My favorite way to transition to the new year has been to attend the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace in the grand, awe-inspiring space of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. The music that fills its cavernous space with such pure, sweet sound, inspires contemplation, hope, and even calm against the uncertainty ahead.
The event is the most inspirational and life-affirming – such a contrast to the crassness of most New Year’s Eve festivities.
“Tonight is so important, as we pray for peace, because we renew our commitment to goodwill and hopefulness,” stated Reverend James A. Kowalski, Dean of the Cathedral. “We dare to believe again that mean spiritedness and division must not have the final word. We invite the Spirit of Light to empower and embolden us, as we cast off despair and cynicism, and reaffirm that we will choose fairness, justice and kindness over the shallowness and destruction of ‘winner take all’ or ‘to the victor goes the spoils.’ As global citizens, we pray that the world will also be drawn to that light. We acknowledge that we must do our part to brighten and represent that light – across faiths, cultures and geographies to build more just societies.”
“We come because we care about justice, fairness, poverty, morality… we care about peace,” said the broadcast journalist Harry Smith. “But what we know now is that caring about these things is not enough. Peace needs to be won, justice needs to be fought for, causes need to be championed, poverty needs to be abolished.” Desire and good intentions aren’t enough, he said. These causes need “our involvement; movements need a head; legislators need new members. ..Causes without participating is little more than idle fantasy,” he said, adding a jibe at those who did not vote.
This year’s concert was especially poignant, featuring a New York Premier of “Light Shall Lift Us,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell, a musical response to the tragedy that occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016: the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. The inspirational work, which they dedicated to the victims and survivors of the massacre, was premiered June 16, 2016 in “One Voice Orlando,” a benefit concert Campbell helped organize with Opera Orlando. (A portion can be heard at youtube, https://youtu.be/YA9NozeWEcc).
I recalled sadly that last year’s Concert for Peace featured the world premiere of “Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel,” by librettist Virginia Sirota and composer Robert Sirota, honoring the victims of the Charleston massacre.
Judy Collins, the Cathedral’s Artist in Residence, spoke and sang of her 50 year friendship and collaboration with Leonard Cohen, that began with his composition which has become so identified with her, “Suzanne” which she recorded in 1966. (She said he also encouraged her to write her own music.) It was kind of a tribute to all those lost this past year. (See youtube, https://youtu.be/3lQg5QKDWt4)
Then, in a nod to current affairs and challenges ahead, she “read” and sang a letter to Vladimir Putin that recalled her tour of Russia at the age of 26 and what she saw there, interspersing it with refrains of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” her sweet, melodic voice ringing through the cavernous cathedral. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5fFU-f35oE).
Jason Robert Brown, Tony-Award-winning composer and lyricist, performed his “To Build A Home,” portraying an immigrant’s arrival to the heartland of the USA, from his musical TheBridges of Madison County, joined by soloist Elizabeth Stanley, who starred in the musical’s national tour.
Brown also performed a new composition, ‘Hope.”
The concert also featured the world premiere of a stunning choral piece, “Come, Lord, And Tarry Not,” from a new oratorio by composer Georgia Stitt, who played the piano and soprano Jamet Pittman and Randy Landau on bass.
Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music, began this year’s concert with selections from Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 in D Major, and finished with the optimism of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Gloria/Et in terra pax from the monumental Mass in B Minor, and the beloved gospel song “This Little Light of Mine,” led by soloist Jamet Pittman, to herald the coming of the new year.
The “Light Shall Lift Us” celebration – which is offered as a free concert (though general admission and reserved seat tickets are available) culminated with the light of thousands of candles held aloft by audience members.
Founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984, the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace is a signature Cathedral event, for the Episcopal church which prides itself as being a “unifying center of intellectual light and leadership, embracing people from across faiths and communities. There are concerts and events throughout the year.
The Cathedral itself is a marvel. Originally designed in 1888, with construction beginning in 1892, the cathedral has undergone radical stylistic changes and the interruption of the two World Wars. It started out in Byzantine Revival-Romanesque Revival style, but the plan was changed to Gothic Revival in 1909. A major fire on December 18, 2001 caused the cathedral to be closed for repairs until 2008. It remains unfinished with construction and restoration a continuing process – which inside, only adds to the mystique of the place. It boasts being the largest Gothic cathedral, and may be the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church; it is also the fourth largest Christian church in the world.
