Christmas in New York

I’ve become convinced that nowhere does Christmas quite like New York. Over the past couple of weeks, with the big department stores revealing their elaborate, beautiful, and often rather moving window displays, decorations appearing in the streets, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree being lit, the Christmas markets and ice skating rinks opening, and the Salvation Army collectors on every street corner belting out carols, New York has become a sort of Christmas wonderland, just like stepping onto the set of a movie. All we need now is some snow!

Macy’s has two sets of Christmas windows; on the side facing Herald Square (6th Ave/Broadway and 34th st) there are gorgeous animatronic windows, mainly made of paper, telling the story of ‘Yes, Virginia’, which is a refashioning of the real tale of young Virginia O’Hanlon’s letter to The Sun newspaper asking if Santa exists,  and the newspaper’s famous reply:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

I had never heard of this story before, and the first time I watched it unfold behind Macy’s windows I had a little cry at the beautiful message it presents, of spreading love and hope at this special time of year. There is also a book, the illustrations of which the windows of the store are based on; it’s lovely and is my oldest nephew’s Christmas present from his Aunty Rachel this year! Thankfully the 34th street windows are not so emotional; they depict intricately crafted mini scenes from the film Miracle on 34th Street, a favourite of mine, and they are quite a sight. I am just desperate to rewatch the film now!

Other favourite windows have been Bergdorf Goodman’s, which has the most spectacular, inventive, fairytale style windows I’ve ever seen, and Lord & Taylor’s, which has created an animatronic display of Christmas through the ages, inspired by the memories of real New Yorkers. It is wonderful! The Saks and Bloomingdale’s windows didn’t really blow me away, but their interior decoration was just sublime. Unfortunately photographs don’t do them justice, but the websites may give you a peek if you’re interested.

Last Tuesday I went to the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Despite being jammed into a pen and being yelled at by not one but THREE NYPD officers for being in the wrong place doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, it was such a magical experience. I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Rockefeller Christmas tree since becoming obsessed with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and it really was a dream come true when I saw the lights come on and heard the crowds all around me gasp. I have since walked by several times in daylight and the skaters gliding around at the base of the tree being serenaded by trumpeting angels is one of the quintessential sights of Christmas in New York and is every bit as beautiful as I have always imagined.

This past Sunday, I got another boost to my Christmas spirit by going to see my first ever ballet, The Nutcracker, at Lincoln Center. It was the most beautiful sight I have seen in a long time; the costumes, the stages, the dancers; it was all simply spectacular. What a story, and what a way of telling it! The Snowflake scene was my favourite, with graceful dancers twirling amongst falling paper snow; it really was a feast for the eyes. I am definitely going to be back at Lincoln Center in February to see the New York City Ballet’s production of Swan Lake and I can’t wait!

I thought it would be hard, being away from my family at Christmas, and anticipating the first Christmas I have ever spent apart from them. While it does give me a pang of sadness to think that I won’t see my little angels of nephews open their Christmas presents, or sit around the dinner table with my family wearing silly paper crowns and telling the jokes from our Christmas crackers, or help my mum decorate the Christmas tree while eating mince pies and listening to Christmas Carols, I am glad that I have made the decision to stay here in New York. I have my moments of seeing pretty Christmas lights and trees behind warm, cosily lit apartment windows, and wishing that it were me with my home and my family waiting inside, but it’s hard to feel lonely or sad for long when you have such a beautiful city filled with Christmas cheer at your fingertips, and wonderful friends to enjoy the season with. No, it’s not the same as being at home, but I have had 23 lovely Christmases surrounded by my darling family, and this year is my year of trying new things and making changes. With my New York family of friends I shall be heading off to a lake cabin upstate for Christmas, where we anticipate enjoying lots of snow, real log fires, hot chocolate, Christmas movies and lashings of food, and we can all comfort each other if we start feeling homesick. I just hope that Santa can make it out to deliver our Christmas presents!

39 comments

  1. I was just about to shut down the computer for the night and noticed you had posted. Since I never got around to commenting on your Virago challenge, I didn’t want to let the day fade out without commenting here and telling you what a phenomenal post you did.

    Wow! What amazing things you have seen to usher in the season. Isn’t that the best letter? Your nephews will enjoy the book forever and ever, Rachel. I have a first edition copy of Miracle on 34th Street that I just pulled out today. I simply adore the movie.

