Actually Cool Things to Do in NYC This Holiday Season
Do you need to get your giant family out of your miniature apartment? Is that $15 holiday check from your Great Aunt Annie burning a hole in your pocket? (Just don’t spend it all in one place!) Or do you want to see the city’s streets made famous in classic Christmas movies like Miracle on 34th Street and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York? Whatever your reason for the season, New York City has a million ways to celebrate from now until New Year’s Day.
Recover from Thanksgiving dinner with a stiff drink (or four), bring your mini goldendoodle to make a wish on Santa’s lap, or watch the Times Square ball drop us precipitously into 2020 -- we’ve rounded up every magical, miraculous, and must-do event in the city this holiday season.
Upper West Side
Head to the Upper West Side to get a preview of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons as they come to life. They’re filled on the day before the parade, and you can watch them get bigger and bigger from the viewing area around the Museum of Natural History. It’s a much different view than you’re used to -- and when you watch the balloons on TV, you can say you knew them back when they were nothing.
Your local yoga studio is probably advertising a class to restore your center and practice gratitude after Thanksgiving dinner, but doesn’t a drink sound way better right now? At Liquor Lab, they’re hosting a mixology class to help you recover with some stiff drinks. Skip the second day of leftover turkey and cranberry sandwiches, learn how to make four holiday-themed cocktails, and hope that your kitchen is cleaned up by the time you get home.
Cost: $65 includes cocktails and food
November 11 - March 15
Skip the crowds at Rockefeller Center and head to Harlem’s Riverbank State Park, where the skates are cheap, the rink isn’t packed, and the ice is just as cold. Riverbank’s rink is NHL-sized, giving you lots of room to practice your jumps (or just, you know, try not to fall down in front of your friends). Before you head over, make sure to call in advance to make sure the ice isn’t reserved for a local hockey game or skating lesson.
Cost: $5 per adult; skate rental is additional $6
November 14 - January 26
Nutcracker Rouge updates Tchaikovsky’s suite with burlesque, circus stunts, and an amping-up of the sweet holiday story. (Pro tip: Do not invite your grandma to this performance.) Brooklyn’s Company XIV has turned Clara’s candy-coated world into a sultry nightclub and her journey of delight into a journey of, um, a different kind of delight. If you’re worried about missing the delicate “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” you might want to stick to the G-rated version.
Cost: Tickets start at $145
November 21 - December 24
Don’t know what to stuff inside your family’s stockings this year? The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park have handmade gifts from over 170 vendors, so statistically, you’re sure to find something they like. Sip a hot cider, shop for scarves, watch the figure skaters glide across the ice, and try to remember which one of your cousins is allergic to wool, which one will only wear wool, and which one didn’t get you a present last year.
Cost: Free to peruse
November 22 - December 28
This purported “sequel” to A Christmas Carol starts on the morning after Scrooge’s big revelation. Put on by The Imbible, an off-broadway troupe that combines musical comedy with the serving of cocktails, the show calls on the three “Christmas Spirits” (get it?) for help with Christmas caroling, cocktail trivia, and general carousing. The price of a ticket includes three themed holiday cocktails, so you’re sure to get red-faced and jolly before the night is over.
Cost: Tickets start at $89; includes three cocktails
November 23 - December 31
The Nitehawk Holiday Show Spectacular plays on-theme (or at least near-theme) movies all through the holiday season. Of course, they'll be playing the hits -- like Elf, Home Alone, and The Muppet Christmas Carol -- along with cult faves like New Year’s Evil and Black Christmas. There are midnight showings for the grownups (what says “Merry Christmas” like a screening of Eyes Wide Shut?) and family-friendly flicks at brunch. Best of all, Nitehawk serves liquor, so you can booze while your kids watch Scrooged.
Cost: Tickets are $15
November 23 - January 12
GingerBread Lane -- the record-holder for the Guinness Book of World Records’ largest gingerbread village -- is back again at the New York Hall of Science. Created by a single chef over the course of an entire year, every piece of the village will be completely edible. If you want to make your own, come to a GingerBread Lane workshop. You’ll get the gingerbread, icing, and candy to create the only four-bedroom co-op you’ll ever be able to afford.
Cost: General admission is $16; workshops are an additional $15
More: The Best Museums in NYC
November 29 - December 24
Recreate the “Santa at the mall” experience of your childhood at New York’s very own shopping mall, Brookfield Place. It might be different than the mall of your memories, but Santa is exactly the same. (Isn’t it funny how that happens?) Window shop at the luxury stores, then stand in line with a squirming kid who will, inevitably, be too scared to sit on Santa’s lap once he gets to the front of the line. If you prefer to put your furbaby on your Christmas cards, stop by on December 4, 11, or 18 -- from 6:30 - 8pm, when pets under 25 lbs can get a picture with Santa, too.
Cost: Photo packages start at $29
December 6 - December 25
Jimmy Stewart! Donna Reed! “Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!" It’s a Wonderful Life ranks on nearly every best-movie-ever list, and for good reason. The film is a holiday classic of the sort made long before The Santa Clause was a twinkle in Tim Allen’s eye. If you’ve only seen it on TV (or not at all!), the IFC Center is playing it all December long. Bring some tissues and get ready to feel the holiday spirit.
Cost: Adult tickets are $16
December 15 – December 31
Mid-to-late December is the time when Dyker Heights -- finally! -- gets to shine. Every year, the entire neighborhood transforms into a Christmas light spectacular, inflatable Santas and all. Almost every house gets into the spirit, but the most merry drive (or walk, if the night is warm) is up Dyker Heights Boulevard from 83rd to 86th Street. Head out after sundown, and be prepared to jump on the D train around 9, when the homeowners turn off the lights.
Celebrate that miraculous oil by using it to fry up some shredded potatoes! The Latke Festival celebrates Hanukkah with interpretations on the humble latke from restaurants all over the city. The usual suspects like Ukranian restaurant Veselka join less-expected participants, including Brooklyn’s Baoburg and the modern Mexican Chela. If you’re used to a family struggle over sour cream vs. applesauce, you’re about to be faced with a lot more toppings to argue about it.
Cost: Tickets start at $75
Brooklyn and Harlem
This year, the Kwanzaa Crawl can take you on a tour of over thirty of the city’s Black-owned bars. Thousands of participants will be split up into “teams” as they move through Brooklyn or Harlem, drinking, dancing, and celebrating the people of the African diaspora. Celebrate community and make an impact in your neighborhood -- the event runners say that last year, the Kwanzaa Crawl brought over $250,000 to Black-owned businesses in a single night.
Cost: Ticket prices TBA
If the simulation we’re living in doesn’t implode before the end of December, we deserve to celebrate making it to 2020. While the Times Square ball drop draws more than a million people to the streets, you can give yourself a break and spend the night in your pajamas. Sing "Auld Lang Syne," wear those weird New Year’s glasses (the 2020 ones will make sense as glasses for the first time since 2011!), drink a split of champagne, and brace yourself for the new year.
If you’re making a New Year’s resolution to do one thing every day that scares you, the Polar Bear Plunge is a good place to start. Every New Year’s Day, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club -- aka the masochists who like to jump into the icy Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the winter -- meet on the boardwalk to wade into the water. You can join them, or watch from the sand with a jacket wrapped around your shoulders. (You can always do the one thing that scares you tomorrow, instead).
Cost: Donations appreciated
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