The cathedral houses one of the nation’s premier textile conservation laboratories to conserve the cathedral’s textiles, including the Barberini tapestries. The laboratory also conserves tapestries, needlepoint, upholstery, costumes, and other textiles for clients.
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street), New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7468, www.stjohndivine.org.
New York City again hosts some of the world’s premier New Year’s Eve celebrations, some extending through the holiday weekend. There are festive ways to welcome in 2017 across all five boroughs, including the iconic ball drop in Times Square, as well as a divinely inspired concert at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and a Midnight Run in Central Park, complete with fireworks.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square
An estimated 1 million revelers in New York City will watch the 110-year-old tradition of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball Drop. A 12-foot-diameter geodesic sphere covered in 2,688 Waterford crystals, the ball weighs 11,875 pounds and is powered by 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LED lights, capable of creating a palette of more than 16 million vibrant colors. At 11:59 pm, the ball begins its descent atop One Times Square as millions of people count down the final seconds of the year and celebrate the beginning of a new year.
New Year’s Eve events taking place in Times Square include:
Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest:A cherished annual tradition since 1972, the show will kick off New Year’s Eve celebrations live from Times Square with host Ryan Seacrest and comedian Jenny McCarthy. Pop star Fergie will also be co-hosting the Billboard Hollywood Party, featuring celebrity performances throughout the night. For more information on upcoming performances, visit dickclark.com.
New Year’s Eve Wishing Wall:When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Day, thousands of confetti pieces will rain down upon revelers in Times Square, each containing a special wish from people across the globe. Visitors and locals looking to submit their wishes can submit in person at the Mobile Wishing Wall in Times Square or online via timessquarenyc.org starting on December 1. Visit timessquarenyc.org for specific locations and times.
Madame Tussauds New York:Located within walking distance from the ball drop, families can hang out with over 200 life-size wax figures of their favorite celebrities as Madame Tussauds celebrates the New Year. This year’s event includes passed appetizers, open bar for ages 21 and over and access to the attraction’s themed rooms, including the new Ghostbusters Experience that opened earlier this year. Visit madametussauds.com for more information.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square:With over 500 amazing exhibits and 20 galleries, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Times Square will once again be holding a New Year’s Eve celebration to ring in 2017. Ripley’s New Year’s Eve party will feature a live DJ, dancing, open bar and face painting for the kids, complete with a champagne toast at midnight. For more information, visit ripleysnewyork.com.
Good Riddance Day: On December 28 from noon to 1pm, Times Square New Year’s Eve and Shred-it will bid farewell to bad memories from 2016. Mobile shredding trucks and mallets will be available for attendees to shred or destroy items like old love letters, pink slips and cellphones. Shred-it is also offering a contest on their website to win a trip to NYC for Good Riddance Day and to experience the ball drop. Those who can’t make it to Times Square can submit items to be shredded on shredit.com or tweet with the hashtag #GoodRiddanceDay.
Visitors looking to dance and dine the night away will find several restaurants and venues with New Year’s Eve offerings around Times Square. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar(two locations in Times Square), AMC Empire 25, Aureole New York by Charlie Palmer, Blue Fin, Chevys, Dallas BBQ, Dave & Buster’s Times Square, Dos Caminos, Fig & Olive, Glass House Tavern, Planet Hollywood Times Square, STK New York City Midtown, St. Andrews Restaurant & Bar and others will welcome 2017 in style. For tickets to these and other Times Square events, diners should call restaurants and venues directly or visit balldrop.com for select event tickets.
This is an event that you should do at least once in your life, but involves a bit of physical challenge, since you have to arrive by 3 pm and basically stand there without access to a bathroom or food (outside the perimeter) until after midnight. Dress in layers; bring water and snacks and of course camera and cell phone to share the experience.
