Where else can you see 25-foot toy soldiers, a two-story Santa, or a house decked out with 30,000 lights other than Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. The suburban neighborhood, historically a quiet, Italian-American enclave, has been putting on its legendary holiday spectacle since 1986, when Lucy Spata moved to the area. Her over-the-top Christmas displays started as a way to honor her mother’s memory (she also loved holiday decorations) and quickly her neighbors followed suit. Today, Lucy is known around town as “Mrs. Claus” and the Dyker Heights lights attract up to 150,000 visitors each season. 6sqft’s resident photographers, James and Karla Murray, recently visited Dyker Heights and captured the outrageous lights and decorations in all their glory. And they were even lucky enough to meet Lucy herself!
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
Did you know the nation’s first public Christmas tree went up in NYC? Or how about the fact that Santa Claus was born here in both literature and drawing? And have you seen the famous restaurant decorated with 15,000 Christmas ornaments, 10,000 lights? 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. Taking place, Saturday, December 15th, the two-hour event will reveal the surprising origins of our most beloved holiday traditions.
6sqft’s series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, NYC-based photographer Betsy Pinover Schiff shares photos from her new book, “‘Tis the Season New York.” Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
Two years ago while attending for the first time the Winter’s Eve Festival, billed as the largest holiday festival in New York City, photographer Betsy Pinover Schiff had an ah-ha Christmas moment. If she, a native New Yorker, just recently learned about this huge annual celebration that draws thousands to Lincoln Square, what other Christmas celebrations was she missing? In a quest to find out, Betsy ended up taking hundreds of photos and attending hundreds of events across the city, all within a six-week period.
Her curiosity grew to become the basis of her latest book, “‘Tis the Season New York,” which was released this fall. Her book takes us on a tour of NYC during its most festive time of the year, from photos of the holiday windows at Saks Fifth Avenue to the elaborately decorated homes of Dyker Heights. Plus, 15 different New Yorkers, ranging from philanthropist Agnes Gund to Betsy’s postman, provided their own NYC experiences for the book. Ahead, Betsy shares with 6sqft some of her sparkling photos and tells us how New York during Christmastime becomes a place for “fun, fantasy, and endless heartwarming moments.”
Whether you need just a few more items to check off your holiday shopping list or you haven’t even started thinking about it yet, follow our guide to make this year’s gift-giving totally stressfree. We’ve rounded up the 40 best presents that are uniquely New York for every type of Big Apple dweller, from the transit nerd and the foodie to the architecture buff and bookworm. Priced between $10 and $295, recommended gifts include everything from a cheese class with Murray’s Cheese to a walking tour of Flushing, Queens.
Like most things requiring crowd control, SantaCon began life with the best of intentions; long ago (in the early ’90s) in San Francisco, a group of merry pranksters called the Cacophony Society thought it might be a hoot to poke fun at both the proliferation of people in Santa suits and the proliferation of “cons,” while participating in a (alcohol-free, by the way) performance-art-inspired flash mob. As such things do in modern cities, the once-subversive event snowballed, and to paraphrase the Eagles, call someplace paradise–and wake to find four frat dudes barfing outside your window. The drunken ho-ho-hordes are now too legit to quit, and you might as well know where they’ll be on Saturday, December 8, 2018, which is the official date of this year’s SantaCon. Whether your intent is to join in the fun, or to avoid being totally broadsided by a thousand drunk adults in Santa suits, use this map from the event’s organizers.
Via Choose Love
This holiday season, instead of buying more stuff you don’t need, gift items that make a true difference in someone’s life. In Soho, Choose Love sells gifts that go directly to refugees, like tents and diapers. The “Give Back” holiday market in Gowanus is back this year, offering a percentage of all proceeds to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). And Upper West Side standby and the biggest of its kind in NYC, the Grand Bazaar Holiday Market will donate 100 percent of its profits to four local public schools.
Ever the New Yorker, Santa catches the trolly to Bloomingdales! Via the NYPL
Saint Nicholas arrived in New York with the Dutch and became the Patron Saint of New York City in the early 19th century, but Santa, as we know him, is a hometown boy. New York’s writers and artists were the first to depict the modern Santa Claus, transforming the figure of Dutch lore into a cheerful holiday hero. The illustrious Claus gained his sleigh in Chelsea and his red suit on Franklin Square. With a little help from the likes of Washington Irving, Clement Clarke Moore, and Thomas Nast, jolly old St. Nick became the merriest man in Manhattan.
Manhattan’s Menorah being lit by Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, in 2016. Via Chabad Lubavitch/Flickr.
In the mid-1970s, former Chabad Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson encouraged his emissaries to build public menorahs in major cities and organize nightly lightings to increase public awareness about Hanukkah and inspire fellow Jews to light menorahs in their homes. Decades later, Chabad rabbis continue the effort in cities worldwide, but in New York the practice hasn’t always been peaceful. The tradition ended up creating a friendly competition between rival menorahs in Brooklyn and Manhattan, who both claimed to be “The World’s Largest.”
Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Coney Island
For the first time in more than 20 years, Coney Island’s Mermaid Avenue, its main retail corridor, will light up for the holidays. Alexandra Silversmith, the Alliance for Coney Island‘s executive director, told us that the snowflake-themed display “invites shoppers to visit Mermaid Avenue and support our local merchants while simultaneously welcoming residents home.”
Shoppers check out a holiday window, via The Library of Congress
Santa rode in on his sleigh at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and you know what that means: It’s officially the holiday season in New York. It’s fitting that Macy’s heralds the beginning of our collective good cheer since R. H. Macy himself revolutionized the holiday season when he debuted the nation’s very first Christmas Windows at his store on 14th Street in 1874. Since then, all of New York’s major department stores have been turning merchandise into magic with show-stopping holiday window displays. Historically, New York’s holiday windows have deployed a combination of spectacle, science, and art, with cutting-edge technology and the talents of such luminaries as Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, and Robert Rauschenberg. From hydraulic lifts to steam-powered windows, take a look back at the history of New York’s holiday windows, the last word in high-tech, high-design holiday cheer.