Eve in glass-enclosed boats. Prices for the Christmas Eve cruise start at $164.90.
The New Year's Eve cruise starts at $549.90 per person and includes a dockside party from 8 to 9 p.m., an open bar, a plated dinner, live jazz and Broadway music, dancing, party favors and great views of the fireworks display by the Statue of Liberty. There are also holiday-themed brunch and lunch cruises throughout December, including on the Spirit of New Jersey, which departs from Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken. For info, call 866-817-3463 or go to bateauxnewyork.com
Spirit Of New York, another popular cruise line from Chelsea Piers, also offers Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve cruises. Especially noteworthy is a cruise with Santa on Dec. 12. Boarding time is 11:30 a.m. for the cruise, which runs from noon to 2 p.m., and includes a buffet lunch and a visit with Santa, at $54.90, $32.95 for children 3 to 12. 866-483-3866 or spiritcruises.com.
Open on Dec. 25
If you don't celebrate Christmas, consider spending Dec. 25 in New York. Some of the city's many landmarks and attractions are open on Dec. 25, and are sure to be less crowded than on other days.
The Empire State Building is open 365 days a year. Bundle up, and take the elevator to the top for breathtaking views in the cold air, with the distant murmur of traffic far below.
Rockefeller Center also is open 365 days a year. Or you can head to the rink at Bryant Park, or go to Central Park, where Wollman Rink and the Central Park Zoo will be open.
For Central Park Zoo, enter at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, with the last admissions at 4 p.m. Red pandas, snow leopards, snow monkeys penguins, sea lions and rescued grizzlies all reside at the zoo, plus many other critters. General admission, for the main and children's zoos, is $12, $9 for seniors 65 and older, $7 for children 3 to 12. For info, call 212-439-6500 or go to centralparkzoo.com.
What are you doing New Year's Eve?
The Bull & Bear Prime Steakhouse, in the Waldorf Astoria, offers a dinner and dancing party for New Year's Eve. A five-course prix fixe menu features filet mignon, lobster Newberg and Colorado lamb chop. The celebration includes a glass of Champagne, party favors, and a live band with dancing until 1 a.m. The Waldorf Astoria occupies an entire block between Park and Lexington avenues and 49th and 50th streets. For info, call 212-355-3000 or go to waldorfnewyork.com.