20 ways to celebrate the 2019 holiday season in NYC

December 3, 2019

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in New York City for the winter holidays, you’ll find just about every kind of celebration imaginable from longtime traditions like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the Rockettes and the Nutcracker to movie classics in theaters and neighborhoods ablaze with lights. And if you’re seeking a break from traditional festivities, there are plenty of creative and unconventional ways to enjoy the season.

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Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft

1. The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
Saturday, November 23, 2019 – Sunday, January 26, 2020; 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx

The 28th annual Holiday Train Show is back at the New York Botanical Garden for the season, this year with a brand new Central Park section featuring iconic spots like Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace, and the Bow Bridge–all made entirely from natural materials including bark, seeds, berries acorns, and cinnamon sticks. The exhibit features a total of 175 New York landmarks. Since the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is undergoing restoration, the show is being held in an adjacent tent. Grown-ups can extend the fun with Bar Car nights which include an after-dark train show viewing, drinks at one of several seasonal bars and a bite from the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-up.

A Nutcracker by any other name…

2. Company XIV: Nutcracker Rouge: Theatre XIV, 383 Troutman Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn; November 14, 2019 through January 26, 2020, see calendar for details and tickets.

This sexy, over-the-top burlesque reimagining of the beloved Nutcracker tale is told with decadent flair.

3. The Hip Hop Nutcracker: Sunday, December 15, 2019, 2 p.m. & 6:30 p.m., Kings Theatre, 1027 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker is a contemporary dance spectacle set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless music and performed by a high-energy cast of all-star dancers along with a DJ, a violinist, and hip-hop founding father MC Kurtis Blow, who opens the show with a short set.

Dyker Heights lights, Dyker Heights Christmas, NYC Christmas lights, Brooklyn Christmas lights
Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft.

4. Christmas lights bus tour of Dyker Heights
Every night in December (except the 24 & 25) at 5, 6, 7, and 8 p.m.; meeting place: Union Square, Manhattan (exact details provided upon purchase).

The suburban, historically Italian-American enclave has been flipping the switch on this legendary holiday spectacle since 1986. The Dyker Heights lights attract up to 150,000 visitors each season; where else can you see 25-foot toy soldiers, a two-story Santa, or a house decked out with 30,000 lights? A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours have been ferrying onlookers to the fabulous lights for 12 years, so they definitely know the routine.

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Photo by Rhonda Dorsett courtesy of Paul Winter via Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Concert.

5. Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Concert
December 19th & 20th, 7:30 p.m., December 21st, 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue

Now in its 40th year, Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice makes use of the extraordinary acoustics of New York’s greatest cathedral to celebrate the spirit of the holidays. The event features the musicians of the Paul Winter Consort, vocalists, dancers and drummers for a dazzling interpretation of ancient solstice rituals that has become one of New York’s favorite alternative holiday events.

Photo courtesy of Great Performances

6. 11th Annual Latke Festival
Monday, December 16th, 6:00-8:30 p.m.; Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway

One of New York City’s most unique and delicious holiday food events, the Latke Festival is a charity program that celebrates the beloved potato pancakes and the chefs who make them. Net proceeds benefit The Sylvia Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching healthy eating habits to children and their families. Guests join a panel of celebrity judges at the Brooklyn Museum to hand the latke crown to one of the city’s notable restaurants.

7. Peter and the Wolf with Isaac Misrahi at the Guggenheim Museum
December 7–8 and December 13–15, times vary
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Avenue between 88th and 89th Streets

Iconic celebrity designer Isaac Mizrahi narrates and directs Sergei Prokofiev’s children’s classic with Ensemble Signal performing the music to the 30-minute story. The cast performs choreography by John Heginbotham clad in costumes designed by Mizrahi for a half-hour of fun for all ages.

Photo courtesy of Phil Kline/Unsilent Night

8. Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night
The NYC flagship event begins on Sunday, December 15 at 6:00PM
Meet in Washington Square Park at 5:45pm

Composer Phil Kline has been taking New Yorkers on an offbeat caroling journey since 1992, the first year that he gathered a group to walk down lower Fifth Avenue carrying boomboxes playing his twinkling, holiday-themed music pieces. Today, the event has become smartphone-friendly, and the crowd can now reach nearly 2,000, but it still embodies the same “luminous soundscape” and utterly magical holiday spirit, which now happens throughout the nation. In NYC, Kline will lead a massive chorus of boomboxes from the West Village to the East Village, ending up in Tompkins Square Park less than an hour and a mile later. Kline will hand out a limited number of vintage boomboxes from his collection—and cassettes for those who bring their own (strongly encouraged). Find out more about how to participate and download the tracks here.

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Image courtesy of make music day 

9. Make Music New York Winter Festival
December 21, 2019; times and locations vary.

From Ukulele caroling in Washington Square Park to processions and parades in various neighborhoods and a “Mobile Hallelujah,” this celebration of winter and music means a day of joyous sound throughout the city. Check the site for different events and participation information.

10. Christmas History in Gramercy walking tour
Saturday, December 14, 10am-12pm

Did you know the nation’s first public Christmas tree went up in Madison Square Park? Or that the first time Santa Claus was featured in writing or drawing took place in NYC? Join 6sqft’s managing editor Dana Schulz for her Christmas in Gramercy tour with the Municipal Art Society to see and learn about all this and more.

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Photo by Scott Brevda, courtesy of the Museum at Eldridge Street

11. Klez for Kids at the Museum at Eldridge Street
Tuesday, December 25, Concerts begin at 12 and 2:30 p.m.; the Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge Street

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, this family-friendly event on December 25th at the Museum at Eldridge Street is a perfect afternoon celebration. The Museum will host clarinetist Greg Wall’s band Klezmerfest! in its historic shul sanctuary, and their Klez For Kidz program mixes “old-country sounds with contemporary Lower East Side energy.” Following each show, guests are welcome to celebrate the fourth night of Hanukkah with special holiday songs and a menorah lighting, featuring historic menorahs from the exhibition, “Lighting the World: Menorahs from Around the Globe.”

Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft. 

12. Rolf’s German Restaurant
Every day 12pm-10pm, 281 Third Avenue

The process of transforming this folksy-historic Murray Hill German restaurant into a winter wonderland begins in September, when Rolf’s German Restaurant is bedecked with 15,000 Christmas ornaments, 10,000 lights, and thousands of icicles. By the first of November, the process is complete, and the quirky, festive space is ready to attract both locals and tourists who have heard about the restaurant’s display of Victorian-style decorations from dolls found in New England antique shops to 19th-century German ball ornaments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science. Photo: Andrew Kelly/ Bowery Image Group for New York Hall of Science.

13. New York Hall of Science Gingerbread Lane 2019 
November 23, 2019 to January 12, 2020, New York Hall of Science, see site for program and exhibit hours

Visitors to the New York Hall of Science during the holiday season can marvel at the Guinness world record holder for largest gingerbread village–a scaled-down collection of houses made entirely of edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy. The houses are drafted, designed, baked, planned, built and decorated by chef Jon Lovitch over the course of an entire year, during which he constructs an entire village called Gingerbread Lane. If you’re more hands-on, Gingerbread Lane offers workshops that show visitors ages four and up how to make their own gingerbread houses and trains. Or you can try a gingerbread-house making class at Monarch rooftop events space.

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Image courtesy of the TWA Hotel

14. TWA Runway Rink
Seven days a week through the end of February, 2020. Monday through Thursday from 4 – 9 p.m.; Friday from 4-10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
TWA Hotel at JFK Airport, One Idlewild Drive, Queens

Experience the newest (seasonal) addition to the Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Hotel at JFK Airport: the custom 56-by-44-foot Runway Rink, open for ice skating on the hotel’s tarmac surrounding the 1958 Lockheed Constellation Connie airplane-turned-cocktail-lounge. In addition to sharpening your figure-8 skills, you can catch nostalgic ice-skating shows and chill with frosty beers, sno-caps and more.

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Photo by Michael Dekker, courtesy of the Gay Men’s Chorus

15. NYC Gay Men’s Chorus Annual Holiday Extravaganza
December 13 and 14, 2019 at 8 p.m.; December 15, 2019 at 3 p.m.
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place

Music is in the air as NYCGMC celebrates the holidays with selections from everyone’s favorites and important traditions all their own. It all adds up to an evening of sparkling entertainment alive with the powerful sound of nearly 300 voices.

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Image by Leenda Bonilla + Luis Pagan, Un Cafecito del Pueblo, Foil coffee packages, artificial berries, pinecone.

16. 37th Annual Wreath Interpretations Exhibition
December 5, 2019 – January 2, 2020. Wreath making workshops will be held on December 8th and December 15th.; The Arsenal Gallery, 64th Street and Fifth Avenue inside Central Park, third floor of the Arsenal Building. Gallery hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday (Closed municipal holidays.).

The 37th annual Wreath Interpretations exhibition presents a collection of inventive and non-traditional wreaths made by more than 40 artists, designers, and creative individuals who have used unexpected materials to reinterpret the traditional holiday symbol. Themes range from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the bridges of New York City, and materials include woven dog leashes, candy, plastic trophies, foil coffee wrappers, and wigs.

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Image courtesy of NYC Winter Lantern Festival.

17. NYC Winter Lantern Festival, Staten Island
Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY; November 20th, 2019 to January 12th, 2020. Wednesday, Thursday: 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm; Friday, Saturday & Sunday: 5:00 pm – 10: 30pm; December 30th – 31st: 5:00 pm – 10:30pm

The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is back after last year’s success to once again transform Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden into a whimsical world of light with more than 1,000 lanterns on display, sculpted into magnificent figures of luminescent art. Everyone in the family will find something to love in eight acres of lights, live cultural shows, interactive exhibits and more.

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Photo: Raffi Asdourian via Flickr

18. 29 Rooms
December 6-15, 2019; 25 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn

The Expand Your Reality Tour is the latest 29Rooms experience from fashion, beauty and culture media star Refinery29. 29 Rooms is a space where you’re encouraged to–literally–step into the art, wear the art, touch the art, and connect with others (and yourself) in the process. This unique creative world promises, as always, to be an “artistic wonderland of interactive & thought-provoking installations and the perfect space for an impromptu photoshoot,” brought to you by the creators of Refinery29 in collaboration with brands, visionaries, and emerging creative voices.

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Image courtesy of New York  Transit Museum.

19. Subway Swing
Thursday, December 12, 6:30-9 p.m.; New York Transit Museum, corner of Boerum Place & Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn

If you love the New York Transit Museum’s vintage train cars, you may want to join in the fun at this after-hours boogie for the ages in downtown Brooklyn. Swing your way through a 1936 decommissioned subway station with live jazz bands, the hottest swing dancing and the coolest vintage outfits.

20. Holiday Joy: A Gospel Celebration at the Apollo
Saturday, December 21st at 4 p.m.; Apollo Theater, 253 West 125th Street.

Expect an uplifting performance to lift your spirits this holiday season as comedic host Marcus Wiley introduces Grammy award-winning singer Yolanda Adams in a soul-stirring holiday concert with gospel artist Donald Lawrence.


Lead image credits, clockwise from top left: Courtesy of the Museum at Eldridge Street;Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft; Photo by Michael Dekker, courtesy of the Gay Men’s Chorus; Photo by Ann-Sophie Fjelloe-Jensen, courtesy of the New York Hall of Science

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