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Dyker Heights christmas lights
Photograph: @rtanphoto/Rommel Tan

Best Christmas things to do in NYC

Make the most of the holidays with our list of Christmas things to do in NYC, including tree-lightings, gigs and more

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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With Queen Mariah's blessing to begin celebrating the holidays, we've begun gathering the best things to do for Christmas and the holidays in NYC. From uptown to downtown, the city boasts holiday offerings like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, light festivals, and the best holiday markets NYC has to offer. Whether you channel your inner grinch or cheery elf during NYC's most wonderful season, we've got you covered with activities.  

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas in NYC

Check out our Winter Village video: 

Best Christmas things to do in NYC

Men Singing Carols Performing at The Fifth Season Pulitzer Fountain
Photo Credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Fifth Avenue Association

1. Men Singing Carols Performing at The Fifth Season Pulitzer Fountain

In honor of National Caroling Day, Men Singing Carols will be performing at The Pulitzer Fountain at Fifth Avenue’s The Fifth Season Holiday Display. Open to the public, caroling is encouraged and seasonal hot beverages will be provided by Angelina Paris. This year’s charitable partner is City Harvest. Head over at 4pm for the free show.

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The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is bringing a gorgeous, new after-dark illuminated spectacular to its grounds in November.  Between November 19 and January 9, visitors to BBG will be able to walk through the Cathedral of Light tunnel, a Fire Garden on Lily Pool Terrace, a Field of Light and an animated light installation covering Cherry Esplanade (and visible from the Robert W. Wilson Overlook). Colorful light displays highlighting the garden’s trees, landscapes, and architecture with more than 18 distinct works of light art and a series of light-based artworks by local artists will be installed in the Plant Family Collection. "Lightscape" is coming to BBG in partnership with Sony Music. It was launched at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London in 2014 and has sold out year after year across the U.K. and in Chicago. This is currently the only East Coast Lightscape (lucky, us!).

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3. Holiday Pop-up for Black owned businesses

Áwet New York, a black, refugee-founded lifestyle brand is partnering with Kenneth Cole to host a holiday pop-up highlighting small black-owned businesses that do not have brick-and-mortar stores, starting December 17 with Adey-Abeba, Mckenzie Liautaud, Adolophine, Marco Hall, Royal Jelly Harlem, Kristian Lorén Lopez, Julian Joseph Kyle, Don't Let Disco and 2•4•1 Cosmetics. The Holiday pop-shop will be located at the Kenneth Cole store on Bond and Bowery (328 Bowery, New York, NY). The event will take place from noon to
6pm from December 17 through December 19.

Services at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Services at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Update: This will be livestreamed only.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine will have a Christmas Eve service of lessons and carols at 4 pm featuring classic Christmas music performed by the Cathedral Choir. The Cathedral’s Christmas Eve Festal Eucharist, starting at 10:30pm, will be led by the Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietche, Bishop of New York, and The Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III, Dean of the Cathedral. Christmas Day will be celebrated with a 10:30am service in the Cathedral, and at the end of the holiday, the Cathedral Choir will sing and the Dean preside.

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American Field, the pop-up market of makers and designers, returns to Brooklyn with an in-person shopping event with New York-based artisans and gifts that give back to charity. Taking place on December 18 and 19 (11am-5pm) at the Brooklyn Expo Center, there will be over 30 independent designers and craftsmen offering the latest in fashion, beauty and grooming products, home decor, leather goods and more from Raffa, Olaf Olsson, Queer Candle and others. A portion of sales go to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an organization aiming to provide access to free legal services for low-income transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people. For the discerning foodie, you can sip some of the best whiskey, cider, and wine NY state has to offer from CopperSea Distilling, Forthright Cyder, and Hetta Glogg.

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  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs

Each fall, the Winter Village at Bryant Park returns in all its holiday glory. On the grounds you can peruse about 60 shopping and food kiosks—all at one of the best NYC parks. Expect loads of handmade, unique and New York City-specific gifts for your family and friends. Work up an appetite at the free, 17,000-square-foot ice-skating rink and then fill up at the rinkside pop-up restaurant called The Lodge Deck for festive cocktails and hearty food.

Go on a holiday lights tour.

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Dyker Heights residents take the holidays very seriously: The houses in this nabe are decked out with thousands of lights, life-size toy soldiers, inflatable Santas and more. Take in all the best displays on this 3.5-hour bus tour. 

