Christmas in New York – The Most Famous Traditions

The Big Apple is a destination favorite of travelers the world over.  There is such a plethora of things to do, one would never run out of activities.  Anytime is a good time to visit, but the holiday season offers a special charm that can only be found once a year.

New York can be a winter wonderland with its chilly weather, roasted chestnut stands, decorated city streets, harried bag-toting shoppers and festive events that can only be enjoyed at this magical time of year.

Work a few of these favorites into your holiday itinerary and experience the charm that is Christmas in New York.

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Christmas Tree Lighting

The tree at Rockefeller Center

Once a year, in November, a pine-scented giant from the forest is chosen and trucked in from parts unknown to become the star of Rockefeller Center. No, it’s not Al Roker, but he will be hosting the Christmas tree lighting, which takes place on Wednesday, December 3, at 8:00pm.

Join stars like Beyonce, Harry Connick Jr. and Tony Bennett for the hour-long celebration, which traditionally kicks off the holiday season in New York.  If you plan on attending, better get there hours, yes hours, early if you want to actually stand within tree-glimpsing distance.  Don’t worry if you can’t make it that day.  The tree will still be sparkling for your viewing pleasure through the first week of January.

Ice Skating

Ice skating at Rockefeller Center

Young and old, experienced and uncoordinated, all bundled up in colorful scarf, hat and mitten ensembles, descend upon the frozen ice for some winter frolicking. Skating is the perfect way for friends and family to spend a holiday afternoon or evening. The Rink at Rockefeller Center is the most beautiful of them all.  The world-famous rink, sunken below street level, is surrounded by white lights, flags of the world nations, a gorgeous fountain adorned with the Greek God Prometheus and the famous Christmas tree.

You can skate, spin or spill accompanied by music pumping through loudspeakers from now until January 9. And for all you romantic men out there thinking about getting engaged this holiday season, you can even give her ice, on the ice.

Nutcracker Ballet

The Nutcracker Ballet at Lincoln Center

Enjoying a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet is a perfect holiday treat for kids of all ages.  This is an enchanting ballet, complete with an adorable little girl, an army of tiny mice, an enormous Christmas tree, marching wooden soldiers, a sugar plum fairy, magical sets with cascading snowflakes, and an ensemble of finely tuned dancers dressed in the most deliciously imaginative costumes, all accompanied by the music of Tchaikovsky.

From the moment the lights first go down, you’ll be transported to a Christmas fantasyland few could dream of.  The New York City Ballet performs “The Nutcracker” from November 28, 2008 through January 3, 2009 at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center.

The Pond at Bryant Park

Christmas Market at Bryant Park

Once a year, this popular classic French-style park is transformed into a busy holiday wonderland. Over 120 tiny shops line the park’s perimeter, creating a European-style Christmas market.  Vendors sell unique gift items from around the world in stalls decorated in their own hand.  Jewelry, hand-made crafts, winter hats and gloves, cards, pictures, ornaments and specialty foods are just some of what’s on offer. In the center of it all is a free admission ice skating rink.

The park also has a French carousel, a brightly lit Christmas tree and a perfect spot to get a quick nosh and come in from the cold.  The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park are open daily from November 22 through December 28.

Christmas Window Displays

A Paris scene in the window at Lord & Taylors

New York City department stores have some of the most creative and fashionable window displays on the planet.  But during the holiday season – they become grand spectacles.  Every year talented designers showcase elaborate holiday-themed wonderlands behind glass that attract both shoppers and passersby alike from all over the world.  Themes like Sleeping Beauty and the Nutcracker Suite or countries like France, Italy and Russia are just some of the highlights of years past.

Macy’s on Herald Square and Sax Fifth Avenue are two not to be missed. But the pièce de résistance is Lord and Taylor on Fifth Avenue, where people line up for blocks just to catch a glimpse of the glorious animated creations.  Visit late at night to avoid the lines.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

The living nativity scene at Radio City Music Hall

A holiday tradition for 75 years and counting, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is an exciting holiday celebration!  Join the world-famous Radio City Rockettes as they dance and kick, with precision and pointed toe, all the way into your heart. Take a thrilling tour of Manhattan’s famous landmarks on a red double-decker bus, explore the magic of Santa’s toy workshop with life-sized dancing rag dolls, learn about the story of the first Christmas during the living nativity scene and sit slack-jawed during the show-stopping fireworks display in Times Square, all without leaving the comfort of your music hall seat. Spectacular just doesn’t seem to cover it!

Visiting New York? Book your New York flights, find accommodation in New York, and read about things to do in New York.

Read more of Robin Locker’s BootsnAll articles, and find out more about Robin in her bio.

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Photo credits: Rockefeller Ice Rink photo from Wikipedia

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