But there are other ways to enjoy a unique New York New Year’s Eve:
Last year, I attended the New Year’s concert at Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine– a truly spectacular setting, as uplifting as the music and candlelight. A signature New Year’s Eve event founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984, the annual Concert for Peace brings together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music. This year, the Cathedral will introduce a new work by composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell called “Light Shall Lift Us.” The program will feature soloist Jamet Pittman and includes other works from Joseph Haydn’s “Morning” Symphony and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor. You can purchase tickets. Also, there are a limited number of general admission seats are free and open to the public (people line up hours in advance). Later in the evening, a special late-night service will be held to ring in the New Year. (1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street,New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, firstname.lastname@example.org, stjohndivine.org.
Another of my favorite New Year’s Eve events is the New York Road Runners Midnight Run. The evening kicks off at 10 pm with music and dancing at the bandshell. Then, when the clock strikes midnight, and there is a spectacular fireworks display over the famous fountain, runners start a four-mile NYRR Midnight Run, dashing their way into 2017. The music, dancing and fireworks are free, but there is a fee to participate in the race (registration is open to the public and required; visit nyrr.org).
Other festive events happening in Manhattan:
Apollo Theater:With its 10th annual Kwanzaa Celebration, the Apollo Theater invites visitors to enjoy a day in Harlem on New Year’s Eve, with dance performances by Abdel Salaam’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre and music honoring the holiday of Kwanzaa. The event will also celebrate the Forces of Nature dance school’s 35th anniversary and is hosted by radio personality Imhotep Gary Byrd. Visit apollotheater.org to purchase tickets.
Children’s Museum of Manhattan:Families can enjoy a kid-friendly New Year’s Eve bash at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. The museum will offer a New Year’s Eve Dance Party with DJ Chela, along with a New Year’s Eve ball drop just for the kids. Visit cmom.org for more info.
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises:For an unforgettable evening sailing around New York Harbor, Circle Line cruise ships will once again offer their New Year’s Eve cruise sailings. The party cruise includes hors d’oeuvres, a full open bar, party favors, a DJ and a midnight champagne toast. The cruise boards at 9pm and sails from 10pm to 1am. (Must be 18 years old to board and 21 years old to drink alcohol.) For more information or to purchase tickets, visit circleline42.com.
Empire State Building:New York City’s iconic Empire State Building will join in the celebration of New Year’s Eve with their annual display of colorful confetti lights around the spire of the building. When the clock strikes midnight, the building will sparkle white to signify the new year, a must-see for visitors and locals alike.
Luminaries at Brookfield Place:Currently in its second installation at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan, Luminaries is a three-dimensional interactive light display in the Winter Garden atrium that cycles through a palette of festive colors when someone touches one of three “wishing stations.” During New Year’s Eve weekend, Luminaries will be displaying its holiday colors that dance to the tunes of Michael Bublé and Tony Bennett’s winter classic songs. Visit artsbrookfield.com for more information.
Madison Square Garden:Popular nineties band Phish will make their return to Madison Square Garden from December 28–31. The band’s loyal fans are invited to rock out into the New Year as they jam out with their unique style of live music. For more information, visit thegarden.com.
The Metropolitan Opera:French romanticism will return to The Metropolitan Opera with the opening of Roméo et Julietteon New Year’s Eve. Running through March 18, this classic love story will include four graceful duets with Diana Damrau as Juliette and Vittorio Grigolo as Roméo. For more information, visit MetOpera.org.
Merchant’s House Museum:Relive the cherished tradition of making house calls on New Year’s Day as the Merchant’s House Museum continues the 19th-century tradition with their Come Calling event. House tours, readings, punch and confections will all be part of the festivities, as well as a holiday raffle drawing. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit merchantshouse.org.
New York Philharmonic:On New Year’s Eve, music director Alan Gilbert will conduct the New York Philharmonic’s special New Year’s Eve celebration. This year’s show will feature mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato performing American classics by Rodgers & Hammerstein, as well as Copland and Lerner & Loewe. For more information, visit nyphil.org.
New York Water Taxi:Families looking to enjoy a kid-friendly evening can party the night away with New York Water Taxi’s New Year’s Eve Family Cruise. With the City’s magnificent skyline as the backdrop. the cruise will sail along New York Harbor and includes hors d’oeuvres, a dinner buffet with dessert, juice and soft drinks and a cash bar for those 21 and older. TVs onboard will be livestreaming the ball drop. Tickets can be purchased online at nywatertaxi.com.