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Enjoy a holiday high tea at the Williamsburg Hotel's Lobby and The Restaurant on Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5pm, set to a live jazz quartet. An in-house tea sommelier will give you a choice of a three-tiered selection of house-made sweets and savories, from cucumber & cream cheese tea sandwiches with purple carrot, celery root & sesame to gingerbread cookies and white chocolate cranberry scones served with house-made preserves and Devonshire cream. Guests can choose from a curated selection of single-origin teas by luxury tea house Bellocq Tea Atelier served in bright hand-painted fine bone china teapots and sip on bubbles while taking in the scene. 

 

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  • City Life

Fifth Avenue's Pulitzer Fountain has transformed into a winter wonderland for the holiday season. The Fifth Avenue Association unveiled its "The Fifth Season" installation featuring 32 hand-crafted animal sculptures by Harlequin Designs in Brooklyn, 5,000 feet of lighting, a skating rink and 24 handmade icebergs surrounding the Pulitzer Fountain, all accompanied by music from composer Paul Brill. The installation builds on last year’s "Make It Bright" series of glowing oversized toys, including a teddy bear, dreidel and red truck adorning Fifth Avenue from 47th to 60th Streets. 

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Shop from more than 500 original works of art including paintings, sculptures, and prints, ranging from $50 to $1,500, to directly support emerging artists and help The Art Students League continue to offer accessible, affordable, high-quality arts education and instruction. The sale is being held now through December 24 at The League’s Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery at 215 West 57th St. 

A quartet of singers from New York City Opera will perform an hour of iconic Christmas carols alongside students from the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts Show Choir, accompanied by a brass quintet featuring artists from Manhattan School of Music at Bryant Park on December 14. Sing along to "O Holy Night," "Jingle Bells," "Joy to the World," "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer" and more. This free performance takes place near the Christmas Tree and can be enjoyed by skaters on the Rink as well as visitors throughout the rink deck.

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Enjoy a night of carols and classics like "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "I’ll Be Home for Christmas," "Winter
Wonderland,' "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "O, Holy Night" with the New York Pops and Tony Award winner Laura Benanti on December 17 (8pm) at Carnegie Hall. "This holiday concert is a homecoming for our entire New York Pops family—our musicians, PopsEd students, subscribers and donors—and I'm so glad we get to celebrate our return with the incomparable Laura Benanti," said New York Pops Music Director and Conductor Steven Reineke. "I can't wait to see
you there!"

Tickets are available for purchase at the Carnegie Hall Box Office, at 57th and Seventh, or can be charged to major credit cards by calling CarnegieCharge at (212) 247-7800 or by visiting the Carnegie Hall website at carnegiehall.org.

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  • City Life

The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is returning for the 2021 season with three major events that will help illuminate the cold season! There's currently a drive-through experience at the Nassau County Museum of Art calle d"A Bug’s Night" that lets you navigate across over 20 acres of vivid lanterns and holiday lights. There's also an escape at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island. The botanic garden will be illuminated for over eight acres. In addition to the lantern display, a live DJ, projection mapping, food vendors, and more will keep the party going. This kicks off on Thanksgiving, which lands on November 25 this year. Queens County Farm will also be a radiant oasis with a dazzling display of holiday lights and handmade lanterns in the shape of flowers, tractors, farm animals and much more. 

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New York City transforms into a magical wonderland with millions of holiday lights right after Thanksgiving, giving us over-the-top inflatable Santas and reindeer found at the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights in Brooklyn to more iconic New York displays, such as in Central Park, Rockefeller Center and at Saks Fifth Avenue. Get ready to “ooh” and “ahh” at these landmarks, holiday markets and neighborhoods that create the most picturesque holiday light displays during the holiday season.

See the Dyker Heights lights on a holiday bus tour.

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Holiday fun at Moxy Hotels
Photograph: Courtesy Magic Hour Rooftop Bar & Lounge/Justin Levy

17. Holiday fun at Moxy Hotels

Fresh Towels: A Comedy Show (ugly sweater edition): Put on your favorite Ugly Sweater for this comedy show hosted by Mark "Jiggy" Jigarjian that comes with two free drinks from Montauk Brewing Co. Show up to Moxy East Village's Alphabet Bar Studios on December 16 at 8pm. Sign up here.

Wreath Decorating with Starbright Floral Design: Make your own beautiful wreath at this holiday-themed class at Moxy Chelsea's Feroce Pizza & Bocce Bar on December 16, from 6 to 7:30pm. You can sign up here.