    Great pictures, especially of Rockefeller Center and the tree. How fun! It is a great adventure to see New York at Christmas through you eyes and words. What a role model you will be for your nephews. Oh, I can’t wait to hear about your Christmas.

    1. Thank you Penny!

      It was such a joy to discover the Virginia story. That letter is so inspiring! I didn’t realise Miracle on 34th street was a book too – I have some Christmas reading to get on with, clearly!

      I’m so glad you like the pictures, and what a lovely thing to say, thank you. I look forward to sharing stories of my Christmas – I can’t wait to experience it here in the snow!

  2. It sounds like a wonderful Christmas and thanks for sharing the joy of the season in New York! The ballet sounds wonderful, I’ve always wanted to go to one.

    (I’ve just spent my evening in the hospital with my husband yet again, which although decorated for Christmas, is not quite as cheerful…)

    1. It really is, Carolyn! It’s my pleasire to share it all with you. The ballet is incredible – I just booked tickets for Swan Lake today and I can’t wait to go back!

      I’m so sorry your husband isn’t doing well and I am thinking of you. I hope so much that he is at home and better for Christmas.

  3. Did you ever imagine last year writing a post this year titled Christmas in New York? So lovely to hear about what’s happening in your city. Enjoy the sites and experiences and hope Santa arrives in good time.

  4. What a beautiful post; I would love to be in New York in the lead-up to Christmas one year.

    I love the ballet & The Nutcracker was the first I saw as a child, which I thought was beautiful as associated with Christmas from then on. This year I have seen The Snowman (with Verity last weekend) & seeing Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella this coming weekend.

    Your Christmas plans sound divine, Rachel, & I am sure you will have a wonderful time. It is a wonderful experience & a memory you shall cherish.

    1. Oh Claire, it’s honestly just magical here! I hope you make it over one day.

      I am so annoyed with myself that I never went before! I can’t wait to experience more ballet. I bet The Snowman was incredible!

      Thank you so much Claire – I can’t wait!🙂

    1. Thanks Lija! I LOVE Home Alone 2 – I keep trying to find the bird lady! I want my turtle doves! Duncan’s toy store is I believe based on FAO Schwarz. I wish it were real though – Duncan is adorable!

  5. Rachel, this post made me cry. When I was a little girl, I would go into the City with my parents once a year at Christmas time, and the City was absolute magic. Reading your post made me remember it all, fresh and new. We used to eat lunch at the Promenade Cafes and watch the ice-skaters…and oh, the shop windows!

    Sending white Christmas thoughts northerly…

    1. Oh Mumsy! I didn’t mean to do that! I’m glad I prompted some happy thoughts though.🙂 Keep those white Christmas thoughts coming…then all my dreams really WILL come true!

  6. Christmas in New York is magical… I’m so glad you get to be part of it this year! The Nutcracker is our favorite, but we’ve never seen it at Lincoln Center. Moments of homesickness are inevitabe, but I’m sure this will be a Christmas you’ll always remember. Are you going to Lake George?

    1. Isn’t it just?! It’s so wonderful how everyone gets so excited and the effort made on decorations is just phenomenal! I think this really will be a special Christmas despite being away from everyone – it’s going to be an experience! We are going to Lake Secandaga (?) which is just underneath Lake George I think – it looks beautiful!

  7. Christmas in New York is something even this Anglophile would love to experience! I was thinking of you when the tree was lit for the first time in Rockefeller Square.

    We went to see The Nutcracker when The Heiress was around eight years-old. Our seats were front row centre (we could have tapped the conductor in the pit on his head!) and when the mice fired the cannon, the streamers all landed in our laps!

    This is such a special time that can’t possible be missed, Rachel, and I’m so glad you have friends to enjoy the holidays with!

    1. You should come on down for a weekend, Darlene! It’s not so far! You are so sweet! I had so much fun watching the lights!

      I wish I had seen The Nutcracker when I was younger, though it was still wonderful watching it at 24!

      I know, Christmas feels so exciting and special this year. I can’t wait to get to that cabin!

  8. Oh Rachel, that sounds wonderful! To me, London is Christmassy, but that sounds ten times more Christmassy – I really hope you can re-watch Miracle on 34th Street on the holidays!