World Yacht Cruises: World Yacht Cruises will feature a Montauk-esque buffet and celebration aboard its North River Lobster Company sailing. The cruise includes a standard open bar, live DJ and an extensive buffet from 10pm through 1am. For this and other New Year’s Eve sailings with World Yacht Cruises, visit worldyacht.com.
Ringing in the New Year Brooklyn-Style
Coney Island USA: For those who want to experience the thrill of the ball drop without the crowds of Times Square, Coney Island will be hosting a New Year’s Eve celebration with an LED ball drop simulated on the Parachute Jump, along with a stunning 3D laser light show and a circus sideshow fire finale. Select boardwalk restaurants and attractions will be open, including The Thunderbolt and B&B Carousell. For more information, visit coneyislandusa.com
Prospect Park Fireworks: Visitors and locals can celebrate New Year’s Eve in Prospect Park under Brooklyn’s beautiful annual fireworks display at midnight, sponsored by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. This event is free and open to all ages and includes hot refreshments and entertainment. Grand Army Plaza, West Drive in Prospect Park and Prospect Park West between Grand Army Plaza and 95th Street are the best places to see the spectacular fireworks show. For more information, visit prospectpark.org.
Time’s Up 19thAnnual New Year’s Eve Bike Ride: Celebrating its 19th year, environmental education group Time’s Up will once again host their New Year’ Eve bike ride and outdoor after party. Bikers and skaters can start the year off right by meeting up at 9:45 p.m. on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge, then ride through Washington Square Park and Madison Square Park before partying the night away at Belvedere Castle in Central Park. For more information, visit times-up.org.
Coney Island Polar Bear Club Annual New Year’s Day Swim:On New Year’s Day 2017, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club invites those brave enough to take a plunge into the Atlantic Ocean to bring in the New Year and to benefit Camp Sunshine, a charity for children with life-threatening illnesses. The yearly tradition is open to the public and starts at 1pm at the Stillwell Avenue boardwalk entrance, with free admission to the New York Aquarium for registered attendees. For more event details, visit polarbearclub.org.
New Year’s in The Bronx
Havana Café New Year’s Eve Party: Bringing the soul and taste of Havana to the Bronx, Havana Café will feature a special four-course dinner and one free cocktail starting at 8:30pm on New Year’s Eve, followed by an open bar starting at 11pm. The party continues until 4am with party favors and dancing. Visit bronxhavanacafe.com for more info.
New York Botanical Garden:Throughout New Year’s Eve weekend, visitors can check out the exciting winter wonderland at the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show. Featuring more than 150 landmarks including the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge, visitors can watch as model trains zip through a miniature replica of New York City, which is sure to delight kids of all ages. Check out nybg.org for more info.
Queens Welcomes 2017
Elli Kokkinou at Melrose Ballroom: One of Greece’s most popular singers, Elli Kokkinou, will ring in 2017 at Astoria’s famous Melrose Ballroom. Visit melroseballroomnyc.com for tickets and more information.
Resorts World Casino:As New York City’s only casino, Resorts World Casino invites those 21 and older to celebrate New Year’ Eve at Club360 with live performances by Tavares & France Joli. Party favors, a drink ticket and a champagne toast at midnight are just some of the exciting offerings throughout the night in addition to its 3,000 slot machines. For more information, visit rwnewyork.com.
Staten Island Happenings
New Year’s Eve at Nicotra’s Ballroom: Beginning at 7:30pm, Nicotra’s Ballroom at the Hilton Garden Inn New York/Staten Island will host a New Year’s Eve Gala. The gala includes a cocktail reception, gourmet dinner, live DJ and a champagne toast as a live feed from Times Square shows the exciting ball drop. The Hilton Garden Inn Staten Island will also feature a special room rate, which includes a buffet breakfast and admission to the gala. For more info, visit nicotrasballroom.com.
Brioso Ristorante:Visitors and locals can spend their New Year’s Eve in a quaint and festive setting at Brioso Ristorante in Staten Island. Featuring a sumptuous menu of delicious and authentic Italian cuisine, Brioso has been a New York City staple since 1995. To book a reservation and to learn more, visit newyork.briosorestaurants.com.
