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!