NYC holiday traditions that aren't happening this year

And what you can do instead!

Collier Sutter
Written by
Collier Sutter
Union Square Holiday Market
Photograph: Time Out/Ali Garber

Your New York City holiday bucket list may look a lot different this year.

With the pandemic still in full swing, many of our favorite seasonal traditions will be put entirely on hold—the Rockettes won’t be high-kicking at Radio City, and Santa won’t be making his rounds at Macy’s for the first time since 1861.

But instead of turning full grinch at the sound of that news, rejoice that there are still plenty of reasons to cue the holiday jingles. We may have to say goodbye to some traditions this year, but there are lots of over-the-top, candy cane-filled new holiday ones to try instead. Get ready to still pack in all the holiday glee you can get this season with these alternatives that’ll put you in a similarly festive New York State of Mind.

Called off: Union Square Holiday Market

Union Square Holiday Market
Time Out/Ali Garber

Two major seasonal events put on by UrbanSpace—Union Square Holiday Market and Columbus Square Market—will not be setting up their stalls this year.

Do this instead: Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise

One of the best parts of strolling around holiday markets is sipping a cup of hot cocoa while you people watch. While you can’t do that at Union Square Market this year, instead, you can make for a new tradition: a Statue & Skyline Holiday Cocoa Cruise. The 1920s-vintage style motor yacht called Manhattan will be decked out with holiday decorations and steamy holiday beverages. On this cruise, you’ll be able to still listen to holiday jams, sip on hot cocoa and people watch the most famous New Yorker there is—Lady Liberty!

Called off: Hello Panda Festival

Hello Panda Festival
Photograph: Courtesy Hello Panda Festival

The largest lantern festival in North America, Hello Panda, will not illuminate its 120+ enormous lanterns this year at the Met's home turf of Citi Field. 

Do this instead: NYBG Glow

The New York Botanical Garden is adding an all-new outdoor experience this year, NYBG Glow, which will illuminate NYBG's landmark landscape. On 14 select evenings this holiday season, visitors can expect to explore a glowing grounds of energy-efficient LED lights and festive installations. Plus, there will be dance performances, ice carving demonstrations and other seasonal activities to enjoy (at a distance). Tickets, which are timed and mandatory, are available here.

Called off: Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes

Photograph: Carl Scheffel

The glittery spectacular that usually charms the city through winter months with its high-kicking Rockettes and toy-soldier routines, was forced to cancel due to the pandemic. The song-and-dance troupe are keeping spirits up by teaching fans around the world, how to kick it like them. You can learn their world-famous precision choreography (and their workouts) live from your living room.

Do this instead: Bloomingdales Virtual Holiday Benefit

Bloomingdales is throwing a Virtual Holiday Benefit this year to unveil their famous and extraordinary holiday windows. The retailer is debuting the window decor virtually with a planned song and dance show, so you can play it safe instead of huddling around the corner of 59th street with hundreds of other New Yorkers. During the show catch performances by singer Andra Day and American Ballet Theater dancers Misty Copeland Skylar Brandt, and Gabe Stone Shayer. You can register for the show here.

Called off: Santaland

Santaland Macy's
Courtesy: Mike Coppola/attends Macy's Herald Square Santaland on November 17, 2017 in New York City.

Macy's Santaland, is a time-honored tradition in New York. Since 1977, families have flocked to Macy's in Herald Square to venture through the colorful Santaland, and of course, wait for your turn to get one-on-one time with the man in the red suit.

Do this instead: Virtual Santaland

Don't fret Santa believers, from Nov 27 through Dec 24, Macy’s Santaland will be transformed into an interactive, virtual experience, to bring the NYC Christmas spirit to homes everywhere. You can play interactive games and take a peak inside Santa's village and workshop while you're on your North Pole-bound train. At the end of the extravaganza, kids can video with Santa, and read off their wish lists via the Santaland website.

Called off: Grand Holiday Bazaar

Grand Bazaar
Photograph: courtesy Grand Bazaar NYC

This Upper West Side marketplace, which began in 1982 as the oldest flea market in New York City, usually goes all during the holidays, but this year the show will not go on. Back in March, the Grand Bazaar suspended it's weekly Sunday markets until further notice. 

Do this instead: Grand Central's Virtual Holiday Fair

If you want to continue to support small businesses and local merchants while checking off your shopping list, hop over to Grand Central’s Holiday Fair that has gone virtual this year for the first time ever. The website, which is now open to shoppers, will showcase over 40 local artisan vendors using ethically sourced materials. You’ll find anything from men’s and women’s clothing and jewelry, to home accessories and holiday ornaments.

You can also check out our NYC small business gift guide, for items including picks for antique hunters, book lovers, and audiophiles.  

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