Unleashing Holiday Magic in New York
Having long been the backdrop to classic Christmas movies like Elf, Home Alone, and Miracle on 34th Street, New York has always been synonymous with the holiday season.
Christmas in New York has not only been notable in movies and television, but the holiday has deep roots in the city. It was Washington Irving (1783-1859), a famous New York author, who brought the idea of Christmas traditions to the United States. In his 1809 book A History of New York, Irving introduced St. Nicholas, a European gift-giver who brought yearly presents to children. Discouraged by the lack of holiday cheer in the U.S., Irving wanted to bring European traditions to the U.S., finding inspiration from the English and Dutch, where the story of St. Nicholas hailed from. His efforts proved to pay off as St. Nicholas—better known as Santa Claus—continues to unite countries every year.
If you’re planning to visit New York this holiday season, explore the city of holiday classics: whether you’re taking the cinematic approach or a traditional Irving-inspired trip, we’ve created an itinerary of must-see holiday classics around the city.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a landmark of the holidays in New York. Since 1933, the tree lighting has been an annual tradition in the city, growing larger and larger every year. In December 1999, having already held the tradition for 66 years, Rockefeller Center hosted the biggest tree in its history, standing at 100 feet tall.
While the tree is seen as the epitome of Christmas for New Yorkers, when it's taken down in the New Year, its holiday magic doesn’t end there. Since 2007, the tree has been donated to Habitat for Humanity International to be milled into lumber.
This year’s tree will be lit from November 29th to January 13th, 2024.
With a visit to the Rockefeller Center, the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes is a must-see. Or, experience the magic of the lit tree with picturesque ice skating at the rink, located directly under the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Whether you’re looking for the perfect last-minute gift, or just wanting to enjoy some window shopping, the shops and holiday markets in New York are filled with options for every kind of shopper.
Stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue create specialty window displays every year— they’re so magical they attract tourists and locals alike. The iconic NYC stores also focus on giving back to the community—last year, Saks Fifth Avenue donated $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation and partnered with the artist to host live events throughout the holiday season. In 2020, Bergdorf Goodman launched the Goodness Giving holiday initiative, donating three per cent of sales to participating charities.
New York is also home to an abundance of holiday markets, including the Union Square Holiday Market, which is celebrating its 25th annual event. Similarly, there are festivals at true NYC landmarks, such as The Market at Westfield World Trade Center inside the Oculus, and handmade markets in boroughs like Queens, Brooklyn, and Chelsea.
WATCH A SHOW
It wouldn’t be a trip to New York without a show—and luckily, there are countless holiday shows every year in the Big Apple.
Most notably, the Radio City Rockettes have been hosting the annual Christmas Spectacular since 1933. The 90-minute show features nine numbers, including the fan-favourite “Dance of the Frost Fairies,” which was reimagined in 2022.
Similarly, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet, is a beloved holiday classic. This year’s show kicked off on November 24th with a timeless score from composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The show is recommended for ages five and older and will add an unforgettable spark to the holiday season.
New this year, the Empire State Building is hosting movie nights, including a holiday screening of Elf. The film has three separate screenings throughout December, and entrance to the 86th and 102nd floor observatories are included in the ticket price.
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