There is a myth that we in New York City are not friendly and don’t smile much. Of course, these are all terrible lies, though I will admit that we often don’t have time to show the world how incredibly awesome we are because we are always in such a hurry. However, if you ever want to witness a truly joyful New Yorker, especially during the colder months, then come during the holiday season.

Even this Brooklyn girl can be caught singing with a smile on her face around this time of year. We smile widely and are probably friendlier than any other time of the year because this is the time that New York City becomes a truly festive city.

In late fall, the city glows during the day as the sun shines off the leaves falling from the many trees lining the streets and scattered throughout the parks. In early winter the sounds of holiday music and bells fill the air. Hotels compete with elaborate holiday décor in their lobbies and the streets at night become a bright display of lights celebrating the holiday season. Pop-up shops start to, well, pop up in some of our favorite places, and ice skating and sipping hot chocolate become favorite pastimes. 

It’s all so joyful that it can be a bit overwhelming, so here’s a highlight of the can’t-miss things to check out to enjoy the holidays New York City style:

Lighting Ceremonies

Viewfinder Tip: If you want to really enjoy the lights and beauty of the world famous Rockefeller tree, as well as the many beautiful window displays along Fifth Avenue, plan a late-night walk around the city.

Late November is when a series of lighting ceremonies throughout NYC start taking place. The “world’s largest menorah” is first lit every year in late November after Sabbath to kick off the Festival of Lights. A week later, in early December, the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony takes place, with great fanfare, celebrities, and huge crowds to witness it all. Other fun tree lighting ceremonies to keep an eye out for that are not as crowded are the ones held at Lincoln Center and Bryant Park.

Holiday Shops

Small shops start to spring up around the city highlighting the work and products of both local and national artisans, and also make for really cool, unique gift finds. Some of my absolute favorite holiday pop-up spots are located in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, Columbus Circle, and Union Square. The one you will want to spend the most time in, however, is in Bryant Park’s Citi Pond, where not only there are always great shops, but where you can also go ice skating – for free (not including the skate rentals) – and where you can enjoy a drink or two at their temporary eatery overlooking all the wintery fun. Perfect for families, but just as wonderful for date nights.

Holiday Shops

Holiday Shows

Of course, it all starts with the biggest parade the city has to offer: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you find a spot to view, whether at a hotel, along the parade trail, or better yet, at a lucky New Yorker’s apartment, take it and enjoy. There’s nothing like it.

Also fun is inflation of the balloon floats the day before. The general public is invited to stroll along 77th & 81st Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, starting at 3 p.m. to view, but the balloons don’t really start taking shape until later in the afternoon at which point the crowds really start coming in until closing at approximately 8 p.m. Still, it’s worth the visit!

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

You can’t really go wrong with catching a theatrical performance in town, but if you want to wrap yourself up in some yummy holiday spirit, then the New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center and the world famous Rockettes in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular are definite musts. These highly coveted tickets go fast, so make sure to get them while you can.

Other performances that are so New York take place in the Marionette Theater at the Swedish Cottage in Central Park. Kids young and old enjoy cozying up in this small theatre to enjoy their annual holiday performances.

New Year’s Eve Race

When I first came across this four-mile run in Central Park on New Year’s Eve, I kept it a secret, telling only my closets friends and swearing them to secrecy. That’s because this event has always been far less chaotic and, in my opinion, a lot more fun than joining the masses for the ball drop in Times Square. But, it seems, the word is out, so I might as well spill the beans too.

Its official name is the New York Road Runners Emerald Nuts Midnight Run, an event that started with only a few runners and is now an even more fun run with over 4,000 participants. Awards given out include “most creative costumes,” which of course, contestants also run in. And you don’t have to run in the event to enjoy it. Just come out and cheer the runners on. There are fireworks, live music, and an overall celebratory vibe throughout.

If you haven’t seen the ball drop in Times Square, then definitely keep it on your bucket list. But if you have, or prefer a smaller crowd, then head over to the midnight run, a perfect way to welcome in the New Year surrounded by the energy of New York City and all those who love it.

Just remember, the best way to take it all in is to go outside. Be ready for the crowds, dress warmly, and wear comfortable shoes. And fear not, the sound of holiday bells and the smell of roasted chestnuts on every corner will make it all worth enduring.


What do you think is the most iconic image of the holidays in NYC?