Despite being the City That Never Sleeps, New York does close down a bit on Christmas Day, with all sorts of museums, shops, restaurants, and other businesses giving their staff a break for the holiday. But for those of us who do not celebrate or won’t be spending all of Christmas at home squabbling over politics with family, there’s still plenty to do in town, especially if you get a little creative. Here are seven great options.
1. Holiday windows
All photos of this year’s holiday windows © James and Karla Murray for 6sqft
When I was a child growing up in New York, I looked forward to my family’s annual pilgrimage to Fifth Avenue to look at the department store window displays. The ornate decorations, often complete with animatronic dolls and narrative plotlines, were almost as good as a trip to Disney World, and though I’m slightly less dazzled by them as an adult, they still make for a fun visit. Sadly, there are no Lord & Taylor windows this season for the first time in about 80 years (the flagship shuttered in January), but you can still check out festive displays at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s, and others.
2. Chinese food and a movie
Photo via Pixabay
For folks who don’t celebrate Christmas, December 25th is a day for “Jewish Christmas,” i.e., Chinese food and a movie. Historically, Chinese restaurants were some of the only eateries open on Christmas Day, and though that’s changed over the years, tradition is tradition. Head to Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown for tasty dim sum ( go early and expect to wait, it gets extra crowded on Christmas), then cap off your day with a screening of one of this year’s potential Oscar contenders at a nearby theater, or hop on the F to hit up Nitehawk Theater’s new Prospect Park location, so you can enjoy your film with a drink in hand.
3. Christmas mass
New York is full of beautiful churches and vibrant congregations, and even if you’re not the churchgoing type, visiting one for Christmas mass is a magical experience. The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine on 112th Street holds a particularly lovely mass on Christmas Day, as does the famed St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue—the latter’s famed midnight mass is ticketed through a lottery, but the daytime mass is open to the public.
4. Rockefeller Center
Though I usually recommend avoiding major tourist destinations around the holidays, there’s a magic to Rockefeller Center on Christmas that makes it well worth braving the crowds—plus it’s a public plaza, so it’s not closed on the big day. The massive light-topped tree in the center of the plaza is the main draw, of course, but the whole area’s decked out with lights, nutcrackers, and other holiday-themed treats, plus the famed Rink at Rock Center is open to skaters all day.
5. Dyker Heights holiday displays
Photos of last year’s Dyker Heights display © James and Karla Murray for 6sqft
New York’s most festive neighborhood is Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, where locals deck their homes with the wildest lights and decorations in the city. This year’s highlights include a full-scale North Pole complete with reindeer and Santa’s chair, lit-up life-size Nutcrackers, glittery Nativity scenes, giant snowmen, a scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and more light-covered trees than your eyes can handle.
6. Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
Every year, Bryant Park fills up with festive holiday shops and a free ice skating rink as part of the Bank of America Winter Village, and this year’s no exception. Though a good chunk of New York’s holiday markets take Christmas Day off, many shops at the Winter Village are open, so you can score last-minute gifts or just browse; the skating rink is also open, and you can grab drinks and bites at food hall The Lodge by Urbanspace if you’re not full up on Christmas ham and/or dim sum.
7. Go for a long walk
Photo via Pixabay
I believe strongly that New York is at its best on a holiday when the city clears out (tourists excepted) and you can have the streets more or less to yourself. And so, in my opinion, the single best thing to do on Christmas Day, assuming you haven’t shelled out for the Rockettes or gotten lost somewhere in Midtown, is to take a nice, long stroll in your neighborhood or closest big park and enjoy the brief respite from weekend crowds and weekday commuters. Of course, the city’s nearly endless pulse is one of its draws, but it’s nice to feel it alone sometimes.
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