The best offbeat holiday events, exhibits, and outings in NYC this year

November 26, 2018

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.

1. The Nutcracker, updated…
Company XIV: Nutcracker Rouge:
383 Troutman Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn; through January 13, see calendar for details.
The Hard Nut: Peter Jay Sharp Building, BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn; December 14-23, visit website for times and dates.

Company XIV’s Nutcracker Rouge and Mark Morris Dance Group’s The Hard Nut are two talented if non-traditional takes on the classic Christmas tale. The former is a reimagining of the beloved Nutcracker tale with a sexy mix of cabaret, burlesque, music hall, theater, and dance. The latter, based on the book, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the comic book art of Charles Burns and featuring Tchaikovsky’s complete original score, is performed live by the 53-piece MMDG Music Ensemble. Morris’ lyrical, modern retelling preserves the warmth of the beloved traditional version with the addition of raucous parties, dancing G.I. Joes, whimsical costumes, and a Waltz of the Snowflakes like no other; it’s also part of the BAM 2018 Next Wave Festival.

Photo credit: Richard Termine for The New York Times courtesy of Town Hall.

2. Rufus and Martha Wainwright’s Noel Nights
Sunday, December 16, 8:00 p.m.; Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street

The legendary Wainwright family Christmas show returns after a four-year hiatus bringing special guests like Emmylou Harris, Loudon Wainwright III, Teddy Thompson, Sloan Wainwright, Lucy Wainwright Roche and more. Proceeds benefit Stand Up to Cancer.

3. Run, Santa, run
You won’t find any beer spilled on these Santa suits (at least until after the race). Two Santa suit-enhanced holiday runs take place in Prospect Park (December 9) and Rockaway Park (December 15). A $40 fee gets you a Santa suit and a place in the race, which starts at 11 a.m. There’s a separate entry category for kids under 14.

4. The Holiday Train Show
Saturday, November 17, 2018 – Monday, January 21, 2019; 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx

Enchanting model trains zip through a display of more than 175 New York City landmarks, each re-created with bark, leaves, and other natural materials—all under the twinkling glow of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden. This year’s exhibition showcases Lower Manhattan featuring the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and iconic skyscrapers sharing the spotlight among old and new favorites. Making their debut this year are One World Trade Center and the historic Battery Maritime Building along with two vintage ferry boats. Grown-ups can extend the fun with Bar Car nights which include an after-dark viewing of the train show, drinks at one of several seasonal bars and a bite to eat from the Bronx Night Market Holiday Pop-up.

5. 10th Annual Latke Festival
December 3, 2018, 6 p.m.; Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway

One of New York City’s most unique and delicious holiday tasting events, the Latke Festival is a charity event that celebrates the city’s best and most creative potato pancakes. Net proceeds benefit The Sylvia Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching healthy eating habits to children and their families. Guests will join a panel of celebrity judges at the Brooklyn Museum to bestow the latke crown on one of the city’s many notable restaurants.

6. What the Dickens? annual “Christmas Carol” marathon reading
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, 126 Crosby Street NYC; Saturday, December 15, 12-4:30 p.m.

Drop in on dozens of literary types and performers for a reading of Charles Dickens’s holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol” as the whole spirited tale winds its way through the afternoon. Cross off a few names on your gift list in the meantime with cool literary finds and have some festive treats, hot cocoa or a glass of mulled wine in the cafe.

7. A John Waters Christmas
Sunday, December 9, 6 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. start; City Winery, 155 Varick Street

John Waters, the People’s Pervert, is coming to town. The legendary filmmaker (“Female Trouble”, “Hairspray”, “Serial Mom”), raconteur and author spreads Yuletide profanity and perverted piety with his critically acclaimed one-man show. Meet and greet included in VIP ticket purchase. (The show is sold out, but as with most hot tickets in NYC, there’s a wait list!)

8. Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce
Tuesday, December 11, 8 p.m.; Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street

2017 MacArthur Fellow, Pulitzer Prize finalist and theatrical performer Taylor Mac takes on the holidays in an ever-evolving annual holiday concert that celebrates the holiday season in all of its dysfunction. “Holiday Sauce” offers Christmas carols, recontextualized. Drawing on forms like commedia dell’arte, contemporary musical theater and drag performance, Mac is a self-described “fool” and “collagist” who puts together forms and costumes to create a complex and sometimes un-categorizable look and sound. Collaborators include designer Machine Dazzle, music director Matt Ray and a band of eight to give new life to the songs you love and the holidays you hate.

9. Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night
The NYC flagship event begins in Washington Square Park on Sunday, December 16 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 smart phone-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. The massive chorus of boomboxes will move from the West Village to the East Village in the event’s 27th annual holiday presentation. Phil Kline will hand out a limited number of vintage boomboxes from his collection and cassettes for those who bring their own. The public is strongly encouraged to bring their own boomboxes or sound-blasters and to pre-download the track. Find out more about how to participate and download the tracks here.

10. Lighting the World: Menorahs Around the Globe
Opening: December 6, 6-8 p.m.; Exhibition on view through Spring 2019; 12 Eldridge Street

The remarkable Aharon Ben Zalman Collection of menorahs spans five centuries and represents Jewish communities around the globe. Within The Museum at Eldridge Street’s vibrant historic sanctuary, menorahs from 17th-century Italy and 19th-century North Africa will be displayed alongside those from Colonial America and modern-day Israel, India, Brazil, Poland, the Netherlands, and more. Each menorah’s design tells a story about its origin and those who used it.

11. A Christmas Carol at the Merchants House
November 27 through December 29; 29 East 1st Street, NYC. Check website for performance schedule.

The perfect event for history lovers, this reenactment of “A Christmas Carol” takes place at the Merchant’s House, the city’s only preserved and intact 19th-century family home. It’s set in the elegant Greek Revival parlor of the 1832 house, surrounded by holiday decorations from the 1800s, period furnishings, and flickering candles. The show is in its sixth smash year.

12. Klez for Kids at the Museum at Eldridge Street
Tuesday, December 25, 12-5pm; 12 Eldridge Street

Whether you celebrate Hannukah or Christmas, this family-friendly event on Christmas Day at the Museum at Eldridge Street is the perfect afternoon celebration. In its historic shul sanctuary, the Museum will welcome clarinetist Greg Wall’s band Klezmerfest!, which will “have the whole family singing, dancing and dabbling in Yiddish.” Their Klez For Kidz program mixes “old-country sounds with contemporary Lower East Side energy.” Concerts will begin at 12 and 2pm, but guests are welcome to come early or stay late and explore the Museum’s two exhibitions: Lighting the World on global menorahs and Releasing Words featuring cool paper-cut pieces.


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