New York City is never more vibrant than during the holiday season.
The epicenter for Christmas in New York is Rockefeller Center – the Christmas tree, ice skating on one of the most iconic rinks in the world (therinkatrockcenter.com, ringed by giant Nutcrackers and holiday garlands and a veritable parade of angels. Perhaps little known, there are delightful eateries and shops inside at rink level. Also, you are just across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue which besides stunning animated storybook windows, has for several years turned its entire façade into a holiday Sound & Light show. Cap it off with a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Thomas Church (check out the holiday concert schedule).
The City twinkles with holiday spirit, particularly as its famed stores strive to outdo the previous year’s artful animated windows. One of my favorite things is to structure a walking tour that starts at Macy’s on 34th Street, and moves up to Fifth Avenue to Lord & Taylor,Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street. (Barneys and Bloomingdale’s also have window displays).
Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, holiday markets (through Jan 3), cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become a another hallmark of the holidays.
Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets (through Dec 24) at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.
While your at The annual Holiday Train Showat Grand Central Terminal, a popular model railroad exhibition presented annually by the New York Transit Museum, features Metro-North, New York Central, and subway trains departing from a miniature Grand Central Terminal (through February, M-F, 8 am-8pm, Sat-Sun, 10 am-6pm (grandcentralterminal.com).
Can’t get enough trains for Christmas? The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is a must-see New York tradition for families, featuring model trains that hum past more than 150 iconic buildings in a miniature city landscape (though Jan 16, 2017). (nybg.org).
Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays, with the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com). The Swedish Cottage, an enchanting place that should be visited, is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. (The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park;s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939. On view: Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30. (West Side at 79th Street) Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30 (purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre).
What would Christmas be without the Rockettes or the “Nutcracker”?
The Rockettes kick their way into the holidays as the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes through January 2. The production will dazzle audiences with brand new dance numbers, extravagant costumes, and traditional fan favorites (rockettes.com/christmas).
The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, from November 25-December 31 (nycballet.com).
There are always fantastic things going on at the American Museum of Natural History, famous for the Origami Holiday Tree (amnh.org), The theme of this year’s 13-foot tree is origami Dinosaurs Among Us, inspired by the current exhibitions ¡Cuba! and Dinosaurs Among Us. Visitors can see feathered dinosaurs and stunning modern birds among other treasured models. During the holiday season, knowledgable volunteers will be on hand to teach visitors of all ages the art of origami folding (through Jan.6). There are scores of special activities through December (even a sleepover for adults!). The Butterfly Conservatory has reopened.
Also amazing venues: Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library (nyhistory.org).
Look up to the Empire State Building for its annual holiday light show series from December 20 – December 24. The building’s stunning Art Deco lobby will also be decked out with brand-new holiday decorations and custom-designed holiday windows. While you are looking up, tune in: Empire State Realty Trust, Inc. and iHeartMedia have announced that the annual Empire State Building (ESB) holiday music-to-light show will feature global superstar Mariah Carey and her iconic hit song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” from her first holiday album, Merry Christmas. The show, designed by renowned lighting designer Marc Brickman, will premiere on December 19 and will be synced live each night at 7 p.m. ET on iHeartMedia New York’s Z100, 103.5 KTU and 106.7 Lite FM through December 25. (www.esbnyc.com/explore/tower-lights/calendar)
Holiday Tours with a Twist
The RIDE, an innovative bus tour of Manhattan’s highlights, does a special Holiday Edition, available through Jan. 8. The comfy motorcoaches, designed so that the seats face out to giant picture windows, whips around the city. (holiday tickets $79, 212-221-0853,ExperienceTheRide.com).l
Sugartooth Tours presents a Holiday Market Dessert Tour that lets you sample delectable desserts from Herald Square through lesser-known hidden gem bakeries, where you experience the culinary traditions of a wide variety of countries, including France, Germany, and Belgium, tasting hot chocolate, gingerbread cookies and other treats. The tour concludes at the Union Square Holiday Market, the area’s most exciting holiday market for shopping and other holiday treats. The tours are offered Sundays at 2 pm up until Christmas, and by request for groups. Tickets are $50 and include all tastings. Gift certificates available. www.sugartoothtours.com.
