The holidays begin now

Yes, it's only November, but the Christmas spirit hits NYC early---find out where you can overdose on festive fun in the weeks leading up to the holiday (including alternatives to the typical tourist haunts).

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  • Photograph: Bart Barlow/ RCPI Landmark Properties

    holidays01lights

    The Classic: Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony

  • holidays02lightsAlt

    The Alternative: Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour

  • Photograph: Courtesy MSG Entertainment

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    The Classic: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    holidays04performAlt

    The Alternative: Elf

  • holidays05treats

    The Classic: Le Parker Meridien's Gingerbread Display

  • Photograph: Liz Rees/Urban Space

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    The Classic: Columbus Circle Holiday Market

  • Photograph: Angie Cope

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    The Alternative: 3rd Ward Handmade Holiday Craft Fair

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    The Classic: Trump Wollman Rink

Photograph: Bart Barlow/ RCPI Landmark Properties

holidays01lights

The Classic: Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony

Performances

The classic:
An incredible amount of planning goes into the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. A production team of 250 stages the meticulously choreographed show, whose scenic set pieces include a 34-foot-long double-decker bus. Meanwhile, more than 36 high-kicking Rockettes change through eight
costumes apiece each night. Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave at 50th St (212-465-6046, radiocitychristmas.com). Schedule varies; visit website for details. $45--$105; through Dec 30.

The alternative:
Leave your Scroogey sensibilities behind before seeing the Broadway adaptation of Elf, the 2003 film about an orphaned human raised by elves who searches for his birth family in New York City. This show is all about Christmas cheer: Santa Claus (George Wendt) will fly in his sleigh, while audience members will be showered with snow. Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W 45th St between Eighth and Ninth Aves (212-239-6200, elfmusical.com). Schedule varies; visit website for details. $39--$137; Sun 14--Jan 2.

Lights

The classic:
Attending the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony can be an exercise in masochism, considering the throngs of people who gather around the small square for the event. But there's an undeniable beauty to the tourist trap: This year, the enormous tree will twinkle with more than 30,000 environmentally friendly LED lights, with a sparkly Swarovski-crystal-encrusted star perched at its top. Rockefeller Center, 48th St to 51st St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (rockefellercenter.com). Nov 30 7--9pm; free.

The alternative:
If you prefer light displays with a little more creativity—like giant inflatable snowmen or life-size Nativity scenes—hop aboard A Slice of Brooklyn's Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour, offering a glimpse of the Brooklyn's Dyker Heights neighborhood. You'll see homes bedecked in outrageous decorations before stopping at Mona Lisa Pastry Shop for a cappuccino and, yes, cannoli. Meet at Fourth Ave between 13th and 14th Sts (917-678-9733, asliceofbrooklyn.com). Mon, Wed, Fri--Sun 7--10:30pm; $55, children under 12 $45. Dec 3--30.

Treats

The classic:
You may not be allowed to nibble on the confections featured in Le Parker Meridien's annual Gingerbread House display, but you can gawk at the sugary sculptures created by Magnolia Bakery, Treats Truck and Billy's Bakery. Look for displays inspired by Big and King Kong to tie in with this year's theme, "Movies Made in New York." Le Parker Meridien, 119 W 56th St between Sixth and Seventh Aves, 56th St atrium (212-245-5000, parkermeridien.com). 7am--midnight; free. Dec 1--Jan 9.

The alternative:
Show off your baking skills at the Brooklyn Cookie Takedown, where amateur cooks compete to create delicious treats. A simple sugar cookie won't do; you might stumble upon confections with oddball flavors like blue cheese and bacon. (One year, the winning prize went to a saltine covered in fudge and caramel.) "People aren't trying to be weird as much as they're trying to be yummy," says Takedown founder Matt Timms. The Bell House, 149 Seventh St between Second and Third Aves, Gowanus, Brooklyn (718-643-6510, thebellhouseny.com). Dec 19 at 6pm; $15.

Markets

The classic:
Snag gifts for everyone on your list at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market; dozens of vendors, including jewelry artisans Bullfrog Creatives, peddle their wares at this six-year-old bazaar. Stay fueled with grub from a new crop of food vendors, including buzzy comfort-food shop Pies 'n' Thighs. Columbus Circle, Central Park West at 59th St (212-529-9262, urbanspacenyc.com). Daily 10am--8pm; free. Dec 1--24.

The alternative:
Support local and DIY artisans at the 3rd Ward Handmade Holiday Craft Fair, featuring more than 100 NYC vendors (including Richard Birkett, who sells steampunk-esque clocks, and apparel line Chandi). Or learn how to make your own gifts: Workshops will teach you how to sew a pillowcase or draw a miniature comic book. 3rd Ward, 195 Morgan Ave at Stagg St, Bushwick, Brooklyn (718-715-4961, 3rdward.com). Dec 4 noon--6pm; free.

Ice skating

The classic:
The combination of killer scenery and 33,000 square feet of ice has made Central Park's Trump Wollman Rink a mob scene for more than 50 years. (The rink's use as a film and TV set, as seen in Serendipity and Gossip Girl, probably helps.) Stop by later in the day to avoid large school groups, who typically flock to the rink in the mornings; once you're on the ice, you can keep skating for as long as you please. Central Park, enter at 59th St and Fifth Ave (212-439-6900, wollmanskatingrink.com). Mon, Tue 10am--2:30pm; Wed, Thu 10am--10pm; $10.50, seniors $4.75, children 11 and under $5.50. Fri, Sat 10am--11pm; Sun 10am--9pm; $15, seniors $8.25, children 11 and under $5.75. Spectator fee $5; skate rental $6.25.

The alternative:
Ed note: After this article went to press, the proprietors of Aviator Queens announced that the rink's grand opening will be delayed. We will update with that information once it is available; right now, this rink is not yet open. The skating is relatively cheap at newly opened Aviator Queens, the borough's only outdoor rink; admission plus a pair of skates will set you back only $13. The rink offers daily open skating, but the real draw is the 25-foot-high ice slide. Pretend you're in Cool Runnings as you hurtle down the 100 feet of track on a small plastic sled, screaming all the way. Cooper Ave at 81st St, Glendale, Queens (718-758-9800, aviatorsports.com/queens). Mon--Thu 3--8pm; Fri 3--9pm; Sat, Sun 10am--10pm. $8, children under 12 $6; skate rental $5.

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