There is nothing like December in the frosty, fabulous Big Apple, when the city is full of stunning sights and sounds no matter where you look—from sumptuously decorated store windows to boisterous Broadway shows to beloved cultural institutions. So, whether you’re here for just one day, a whole week or even the entire month, you’ll have plenty of options to keep you enlightened, enchanted and entertained. Here’s just a sample of some of the most wonderful ways to celebrate the “most wonderful time of the year.”
TAKING THE FIFTH
The 10-block stretch of Fifth Avenue between 58th and 48th streets is possibly the most magical in the city, thanks in large part to department store Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth Ave., 212.753.7300). Its holiday windows, designed by David Hoey, are among the city’s most creative, and this year is no exception. The theme is “Bergdorf Good Times,” and Hoey devotes the streetscape windows to variations on the idea of parties, fun and games, ranging from a window featuring a bridge tournament in an enchanted forest (with both people and a fantasy menagerie) to one with a giant pinball game with flashing lights to another showcasing a very sophisticated “slumber party.” If time permits, take a detour to the seventh floor, where Bergdorf’s holiday shop offers up an amazing selection of unusual ornaments. As you continue your stroll—passing such great stores as Tiffany, Coach and Cartier to name but a few—don’t forget to make a final stop at Saks Fifth Avenue (611 Fifth Ave., 212.753.4000), whose striking windows pay tribute to scenes from the animated movie “Frozen 2,” with each display featuring a character from the film along with the elements of wind, fire, water and earth.
FRONT AND CENTER
No visit to NYC is complete without spending at least a little time at world-renowned Rockefeller Center (600 Fifth Ave., 212.588.8601), where this year’s tree—a giant Norwegian spruce from upstate New York—is officially lit on Dec. 4 in a star-studded ceremony. But there’s plenty to do here other than gawk at this natural wonder! For example, you can take a spin around the famed ice rink or just watch the skaters. Or you can simply have a glass of cheer, apple cider or even a steaming hot chocolate inside one of the specially heated igloos at the new holiday pop-up created by former downtown favorite City Winery.
Above all, you must see Rockefeller Center’s greatest attraction, Radio City Music Hall (1260 Sixth Ave., 866.858.0007). For an inside look, Radio City offers a 75-minute “Stage Door Tour,” where guests can explore the beautiful Art Deco interior; learn the secrets and history of the Great Stage, one of the largest indoor performance stages in the world; and walk through the lavish private apartment known as The Roxy Suite. And, above all, there are numerous daily performances of the world-famous “Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes,” an annual musical holiday stage show that features more than 140 performers in such unforgettable scenes as “New York at Christmas,” “The March of the Wooden Soldiers” and the “Living Nativity,” with real animals (donkeys! camels!) crossing the vast stage.
MIRACLE ON 34th STREET
In this tough retail climate, it’s not just a miracle that Macy’s Herald Square (151 W. 34th St., 212.695.4400) still survives, but that it remains a must-goto destination over the holidays. One big reason is that your children can actually meet the one-and-only St. Nick (and get a special keepsake) at SantaLand, a 13,000-square-foot Christmas village created with loving care on the store’s eighth floor. Another is the opportunity to see Macy’s acclaimed holiday windows, one set of which displays scenes from the Christmas classic, “Yes, Virginia…,” while others (along the store’s Seventh Avenue facade) elaborately celebrate the 2019 Holiday Barbie, who is adorned with an elegant gown with red and white holiday print and silvery sparkle detail. Get dolled up and head down!
The holiday season is perhaps the best time to introduce children to the wonders of live entertainment. If you want to give your regards to Broadway, consider the international sensation “Slava’s Snowshow” at the Sondheim Theatre (124 W. 43rd St., 212.239.6200), in which a slew of clowns led by the piece’s creator, Russian master Slava Polunin, immerse audiences in an alternately delightful, hilarious, spellbinding and romantically wistful theatrical adventure. Or consider an all-new, music-filled theatrical take on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at the Lyceum Theatre (149 W. 45th St., 212.239.6200) in which the considerable talents of Campbell Scott, Andrea Martin and LaChanze bring to life the classic tale of how the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of the holiday. Elsewhere around town, kids (and adults) are sure to be enthralled by a visit to Lincoln Center (Columbus Ave. and W. 63rd St.), where New York City Ballet performs the stirringly beautiful fairy tale “The Nutcracker,” choreographed by George Balanchine and set to the inimitable music of Tchaikovsky, at the David H. Koch Theater (20 Lincoln Center Plz., 212,496.0600). You can also head to the Big Top next door for the thrilling Big Apple Circus (60 Lincoln Center Plz., 212.257.3330), which is led by ringmaster Storm Marrero. And speaking of circuses, Canada’s famed Cirque du Soleil unveils a new holiday event, “’Twas the Night Before … ,” at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden (4 Pennsylvania Plz., 866.858.0008) Dec. 12 through 29, that is sure to excite young and old alike!