Holiday Festivities in the Boroughs
The New York Hall of Science presents Gingerbread Lane, which features more than 1,050 gingerbread houses as well as a double-decker carousel and 10-square-foot candy factory. Visitors can marvel at homemade gingerbread houses made entirely of edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy. The houses are drafted, designed, baked, planned, built and decorated by chef Jon Lovitch over the course of an entire year. GingerBread Lane has won the Guinness World Record for 2013, 2014 and 2015 for the largest gingerbread village. Lovitch’s creation will again contend for this year’s Guinness World Record. Free with NYSCI admission (through Jan 15, 2017, nysci.org).
Visitors can take a tour of the festively decorated Queens County Farm Museum during the Holiday Open House at the Adriance Farmhouse in Floral Park, December 26–28 (noon-4 pm). Enjoy free tours of the decorated 1772 Adriance Farmhouse at our annual Holiday Open House. Children will enjoy seasonal craft activities and all visitors are invited to warm up with freshly mulled cider and snacks. A Victorian Christmas tree will be on display. (Free event; no gate admission,queensfarm.org)
The Louis Armstrong House Museum, a national historic landmark, hosts annual holiday tours throughout the holiday season, featuring Louis Armstrong’s voice recording of “’Twas the Night before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas)” from December 1-30 (louisarmstronghouse.org).
A Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights Tour, running through December 31 (excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), will dazzle guests with Dyker Heights’ sparkling lights exhibitions featuring 30-foot-tall toy soldiers and nativity scenes (asliceofbrooklyn.com).
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day
As for what to do Christmas Eve to Christmas Day (when most other places close). Here are some ideas:
For the holiday fanatic:
The Rink at Rockefeller Center is open December 24–25, offering visitors the chance to skate next to the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (therinkatrockcenter.com).
Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Bryant Park Winter Village is ideal for ice-skating and holiday shopping at its many seasonal vendors (wintervillage.org).
The Radio City Rockettes will perform the beloved Christmas Spectacular in three shows on December 24 and four on December 25 (rockettes.com).
The Ride: Holiday Edition is back this year, offering interactive tours on both December 24 & 25 (experiencetheride.com).
For (not just) the first-time visitor:
Visitors can admire the City from up high all weekend long, with the iconic Empire State Building open 8am–2am (com).
In Lower Manhattan, the recently opened One World Observatory is open 9am–5pm on Christmas Eve and 9am–10pm on Christmas Day.
Above the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Rink, Top of the Rock is open 8am–11pm on December 24 and 8am–midnight December 25 (com).
Beloved Madame TussaudsNew York has extended hours on December 24–25, open 9am–10pm both days (com).
Ripley’s Believe it or Not’s 500-plus unique exhibits are open to the public 365 days a year, with holiday weekend hours of 9am–1am (com).
For the culture buff:
12 Broadway shows are offering Christmas Day performances, including Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Cats, Chicago, The Color Purple, Jersey Boys and Wicked (org).
Historic jazz club Blue Note New York offers brunch and evening performances on December 24–25 (net).
Visitors to the Upper East Side’s Jewish Museum on December 24-25 can enjoy new exhibits and a sit-down meal at the museum’s recently opened Russ & Daughters café (org).
For the outdoorsman:
The City’s public parks, including Central Park, Pelham Bay Park and Prospect Park, are open over the holiday weekend, (nycgovparks.org).
Three of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s zoos—Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo—are open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (wcs.org).
The High Line, a stunning urban park that is itself a work of art (and has become one of New York’s most popular attractions), is open to the public over the holidays, offering visitors spectacular views of Manhattan’s Far West Side, Empire State Building, Hudson River and beyond (thehighline.org).
For the last-minute shopper:
Several department stores are open Christmas Eve (closed Christmas Day), including Macy’s Herald Square, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales (nycgo.com).
Arthur Avenue’s food and retail market is open December 24–25, offering the opportunity to purchase authentic Italian produce, fresh cheese, meats and holiday treats (arthuravenuebronx.com).
Brooklyn Flea’s Winter Market at Skylight One Hanson is open December 24 from 10am to 3pm, and is offering extended noon to 8pm holiday hours December 21–23 (brooklynflea.com).
