The Holidays are here! Time for parties, cookie making, eating and drinking, dusted with a sprinkle of holiday magic. While this post is being written from Canada (yes, I’m cheating!), it’s a reflection on our wonderful 2017 holiday experiences on the Upper West Side where we were having a grand ol’ time until arriving in Toronto a few days ago.
In the USA, the holiday season is really anytime from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. Up until Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November (super late for us Canadians) the city is in Harvest Mode…cornucopia decorations, turkeys, cranberry sauce, time spent with family. The day after Thanksgiving: BAM! the Christmas and Hanukkah decorations come out en masse all around the city. It’s the fastest turnaround from one holiday to the next I’ve ever seen. Not to mention that Black Friday gets people shopping for the upcoming season of giving…but that’s another post!
So back to our favourite experiences in chronological order (remember, I have a four year old!):
- “The Three Bears Holiday Show” was a celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa at Central Park’s Swedish Cottage Theater. I had a true New York moment when the puppets started singing the “Dreidel song” and the entire audience of 2 to 6 year olds knew every word and sang along with gusto.
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade set up (day before Thanksgiving), watching the crew blow up balloons for the parade. Did you know that the balloons are guided by “trained balloon pilots”? Insider tip: skip the line by making a reservation at one of the restaurants on 79th or 81st streets near Central Park West.
- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – from INSIDE Central Park! Why elbow your way through the masses and still not see anything when you can enter Central Park from 86th st and walk south until you see the balloons at 81st. Super cool, although we got there a bit late this year and only managed the tail-end of the parade. We met up with some friends and had a great time at the park on the way back home.
- Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim. Narrated by (a very funny!) Isaac Mizrahi. O had learned the story and instuments in music class, so it was nice to put it all together when we saw the show.
- Christmas Tree shopping. There are Christmas trees for sale EVERYWHERE in NYC. In our neighbourhood alone there are 9 places I can think of off the top of my head, including 4 pop-up shops on the sidewalks along Broadway and Amsterdam where seasonal workers from Quebec come to sell trees at $25-$30/foot. Some of the local bodegas sell Balsam Firs and Fraser Firs for $40 to $80 a tree which is much more reasonable, and a local church has a tree sale every year where proceeds go to charity. You can even buy them at Lowe’s on 68 and Broadway. Some places offer free delivery, but we’ve purchased from a local bodega two years in a row, and brought the tree home in our wagon the few blocks home. Some people even take their trees home on the subway!
- Christmas Markets Galore! Union Square is the largest and likely best one, but I also like the one at Columbus Circle (easier to get to), Garment District and Bryant Park. Many of them have the same vendors but it’s still a magical place to explore while drinking gluhwine (non-alcoholic only- city bylaws?), or hot chocolate.
- Skating at Bryant Park – bring your own gear and skate for free! Long wait times on weekends can be a deterrent, but they text you when it’s your turn. And once you are in, you can skate or go to the upper level to enjoy the views or play one of the many board games they have set up at the tables. The Christmas market at Bryant Park also helped to pass the time.
- Santa Visit. We haven’t done a mall-type visit with Santa since O was 11 months old, so thought it was a good idea to see how it’s done in NYC. I stopped in the closest mall (Columbus Circle) one day and inquired. I was told, yes, Santa was coming that Sunday to a bar/lounge on the 4th floor overlooking Central Park. Reservations were not required, but encouraged so you could sit at a table and have drinks and a snack in case the line was long. Ummm…Is this how it’s done here? So I got us a lunch time reservation and it was actually an awesome experience for parents and child: lunch was delicious, the set up was gorgeous, Santa was exactly how you’d expect and the photographer was super cool (think Yorkdale mall’s Fashion Santa), and no stress. After I made the reservation, I found out that most people usually go to Macy’s for the Santa’s Village Experience (which has multiple Santas in different rooms seeing children simultaneously!) and is by reservation only as of this year. Oh NYC.
- Hanukkah at a friend’s house. It was our first-ever Hanukkah celebration and we are so grateful to have been able to participate and watch the lighting of the menorah. We ate latkes, had a delicious dinner, played with the dreidel and each got a Hanukkah gift! We also had a cookie exchange that evening which was the source of much indulgence over the next few days.
- School Winterfest – the school concert where the little guys and girls dress in their holiday best and perform songs in the gym. It is perfectly imperfect and such a source of joy. Sigh, proud mom!
Happy Holidays to you and yours! Next year we may have a New York Christmas, and if so, you’ll have to stay tuned to hear all about the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular, the shop decorations along 5th Avenue and skating at the Rockefeller Center.