    Ballet, as you know is something I love, and the Nutcracker is just perfect for Christmas. It’s the first one that I saw. I am looking forward to seeing Tales of Beatrix Potter with K’s nieces a week on Saturday🙂

    1. London is like a damp squib compared to New York, trust me! I hope I can rewatch it too – I love that movie!

      Oooh enjoy the ballet – Beatrix Potter sounds wonderful!

  9. Delightful post. I still maintain that I’m enjoying NY far more from your perspective than I did in person.🙂 It is a magical time to be there though, and I think it is wonderful all that you are able to do, and your Christmas plans sound esp. nice. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

    1. Thanks Susan! Well I am glad that you are enjoying my accounts – New York is filled with many unpleasant as well as pleasant things and I am cherry picking for you all! Thank you – it really is a pleasure!🙂

  10. I am so enjoying your posts from New York and while you will miss your nephews and other family, adopted families are special too. Have a great Christmas.

    1. Thank you PBurt, I am so pleased! I know, adopted families really are special, and I am so thankful that I’ve made such good friends here. Thank you – and I hope you do too!

  11. Okay, I have obviously not been doing Christmassy enough things. I’m going to have to depend on Thursday to get me in the Christmas spirit — or maybe I’ll run by Rockefeller Center when I’m in town on Saturday. Then I can admire all the prettiness.🙂

  12. Rachel, as soon as I saw the title of this post, I thought of Miracle on 34th Street! We love that film!

    Jane and I used to go to the ballet together as a special treat, when she was younger. The Nutcracker’s great, isn’t it? She still watches it on DVD, but nothing’s the same as seeing it in a theatre!

    I’m glad you’re going to have such a lovely Christmas, even though you’re so far from home. It’ll be a wonderful memory in years to come.

    1. Hehe! I don’t know how anyone can’t love that film! How lovely that you used to take Jane – I don’t know why I’ve never been before but I’m glad I’ve started now.

      Thank you Penny! I know I will look back with very fond memories to this special Christmas!

  13. This is such a lovely post – I’m so behind on blog reading and everything and having a very enjoyable catchup this morning, wonderful. I always thought New York would be magical in the leadup to Christmas (i think this stems from watching Serendipity!) and it sounds like it really is. Glad you are able to soak up all the magic and add some new Christmas memories and experiences.

  14. What a really lovely homage to NYC at Christmas. It really is a magical city. I’m so glad you liked the Nutcracker – to me, it’s part of Christmas, and possibly my favorite ballet. I hope you have a really splendid holiday with your friends.

  15. Oh, a ballet in New York how wonderful, I particularly like the Arabian Dance from The Nutcracker. Giselle and La Bayadere are beautiful ballets if you get the opportunity to go.

    1. Yes the Arabian dance was spectacular! The dancer was exquisite – so flexible!😮

      Thank you for those suggestions – I’ve already booked tickets for the two week only performance of Swan Lake in February and I shall see what other ballets are coming up!

  16. I was fortunate to be in New York a year ago this week. It had always been a dream of mine tot see the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. I thought the second act was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen. The costumes and performances were so beautiful! I hope to got again some year.

    1. I’m so glad you got to experience this beautiful ballet as well, Katherine – it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had inside a theatre. I can’t wait to go back for Swan Lake in February!

  17. Rachel, what a lovely post. I hope that you have a lovely Christmas even if you are away from your family. Thank you so much for your presents-they arrived today. They are now sitting on the fireplace. You are fortunate to be in NYC over the holidays-I have always wanted to see the city for Christmas. I am so glad to have discovered your blog.

    I know that you are doing your PHD-is that why you are in the US-when does your year end?

    I just returned from Europe and met many lovely people from England, out sightseeing and staying at my hotel.

    1. Esme, it’s so lovely to meet you, but I think a case of mistaken identity has occured! I think you’re looking for another Rachel, as I’m afraid, as much as I would have liked to have done so, I haven’t sent you any presents (I don’t think I did anyway…)and I am not doing my PhD! But I’m glad you like my blog nonetheless!🙂 Thank you for your lovely comments and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your family!

  18. Sorry I am checking in so late. This is a beautiful post. It is as if you have wandered around in the dreams and imaginations of many American children who have seen these places on both the small and large screen but never in real life. I am so glad that you are enjoying the holiday.

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