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Christmas Time in New York City


This is a look at some of the places and memories in New York City over the years. This article is mostly from personal experience. Hopefully some readers will find this article nostalgic and some readers will find the article an inspiration to write about or make their own memories. As with New York City in general some things have changed and some things remain constant. On any December day in New York the weather can feel like early spring or be bone chilling cold. Christmas is more likely to be wet than white. It is possible a snowstorm can grind the city to a halt. Driving in Manhattan is slow and difficult. Parking and taxi cabs are expensive. The subway, accurately named “Rapid Transit”, is a good way to get around Manhattan. It is possible to see much just by walking.

Lower Manhattan

The Staten Island Ferry goes from the Saint George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island to the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan. It is a 5-mile trip that takes 25 minutes. The ferry sails past The Statue of Liberty. Sometimes there was a street musician on the ferry. Talent didn’t necessarily come with the musician. The outside of the ferries gave the full experience of winter on the water. The wind and temperature may dictate how much of the experience one wants to have. Inside the ferry when a door opens you will get a winter blast.

From Brooklyn there is the subway which can take you directly to any part of Manhattan. On the way there is an abandoned train station that has a cartoon. The moving train takes the place of the projector. You can also walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. The Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge is near the South Street Seaport. The South Street Seaport is made to look like an idealized version of how South Street looked in the 19th century.

From the ferry terminal people could go down to the Whitehall subway station below the terminal. From their they could go uptown, or to Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx. That ended on September 11, 2001. Attacks that destroyed three of the World Trade Center buildings also destroyed the subway station below the World Trade Center. Before the terrorist attack in 1993 visitors could go to the observation floor and the roof of the World Trade Center. The line was usually long. The World Trade Center had interesting artwork on the ground floor. There was also a museum about the history of trade. In 2011 during Christmas time there was a small tree of remembrance near the World Trade Center site.

Still Photos of the World Trade Center 1979-2011

Midtown Manhattan

Arguably the focal point of Christmas in New York City is midtown Manhattan. There is Macy’s on Herald Square. The store has 11 levels and takes up an entire city block. It was the first building to have a modern-day escalator.[i] When I shopped at this Macy’s in this century the old-style escalator added to the nostalgia. Outside there are Macy’s windows which have Holiday themes in them.

There is the Empire State Building. It used to have a Guinness Word Records Museum. There was a long line to get to the 86th floor observation deck. The deck is on the outside of the building. This gives a breathtaking view of Manhattan, the surrounding boroughs and New Jersey. There was another line to get to the 102nd floor tower. The tower is inside.

Rockefeller Center has the RCA building, which has an observation deck on the 73rd floor. It was the best place to get a bird’s eye view of New York City if time was a factor. I found the lines short so I could take in the view and have plenty of time for the other sites to see in the area. There is much to see there. The RCA Building, as with many Manhattan buildings, has many examples of art deco, and many stores. The Rockefeller Center tree is outside the RCA Building. The tree dwarfs any other Christmas tree I’ve seen. The ice rink is in front of the tree. There are also holiday decorations in the surrounding area, and in just about every place else in Manhattan. One time I came across the filming of a scene. The scene was two men have a short conversation then walk off. The director was more expressive than the actors.[ii]

There is the famed Radio City Music Hall, which has its Christmas show. There are many theaters on Broadway. If you are interested in watching a Broadway play or a performance at Radio City Music Hall plan early.

There is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Christmas Eve midnight Mass is televised live. In the daytime the cathedral has a good crowd of people. Catholic churches, except for an advent wreath, tend to decorate for Christmas after mid-December.

Further uptown there is Central Park. It is one part of Manhattan where you can find yourself alone with nature. The weather dictates its appearance and the number of people in the park. On opposite sides of the park are the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These museums are within walking distance of each other. The American Museum of Natural History has the Hayden Planetarium. During the Christmas season the planetarium runs the show “The Star of Christmas”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an artificial Christmas tree in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. The tree is decorated with Baroque cherubim figures. It has a magnificent Neapolitan Baroque creche.

[i] Visit Mac’s U.S.A. web site,, last accessed 12/9/2018.

[ii] One summer I was at South Street Seaport when they were filming a scene of the television show “Mike Hammer”.


This borough is primarily a residential area. There is the Brooklyn Museum and the adjacent Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens is a good place to take in the nature of a season. Its main building is a place to see flora that isn’t in season and is from different parts of the world.

Brooklyn has an Aquarium that is located at Coney Island. Coney Island is world famous but by the 1970s was way past its heyday. In December it is a quiet place. There is something about walking along the nearly deserted boardwalk. The area has had a resurgence.

The shopping areas have Christmas lighting that stretches across the streets. Houses have various degrees of Christmas lighting. Some of these homes have elaborate Christmas decorations. This makes a simple night drive a holiday experience.

Staten Island

This borough stands in stark contrast to Manhattan. It is a quiet residential area. It has places of interest for residents. The Staten Island Mall is a typical shopping mall. It is crowded during Christmas time. The Christmas decorations are telling. The decorations use to be elaborate. After the 2008 recession the decorations were toned down.

One of the areas of interest is Gateway National Park. It is a scenic area with a marina and a seaside. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 hit Staten Island hard and the park had a stark look that Christmas. Other areas of the island had scars from the storm for a long time.

© 2018 Robert Sacchi

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