Lower East Side staple Essex Street Market will be open December 24, with vendors including beauty suppliers, art galleries and bakeries (essexstreetmarket.com).
Holiday Places to Dine
As for the most festive places for dining:
Tavern on the Green, the Central Park holiday mainstay, offers a three-course prix-fixe Brunch menu from 9am-3pm. For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they will offer their Traditional Tavern on the Green Christmas dinner for $125 per person. Seating will be 4pm-11pm on Christmas Eve and 11am-9pm on Christmas Day (com).
The Palm Court at The Plaza offers special Christmas high tea service with a three-tiered assortment of holiday delicacies on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $125 per person. Their holiday menu runs from November 1 – January 3 (com).
Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem presents a three-course prix-fixe menu for $55 per person featuring American holiday staples such as cornbread, deviled eggs, honey glazed ham, butternut squash soup, and roast turkey (com).
David Chang’s renowned Momofuku Ko presents an eight-course tasting menu for both lunch and dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $225 per person (momofuku.com).
Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club presents a Holiday Carolers Brunch each Saturday in December and Christmas Day, featuring a traditional caroling troupe and seasonal treats like the Stuffed French Toast with mascarpone, cranberry-pear compote and hazelnuts along with decadent hot chocolate and toppings. Reservations are $68 Per adult and $35 per child (com).
Holiday Lodging Packages
Have family or friends who are visiting from out of town? Here are some hotel ideas:
Visitors have no shortage of options when it comes to new hotels this holiday season, including The Beekman, Four Seasons New York Downtown and Arlo Hotels’ two new properties.
Z Hotel NYC is offering a Making Memories Package from October 7 to December 24. Components of the package include a Deluxe Queen overlooking the Manhattan skyline, dinner for two in the hotel’s new restaurant, the ceLLar bar, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and a picture flip book capturing memories of your NYC trip.
For the holiday shopping season, ROW NYC offers a Bloomingdales Shop & Stay package, providing guests with a Bloomingdales’ $50 gift card, duffle bag, VIP leather wallet, key chain and special in-store offers (com).
Conrad New York will again offer its Conrad Skate package, including a stay in the hotel’s luxurious suites, breakfast at ATRIO Wine Bar & Restaurant and private skating lessons with Olympic skaters at The Rink at Brookfield Place, with a special autographed takeaway gift and hot cocoa at the hotel, post-skating (com).
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, The Time Hotel New York offers a Holiday On Point Package. The offer includes Caviar pizza from Serafina paired with a Magnum bottle of Dom Perignon Rose Champagne delivered to the suite at midnight, as well as overnight accommodations in the Triplex Penthouse Suite and limo transfers to and from the airport (com).
The Surrey is launching a new package, Champagne Wishes to celebrate the holidays and toast the New Year in true luxury. Visitors who reserve a salon or suite during the holiday season will receive a child bottle of Veuve Cliquot, Champagne Truffles and a Champagne and Pearl Sugar treatment at the hotel’s Cornelia Spa (com).
During the month of December, The Loews Regency offers unique and festive holiday experiences including a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree, complimentary Hot Chocolate happy hour, complimentary kate spade new york pajamas, and carol performances every day in the lobby (com).
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Talk about Hot Jazz! The heat and humidity could not dampen the celebratory spirit for the final weekend of the 11th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island, where the weather was hot but the jazz was hotter. People still turned out in their vintage 1920s outfits, re-creating the Gatsby-era.
Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra sets the mood with music Arenella has transcribed from original recordings of the era. Arenella re-creates the role of a Big Band leader, taking on the inflection and look, and telling anecdotes about the music and the musicians as if it were now, when this music was all the rage and radio was a new (and dangerous) cultural phenomenon. Within moments, you are transported back to the romance and joie de vive of that time, leaving behind for these precious hours the hubbub of modern times (except for the constancy of cameras, smart phones and selfies).
