A Christmas tree stand at 6th Avenue and 14th Street. Image: 6sqft
Each year in December, scores of Christmas tree vendors descend on New York City from as far as Quebec to turn the city’s sidewalks into a virtual pop-up forest. What makes this seasonal opportunity so appealing? The “coniferous tree” exception, a City Council law dating from 1938, says vendors can sell and display Christmas trees on a sidewalk in December without a permit as long as they get an ok from adjacent building owners and they don’t block the sidewalk. Sellers lobby adjacent storefronts for permission, sometimes paying a fee and often in competition with other sellers. This year, as the New York Times reports, competition from chain stores–and other vendors jockeying for prime spots in parks and other public locations that come with high fees–are chopping into the profits for the army of tree sellers that descends on the city at holiday time. Costs get passed to consumers–and prices are soaring.
Why trees are demanding more green this year
Hanukkah celebration by the Young Men’s Hebrew Association at the Academy of Music in New York City, 1880, via Wikimedia Commons
Hanukkah is engrained into New York’s holiday season, but roughly 100 years ago the Festival of Lights was big news to many New Yorkers. Look at the newspaper coverage back in the day regarding the holiday, and most “took an arms-length approach,” as Bowery Boys puts it. “More than one old Tribune or World carried a variant of the headline “Jews Celebrate Chanukah,” as though there might have been some doubt. A 1905 headline even informed readers that, “Chanukah, Commemorating Syrian Defeat, Lasts Eight Days.”
Such headlines weren’t just the result of ignorance–New York’s Jewish population was low through the 1800s, and even within the religion, Hanukkah has traditionally been a minor festival. But a boom in Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and a reassertion of religious traditions in a new country completely changed the fabric of New York. Eventually, the eight-day festival of light–which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks over 2,000 years ago–emerged as an important tradition of the city.
Here’s what happened
Photo via Matthew Henry/Burst
The catharsis of shopping and gift giving does not come without monetary guilt, but in a city as commercially diverse as New York, it’s possible to spend locally and come away with products bringing long-term relaxation and mental balance. No one wants to give or receive a gift that feels empty of emotional value and purpose. Here are some ideas for purposeful products and experiences that can be bought within the five boroughs for friends and family (or yourself!) this holiday season.
Check out our top picks
The first electrically-illuminated Christmas tree in 1882, courtesy of the Thomas Edison Museum
At a townhouse on East 36th Street in 1882, the first Christmas tree to ever be adorned with electrical lights was lit, paving the way for the frenzy surrounding tree lightings around the world today. As an engineer and vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, as well as Thomas Edison’s business partner, Edward Hibberd Johnson, was quite familiar with light bulbs. While festively decorating his apartment ahead of the holiday that year, Johnson had a very bright idea: wiring 80 red, white and blue light bulbs together around the tree and placing it in his parlor window.
More history this way
For traditionalists who relish the ritual of bringing home the perfect evergreen, the idea of any man-made alternative has little appeal. But just as many tree-seekers are happy to anchor their December decor with a Christmas tree that doesn’t shed and doesn’t need to be sent to the curb when the season’s over. The options are as varied as the reasons we love them: Some literally take up no space, perfect for tiny apartments. Others are perfectly modern, rustic, retro or Nordic to reflect the style of their owners. Below are 15 fun, festive, sustainable and re-usable alternatives to pine and fir.
deck the halls, this way
Photo via NYBG
For the past 26 years, the New York Botanical Garden has been putting on their annual Holiday Train Show, set against a backdrop of 150 NYC landmarks, each re-created with bark, leaves, and other natural materials. In addition to classics like the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty, this year’s exhibition showcases new replicas of iconic Midtown skyscrapers, including the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, General Electric Building, and St. Bartholomew’s Church.
And while this is certainly a magical treat for children, NYBG puts on something special for adults, too. The 21-and-over Bar Car Nights are after-dark viewings of the Train Show, complete with seasonal bars, the all-new Visitor Center Fire Pit, live dueling piano performances in the cafe, and illuminated Snow Globe Dancers that will guide your through the grounds. Sound like fun? The Garden is offering three lucky 6sqft readers a pair of tickets to these special evenings.
Find out how to enter
The holidays turn New York City into a bright, illuminated wonderland that even the biggest Scrooge among us can enjoy. While there are plenty of events to choose from, like alternative holiday markets and glittering art installations, many of these activities can be jampacked with tourists. For those looking to learn more about their own holiday traditions, or understand others, there are lots of low-key, educational events perfect for history buffs looking for a quieter holiday experience. Ahead, check out 6sqft’s guide to the best holiday events in New York City that come with a historical twist, from Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa.
This way for our top-10 picks
The 1931 tree, via Rockefeller Center
The official website of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree describes the holiday tree as a “world-wide symbol of Christmas,” a statement we really can’t argue with, especially since 125 million people visit the attraction each year. And with tonight marking the 85th Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting, an annual celebration that attracts tens of thousands in person and hundreds of millions more on television, we decided to take a look back at the tradition’s history. From its start as a modest Depression-era pick-me-up for Rockefeller Center construction workers to World War regulations to its current 550-pound Swarovski star, there’s no shortage of interesting tidbits about one of NYC’s biggest attractions.
More on the history here
Christmas shoppers on 6th Avenue (1910) via Library of Congress
Black Friday marks the start of frantic holiday shopping, the day when retailers offer their best deals of the season to lure in eager shoppers. While some gift-givers now choose to digitally add items to shopping carts from the comfort of bed instead, many still line up outside of stores at the crack of dawn in search of major discounts. This is not a modern phenomenon, as these photographs from the Library of Congress of 20th century New York City reveal. Like today, New Yorkers of the early 1900s were drawn to the magical window shops and displays. Ahead, explore vintage photos of shoppers browsing New York City stores looking for the perfect presents, postcards and more.
See the photos here
’Tis the season for shopping; even if we’re determined to resist the call to consume (or do all our shopping online, from bed), there’s always that unexpected invitation, last-minute secret Santa, or someone special that sends us scrambling for the perfect present. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of gift markets and pop-up shops offering a bounty of goodies and crafty gifts. The big mainstream NYC markets at Union Square, Bryant Park Grand Central Station and Columbus Circle are the front-runners for sheer volume, but some of the best finds—and the most fun—can be found at smaller, cooler neighborhood affairs. In addition to locally-made jewelry, crafts, vintage finds, artfully curated fashions, home items, gourmet goodies and other things we didn’t know we needed, these hip retail outposts sparkle with drinks, food, workshops, tarot readings, nail art, music, and family fun to keep shoppers’ spirits bright.
Find out where to get the goods