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.”
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.
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.
No, really. Santa’s Christmas Tree Farm spans 28 acres in Long Island’s North Fork, and this cool Cutchogue property [h/t Curbed] is the perfect gift for that special someone on your list who has everything, provided you have the $2.5 million required to close the deal, which incudes 23 planted acres, an 1,800-square-foot farmhouse, an 8,000-square-foot commercial Morton building (lights and trimming, of course) and four irrigation wells.
The winter holiday season is as much about tradition as it is about twinkling lights and shopping, from the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the Rockettes to The Nutcracker and as many versions of Handel’s Messiah as there are ways to count ’em–plus a full menu of classics on TV and at the movies. If you’re craving a break from the old chestnuts, these less-traditional alternatives to the holiday hit parade might be just the kind of merry you’re looking to make.
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.
No matter how hard we try to resist the urge to do last-minute shopping, that unexpected invitation, secret Santa or gift that needs reciprocation sends us scrambling for the perfect present. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of holiday markets and pop-up shops offering a bounty of just-right goodies and crafty gifts. The big 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 are waiting to be discovered at smaller, cooler neighborhood affairs.
In addition to locally-made jewelry, crafts, vintage items, 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.