The entertainment throughout the day is topnotch: Gregory Moore andThe Dreamland Follies, evoking the Ziegfield Follies, puts on stunning and sophisticated dance routines; Roddy Caravella & The Canarsie Wobblers consistently wow with fanciful costumes and choreography;
The Minsky Sisters, a 1920s-inspired sisters tap act in the tradition of classic vaudevillian family acts; Queen Esther, an award-winning vocalist with a four-octave range who is also a songwriter, actor, and recording artist performing regularly in NYC, who sets her own standard of Jazz Great while paying tribute to jazz royalty of yore with her jazz quintet The Hot Five; Peter Mintun, “world’s greatest piano man” and Molly Ryan, known for her silvery voice and lush, elegant vocal style; plus musical interludes on vintage 78 records from the 1920s played on a 1905 antique phonograph.
There are special attractions, as well, starting with lessons in Charleston or the Peabody by Roddy Caravella and his wife; dance competition (in Charleston or Peabody); a “High Court of Pie” contest;
Bathing Beauties and Beaus Promenade; Kidland carnival games and prizes for junior gents and Flapperettes; 1920s Motorcar Exhibition (get up close and personal with flivvers, Tin Lizzies and “Buttercup,” Gatsby’s very own 1925 Rolls-Royce “Twenty”); Vintage Portraits (immortalize yourself while perched upon a Paper Moon); and boutonnieres and mini floral arrangements bestowed upon guests from BloomThat, a flower start-up.
The bi-annual daytime affair also features an array of Golden-Age inspired cocktails created by mixtress Julie Reiner (Clover Club, Leyenda, Flatiron Lounge) featuring the festival’s signature spirit, St-Germain, including: The St-Germain Cocktail:an invigorating aperitif of St-Germain, sparkling wine, and sparking mineral water with a lemon twist; Strike Up The Band: a refreshing Collins-style recipe blending summer strawberries with gin, St-Germain and fresh citrus; and the Flappers Delight: St-Germain elderflower meets Juniper and mint in this tall summer fizz, and exclusively in “ The Gatsby’s Garden” VIP section: Americano de Robert: St-Germain, Campari, Dry Vermouth, lime, soda & orange peel, served up.
Ferry is Magic Carpet to Bygone Era
The enchantment begins as you board the ferry from South Street or from Brooklyn for the short ride to Governors Island. You think you have stepped back to the 1920s – crowds of giddy people are dressed in flapper dresses and linen suits, caps and suspenders cram the ferry. And dancing shoes. And you realize this isn’t just any ride in the park.
We are back in the Jazz Age, and the setting is perfect, a vast lawn set off by an arbor of trees, surrounded by buildings and forts that date back to the Civil War and World War II when Governors Island was used as a base and military prison (I even happened on Civil War re-enactors), now repurposed for arts and cultural programs.
People come and set out sprawling picnics – some with elaborate fixings like candelabras and crystal wine glasses.
The atmosphere is infectious. Fellows seem more civilized. Gals seem more sassy. And the good feeling just percolates to the beat from Michael Arenella’s Dreamland Orchestra, as this fantastical community defying time forms.
The unquestioned star of the day long festival is Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra, one of the world’s great Jazz Age dance bands, specializing in the Hot-Jazz of the 1920s. “Conductor, composer, musician and singer Michael Arenella presents a personally transcribed songbook for your listening and dancing pleasure.” (Michael Arenalla also can be heard Wednesday nights at the Clover Club, Smith Street in Brooklyn and at the Red Room, the last Thursday of the month, 85 E 4th St, NYC, and at the Clover Club, see www.dreamlandorchestra.com).
It isn’t hard to believe you have returned to the Jazz Age because of the authenticity and attention to detail. Arenella “transcribes by hand their entire repertoire from period recordings. Their delivery, as well as their instruments, attire, and equipment — are faithfully accurate. Arenella’s strong yet vulnerable baritone lacks pretense or sarcasm. He treasures each lyric, and has faith in the songs he sings. Even the most optimistic Tin Pan Alley tune has a disarming quality in his hands.”
Even the 1928 Graflex, used to take period photos, is an original.
Now in its 11th year, the Jazz Age Lawn Party has built a history of its own. It started in 2005 as a small gathering of about 50 friends and fans of Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra and their version of prohibition-era music and fun. Not too many years after, it was drawing thousands of fans who revel in the music and zeitgeist of the 1920s and 1930s and has become what is arguably the world’s largest outdoor musical celebration of the Jazz Age, but is undoubtedly one of the highlights in a crammed calendar of summer happenings in New York City.