MUSIC OF THE NIGHTS
The sounds of holiday music—classical, religious and secular—ring out on some of the city’s most prominent stages this month. Former “America’s Got Talent” star Jackie Evancho headlines a special concert at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (2 W. 64th St., 212.874.5210) on Dec. 6. The one-and-only Idina Menzel serves up selections from her new CD, “Christmas: A Season of Love,” at Carnegie Hall (881 Seventh Ave., 212.247.7800) on Dec. 11; while her former “Glee” daughter, Lea Michele, delivers “Christmas in the City” at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, Dec. 19-21. Tony winner Lillias White raises the roof with “A Lillias White Christmas” at The Green Room 42 (570 10th Ave., 646.707.2990) Dec. 13-15. And finally, don’t miss “A Frank and Ella Christmas” at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 20 and 21, in which the marvelous New York Pops are joined by powerhouse vocalists Capathia Jenkins and Tony DeSare and Essential Voices USA. The much-anticipated Cathedral Christmas Concert 2019 at St. John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave., 212.316.7540) on Dec. 14 features music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Frideric Handel and Giovanni Gabrieli, while dazzling vocal solos, instrumental fireworks and splendid choral writing prove once again why Handel’s Messiah is the New York Philharmonic’s most beloved holiday tradition when it returns Dec. 17 through 21 at David Geffen Hall (10 Lincoln Center Plz., 212.875.5656).
LIGHT IT UP
If you’re looking to celebrate Hanukkah (Dec. 22-30), there are plenty of opportunities to be had around town. You won’t want to miss out on “Accumulations: Hanukkah Lamps,” an extraordinary display of 80 precious objects representing four continents and six centuries of artistic production on view at the Jewish Museum (1109 Fifth Ave., 212.423.3200), which also has many family-oriented holiday events throughout the month. Nearby, the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Ave., 212.415.5500) hosts a special extravaganza of music, glow sticks, latkes (and other yummy food), and lights on Dec. 13; a special menorah-making event on Dec. 14, and a morning concert by Rebecca Schoffer on Dec. 15. Across town at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan (334 Amsterdam Ave., 646.505.4444), the month’s many events range from latke demonstrations to a special menorah lighting ceremony for senior citizens. Lastly, at the Annual Latke Festival on Dec. 16 at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, 718.638.5000), attendees can sample various interpretations of the beloved potato pancakes—from traditional to outrageously creative—from about two dozen eateries from the city and beyond.
There are many other ways to finish 2019 and get 2020 off to a great start than freezing in Times Square watching the ball drop on Dec. 31! Over at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera’s annual New Year’s Eve Gala has the incredible soprano Anna Netrebko pulling out all the Puccini stops as she stars as opera heroines Mimì, Tosca and Turandot in one fully staged and costumed evening (30 Lincoln Center Plz., 212.362.6000). Also at Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic celebrates the upcoming 90th birthday of Stephen Sondheim with selections from his greatest musicals with the invaluable aid of Tony Award winner Katrina Lenk at David Geffen Hall. The city’s many cabarets also provide some spectacular entertainment (and in some cases, gourmet dinners to boot). Crooner Steve Tyrell is the headliner at Café Carlyle (35 E. 76th St. 1.800.405.2027); Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford headlines the late show at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th St., 646.476.3551); the ageless Marilyn Maye wows the early birds with a 7 pm show at Birdland Jazz Club (315 W. 44th St., 212.581.3080); and eleven-time MAC Award winner Natalie Douglas continues her annual tradition with her 21st edition of “A Very Natalie New Year” at The Duplex (61 Christopher St., 212.255.5438). Lastly, you can always head over to Central Park and be either a participant or bystander at the NYRR Midnight Run & Fireworks. Music and dancing begin at 10 pm; the four-mile race sets off at the stroke of midnight; and the whole shebang concludes with a spectacular fireworks display that lights up the New York sky as we start the New Year!