“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
So sings Andy Williams in one of my favourite festive songs, and while I know it’s not the case for everyone, for me, it rings true – Christmas really is the most wonderful time of year!
Christmas was always a big event in our house when I was growing up in Scotland. The Christmas tree would go up in the living room, colorful lights would frame the windows, and my brother and I would be busy writing letters to Santa, learning carols for the Christmas play, and getting excited for the school Christmas party.
That excitement hasn’t waned for me as the years have go on. As soon as the 1st of December arrives I have a Christmas playlist on a loop, an advent calendar to open in the mornings, and a beady eye out for all the best Christmas films on TV.
And Christmas in NYC? It’s just as magical as you imagine it will be. It’s cold, yes, and the crowds are horrendous, but don’t let that put you off. While as an expat I miss my family and friends even more at this time of year, Mr Stories My Suitcase Could Tell and I are starting to build our own festive traditions – and in New York, there are plenty to choose from!
I’ve only spent Christmas in NYC twice so far, but here are 10 of my favourite festive experiences to date…
Looking in the Christmas windows on 5th Avenue.
From the elaborate details of Bergdorf Goodman, to the life-size moving puppets at Saks, the holiday windows in the department store windows on Fifth Avenue never disappoint. I like to start at the Plaza Hotel on 59th street, and work my way down the street until I reach Saks, where the light show and music provide a (literally) dazzling finale.
Admiring the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza.
Rockefeller Plaza is home to the city’s most famous Christmas tree, the one you see on TV every year, and one that the out-of-town crowds flock to see. At 78 feet high, it’s certainly impressive – the 45,000 lights covering it probably play a part in that, too!
Ogling the Christmas decorations on 6th Avenue.
Right around the corner from Rockefeller Plaza is Radio City Music Hall, home of the famous Christmas Spectacular dance show, and another sparkly Christmas tree to bring cheer to the streets. There are always fun decorations here too, like giant Christmas baubles and lights.
Watching the skaters at Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park.
The first time I went to the Wollman Ice Rink at Christmas was a real “pinch me” moment; there’s something about the sight of families skating to a soundtrack of Christmas tunes, with the city skyline looming large in the background that makes you feel very ‘Christmassy’ indeed.
Browsing the Bryant Park Winter Village.
While the holiday markets here don’t quite live up to the legend that is Edinburgh’s Christmas market, I enjoy browsing the stalls all the same, especially the one at Bryant Park. The setting is perfect, with the stalls set up around an ice rink, a Christmas tree in the centre of it all, and the beautiful New York Public Library providing a background to it all. Plus, there’s apple cider and hot chocolate on offer here: who could resist?
Visiting Macy’s – yes, the whole store!
The crowds are intense, but don’t let that put you off: Macy’s is somewhere you simply have to visit in New York during the holidays. Not only are their exterior decorations and windows something to behold, but the Christmas spirit extends inside too, with the highlight being the Christmas shop on the 9th floor. It’s especially magical for kids, who can post a letter to Father Christmas at any of the Santa stations dotted throughout the department store.
Attending the ‘What the Dickens?!’ book reading at Housing Works Bookstore.
I’ve written before about my obsession with books, so when I heard that one of my favourite bookstores hosts a live reading of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, by some of NYC’s most esteemed writers, I knew I couldn’t miss it. We don’t usually stay for the whole thing – it takes all afternoon – but we like to get there early, so we catch the carol singing at the start, too.
Listening to The Pipes of Christmas concert on Madison Avenue.
Scottish instruments and Christmas carols are, in my opinion, the perfect pairing for a Christmas night out in the city. Every December for the last 18 years, the Clan Currie Society has been hosting an evening of Scottish music, readings, and performances in the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, in the form of The Pipes of Christmas.
It’s fast becoming a festive tradition for Mr. Stories My Suitcase Could Tell and I. My favourite musical offerings this year? An entire pipe band playing Highland Cathedral (it brought a tear or two to my eye), and the moving, almost haunting sound of ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ being performed using only the small Scottish pipes and a fiddle.
Sipping holiday cocktails at Miracle on 9th Street (aka Mace Bar).
New York excels in random pop-up bars, shops, and restaurants, and this annual holiday cocktail pop-up is one of my favourites. Mace Bar is a year-round favourite in the East Village, but during the holidays it transforms into Miracle on 9th Street, with a festive spirit menu and quirky Hanukkah and Christmas decorations.
Joining in with the Salvation Army Carol Singers.
Christmas in NYC means charity carolers on what feels like every corner of the city – and I love it! Whether the volunteers can actually sing or not is beside the point; it’s the effort that they put in to their Christmas songs that make all the difference, and some of them are absolutely brilliant.
Have you ever experienced Christmas in NYC, or would you like to? What are your favourite festive traditions? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!
And of course: a very Merry Christmas to you!
Want to read more?
Celebrating Christmas as British Expat in the USA
What It’s Really Like To Watch the US Election as an Expat
NYC Tartan Week 2016: My Expat Experience
Margret Miller says
Hi Katie, I love to read your stories on your blog and particularly enjoyed this Xmas one and the video was fabulous too. I love New York and would love to visit around Xmas time. I will be over visiting NYC in may 2017 with my daughter and may call on you for some tips before heading over, if that’s ok with you. This will be my 4th time however my daughter has only been for a fleeting visit on a stop off coming back from Florida when she was only 12 so I want to pack in as much of the best of NYC for our visit together. Happy Christmas to you and your lovel brother Alistair who is an ex colleague of mine…
Katie MacLeod says
Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Margret! I glad you enjoyed the Christmas post, and please do get in touch if you need any NYC tips. I hope you’ve had a lovely Christmas, and Happy New Year when it comes!
That video just made me feel so Christmassy. I love Australia but it’s not the same in the sun!!
Katie MacLeod says
Aw I’m glad you liked it Jayne! I bet Christmas feels weird in the sun… it even feels a wee bit weird here, just because it’s not what I’m used to (different music, different food, different – gasp – chocolates!). Hope you had a lovely Christmas all the same 🙂
Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad says
Haha, whyyyyy did I open this post in May?!? Now I feel all Christmassy! I’d actually love to experience Christmas in NYC. 🙂
(P.S. I spent Christmas in Australia the year before and it WAS so weird in the sun! It was fun, but didn’t feel like Christmas at all!)
Katie MacLeod says
I highly recommend a December visit to NYC – it really gets you into the Christmas spirit! And I can’t imagine Christmas in the sun… I think I’d find that really odd!