The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be illuminated tonight, and I wish I was there. Sure it’s crowded and cold, but it’s also a notable thrill as the traditional Norway Spruce’s 30,000 lights and Swarovski crystal star defy the night. This is The Center’s 79th celebration, the first occurring in 1933 with 700 lights and done mainly to lift spirits during The Depression. The always soaring tree, a long row of nutcrackers, and the ice rink filled to capacity with 150 ice skaters, some in formal attire, make the crowd reluctant to leave with the holiday scene made even more perfect if snow is lightly falling.
However, this is only one among many holiday delights during a New York Christmas. The spectacular Lincoln Center tree is traditionally topped with a Wedgewood starburst and resplendent with close to 100 oversized blue and white Wedgewood ornaments designed to honor the arts.
There are probably another 2 dozen tree lighting ceremonies in Manhattan alone.
Some of the annual trees are stunningly original. For example, The American Museum of Natural History’s annual holiday gift is an Origami Tree. OrigamiUSA members begin folding the approximately 500 paper ornaments as early as July to decorate this 13-feet tall tree-extravaganza that doesn’t need lights to dazzle. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s Peace Tree contains 1,000 paper cranes and other peace symbols.
The most artful tree, however, brightens the Metropolitan Museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall. This annual wonder is laden with 18th century Neapolitan angels which are large enough to be clearly seen from a distance. Nestled below the celestial beauties is a one-of-a-kind, wraparound Baroque Crèche, a dramatic diorama depicting Bethlehem on one very special day.
But a Manhattan Christmas is more than glittering trees. The world’s largest menorah, a 32-feet tall, 400 pound structure, gets lit to inaugurate Hanukkah beginning on December 4 this year on the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street.
Seasonal window displays in Manhattan dazzle like nowhere else. On any wish list would be Bergdorf-Goodman, Saks, Lord and Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany’s, Barney’s, and, especially, Macy’s flagship store’s animated window scenes that seem inspired by the dreams of everyone’s childhood.
Smaller pleasures include the Morgan Library’s “A Christmas Carol”, Charles Dickens original manuscript currently on display in a special exhibit that’s part of a celebration of Dickens 200th birthday.
Bah, humbug! Another small wonder, perhaps my favorite New York Christmas treat, was the annual train exhibit at The Station at Citigroup Center. Between 1987 and 2009, this historic, one-of-a-kind model railroad delighted me with its nostalgic New York State re-creation of 1945-55. Alas, it has moved north to Railroads on Parade in Pottersville.
However, The Empire State Building’s top floors continue to sport Christmas red and green, there’s still a seasonal light show inside Grand Central Station as its Main Concourse becomes a kaleidoscope of colors every half hour from 11 am to 9 pm, and the Rockettes continue to kick up their holiday heels in “Magical Journey” until January 2nd.
And these are just the main attractions. Among other New York seasonal pleasures are unexpected carolers, myriad lofty trees fronting business towers, and small shop windows lovingly decorated.
Happy Holidays, wherever you are.