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.
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.
Image: Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Tishman Speyer via TimeOut
The star that tops the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree each year never fails to dazzle; this year is no exception. The 12-ton Norway Spruce has been crowned by architect Daniel Libeskind‘s creation consisting of 3 million Swarovski crystals and weighing in at 900 pounds. The World Trade Center master site planner, known for his geometric, angular designs, called the star “a symbol that represents our greatest ambitions for hope, unity and peace.” And we can all use plenty of that.
A Christmas tree market in front of the Barclay Street Station circa 1895. Photo via the Library of Congress
The convenience of walking to the corner bodega and haggling for a Christmas tree is something most of us take for granted, but this seasonal industry is one that actually predates Christmas’ 1870 establishment as a national holiday and continues to be a one-of-a-kind business model today. In fact, in 1851, a tree stand set up for $1 at the west side’s Washington Market became the nation’s very first public Christmas tree market, the impetus behind it being a way to save New Yorkers a trip out of town to chop down their own trees. Ahead, find out the full history of this now-national trend and how it’s evolved over the years.
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.
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.
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.
On December 21, 1912, a 60-foot-tall tree arrived by horse-drawn truck from the Adirondacks to provide Manhattan’s Madison Square Park with the glow of 2,300 colored electric bulbs. The twinklers were donated by the Edison Company, and the tree was the first of its kind: Having a Christmas tree in one’s living room was a familiar custom, but a tree outside in a public park was something new.
Google Maps introduced a street-view look at NYC’s holiday windows a couple years ago, but their Shopping app has now completely revamped the feature, launching this year as Window Wonderland. The interactive tool lets users take a high-resolution digital tour of 18 stores, including audio tours from their creative directors and real-life background street noise. See the 34 hand-sculpted animals in Lord & Taylor’s “Enchanted Forest,” explore the candy and couture at Saks Fifth Avenue’s “Land of 1000 Delights,” or see the gang from South Park at Barney’s.
One of the many signs that it’s Christmastime in the city is the sight, sound and scent of the city’s sidewalk tree vendors. The annual arrival of the (mostly) jovial tree purveyors reminds us that bell-ringing Santas, office secret Santas, and bar-crawling Santas aren’t far behind. Each year thousands of trees are sold to New Yorkers to help them deck the halls for the season. But what about the people who sell those trees? A new documentary film, “Tree Man,” gives us a peek at the lives of the city’s tree sellers, many of whom leave families behind to camp out in sometimes harsh living conditions for the sake of their business.