NYC is the setting for an uncanny number of Christmas movies, and for good reasons. Between the snow, lights and decorations, the city comes alive during the holiday season. Visiting NYC during the holidays makes me nostalgic for my childhood when my brother and I would wait all year to shop at the big Toys R Us and ice skate at Rockefeller. During that time, my family visited a variety of different holiday displays all over the city. While the laziest holiday display is still a pleasant surprise, some holiday displays are can’t-miss traditions and hallmarks of NYC.
Read on to find out the top holiday displays you won’t want to miss in NYC:
1. Rockefeller Christmas Tree
The Rockefeller Christmas tree becomes increasingly iconic with every season. In Elf, it’s where Buddy kisses Jovie. In Home Alone 2, Kevin has one of many iconic main character moments there as he prays to Santa right before his parents find him and Christmas is saved. The Statue is in the opening of 30 Rock. Ice skating is overpriced but worth it, and the energy of the skating rink is palpable.
“Well, almost every year for the past few years, my cousins, my sister, and I all get up super early one day in December and go see the Rockefeller tree before anyone else is there. We don’t need to worry about parking or crowds. It’s really peaceful and pretty! Very sparkly and grand,” University of Iowa junior Nina Helenwa said.
The Tree is lit daily from 5:00 a.m. to midnight until January 13th at 10:00 pm. On New Year’s Eve, however, it is lit from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. This year, Santa, presented by Balsam Hill, was also at the Rockefeller Center to visit children. The tree is a tradition dating back to December 1931, when employees of Rockefeller Center pooled their money to buy a Christmas tree. They decorated the tree, at the time a 20-foot high balsam fir, using primarily handmade garlands made by their families. Now, the tree is the tallest in the city.
2. Radio City Music Hall
The Rockettes are iconic. There is something mesmerizing about that many people, who all look roughly the same, dancing and kicking in unison. At points, they look like a still frame of one another. Admittedly, I’ve never understood the appeal of going to this event every year. This feels like the sort of thing you really only need to see once. But if you do fall in love with it, then you’d join a devout fandom, and maybe even curate a new tradition.
“The Rockettes are cool to watch,” University of Michigan junior Alexa King said.
The Rockettes were partially founded by Russell Markert, the Rockettes’ chief choreographer, who retired in 1971. However, the Rockettes have been entertaining Americans since 1925. Originally, a Rockette had to be between 5’2″and 5’6 ½”, but today, she is between 5’6″and 5’10 ½. Additionally, the requirements have expanded so that a dancer has to be proficient in tap, modern, jazz and ballet. While it was originally only 16 women, over the years, the Rockettes grew to a line of 36 dancers.
3. Sax Fifth Avenue Light Show
It used to be that all of Fifth Avenue would celebrate the holidays with a light show. But then Tiffany had a fire, and Barnies went out of business, and so now Sax Stands continues on a dying tradition. Displays are always memorable. In the ’80s and ’90s, Burdorph, through Tiffany’s, known as Fifth Avenue, would fill their windows with Christmas displays. It’s vaguely referenced in Home Alone.
“I love a good light show,” University of San Diego junior Salena Chacon said.
This year, Sax even set off fireworks. Located on Fifth Avenue, the opening ceremony took place on Monday, November 20, 2023. Starting November 23, 2023, the Saks Lights Show Schedule features non-stop performances at 4:35 p.m. for three minutes. Which is the perfect amount of time for a light show. Any longer, and I begin to get bored. Five minutes after the show ends, it begins again and cycles like this until 10:35 p.m.
4. Cartier building display
Cartier likes to be iconic. Whether it’s wrapping the building with a bow or installing a crystal-like light display, they always go all out for the holidays. They usually include window displays, the likes of which have loosely inspired and been referenced in Home Alone. These window displays are festive and artistic, often telling stories. While other buildings on the street, like Macy’s and Bergdorf’s, also present displays, the Cartier building goes above and beyond by decorating the entire building as well.
5. Wall Street Tree
While not as big as the Rockefeller Christmas tree, or not as busy, it’s still a really big, pretty tree. If you’re staying far downtown, then the traffic might not be worth the trip to Rockefeller to see the tree. In that case, this tree is a wonderful supplement. Worst case scenario, it’s a fun stop along a walk, or a hidden gem you stumble upon. It’s near other historical exhibits and, since it’s on Wall Street, rests in the heart of the financial district.