Holiday Drag Bingo with Sparkle Monster: Moxy Chelsea is hosting this night of music, mayhem and marvelous prizes including a free night at the hotel. Show up to the hotel's Conservatory on December 20 at 8pm. You can sign up here.

The Sparkle Monster Variety Show: Sparkle Monster and some of her favorite guest artists will put on a variety show designed to delight at Moxy Times Square at Bar Moxy Studios on December 19 at 8pm.

Holiday Cocktail Creation with Good Time Mixology: Learn how to create a perfect holiday cocktail with Good Time Mixology’s expert mixologists at the following times: Moxy Chelsea Mondo Suite, December 15 at 6pm (sign up here) and Moxy Times Square, Legasea, December 22 at 8pm (sign up here).

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The city is filled with elaborate decorations and events, like the extravagant Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree or the many ice-skating spots. But if New York is famous for anything around Christmas time, it might just be its ornate holiday window displays. As always, stores like Barneys, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and more join in to show off their holiday spirit and latest merchandise.

Be dazzled by holiday lights during a 45-minute walking tour.

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We've got a whole list of warm cocktails to enjoy around town, but the new offerings at Loreley Beer Garden go one step further: not only are they warm and delicious, but they truly look (and taste!) like the holidays. The festive cocktails can be enjoyed inside the Rivington Street destination or while seated in the outdoor heated beer garden (which is one of the largest in Manhattan!) The pictures of the drinks clearly do the talking, but we've got to mention some details. The new menu includes a delicious bourbon hot chocolate that is topped with torched marshmallows, a spiced eggnog and—the crème de la crème—a gluhwein, which is actually the bar's signature mulled wine.

Broadway Inspirational Voices is holding its annual holiday concert on Monday, December 6 at 7pm at Peter Norton Symphony Space in NYC. It'll be presented as a two-part celebration concert—featuring Broadway Inspirational Voices’ favorite songs from their holiday albums "Great Joy" and "Great Joy: Around the World and Part Two." Tickets are $35-$125.

In 1994, Broadway Inspirational Voices (BIV) played its inaugural concert for a heartbroken, mourning community, and offered a soulful concert, intended to respond to and help heal the damaging winds of the AIDS epidemic. In the audience that night were people of all backgrounds, races, identities, and faiths.

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Spend your Christmas Eve in a festive and memorable way—with a dinner cruise aboard Circle Line. The Christmas Eve Dinner Cruise serves up an Italian-style buffet dinner with Chicken Parmigiana, Eggplant Rollatini, Antipasti, and Caprese Salad, and with a plethora of desserts. There will also a standard open bar pouring beer, wine, cocktails and more, and a DJ spinning everyone’s favorite holiday tunes. There will also be a piano player and singer to lead you in Christmas carols as you float along NYC's waterways. $199 per person includes buffet dinner, standard open bar, beer, wine, soft drinks. Children under 12 are $179. Children under 3 are free.

 

One cruise only, Friday, December 24, 2021, sailing in rain, snow or moonlight, as necessary. Tickets: Adults $199; children ages 3-12, $179; children under 3 are free. Boarding at 6:30pm, departure at 7pm from Pier 83 in Midtown; 2.5 hours total, returns at 9:30pm. All passengers must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

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City Winery's winter pop-up at Rockefeller Center is back for the season. Overlooking the wonderful new Rockefeller Christmas tree—a 79-foot-tall beauty hailing from, for the first time ever, Maryland—the heated domes seat up to eight guests at once and offer full-service dining inside. You'll also be able to warm up with the mulled wine, spiked cider and hot chocolate on offer alongside City Winery's iconic menu of signature wines on tap and snacks. Food-wise, we suggest you order some hummus, of course, but also try the Greek couscous salad and the ciliegine mozzarella and pesto tomato salad. Consider the outing the perfect pre-game before a lavish meal at one of the best restaurants in New York, perhaps?  All igloos require a reservation, which you can make right here. The staff will completely sanitize the space with an electromagnetic fogger before your 90-minute private session, of course.

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Get into Santa's speakeasy this holiday season that'll surprise you with six immersive holiday installations, Christmas cocktails and a jaw-dropping variety show with ballet, burlesque and more unique acts. Opening December 1 at the Shops at Hudson Yards, it'll be open Thursdays to Sundays 6-8pm and 9-11pm (with entry at 6pm, 6:15pm, 6:30pm 6:45pm and 9pm, 9:15pm, 9:30pm and 9:45pm). Tickets are $47-$75 per person.

Want to go ice-skating?

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