New York City: A Magical Destination for Winter Family Travel

Even before the first snowflakes fall, New York City transforms into a winter wonderland perfect for creating family memories. Skaters execute figure-eights under a magnificent tree, the Rockettes kick up their heels, Sugar Plum Fairies travel effortlessly across the stage at Lincoln Center, enchanting store windows draw children and family members, and traditional holiday lights, music, and decorations spread their annual joy. All this begins as Santa travels to town on the last float of the legendary family favorite -- the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Parades, Pageants, and City Lights

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (212-494-4495, www.macys.com) signals the start of the holiday season with floats, sensational cartoon character balloons, and the best of the current Broadway season performed outside the Herald Square store on November 24th.

The Radio City Rockettes line up to kick off the 73rd Annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular (Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, 212-307-1000, www.radiocity.com) November 3rd, 2005 through January 2nd, 2006.

The Lincoln Center Tree Lighting Celebration (64th St. & Columbus Ave., 212/875-5456, www.lincolncenter.org), featuring live music performances, is November 28th. On November 30th, Midtown takes on a special glow with the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting (Rockefeller Center at 47th to 51st Sts., 212/332-6868, www.rockefellercenter.com).

Holiday colors top the Empire State Building (350 Fifth Ave., 212-736-3100, www.esbnyc.com), lit red and green for Christmas and blue and white for Hanukkah. Two miles of holiday trees illuminate Park Avenue, and a Giant Snowflake glitters overhead at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Starting December 25th, the first night of Hanukkah, a flame will be lit atop the world’s largest Giant Menorah (Fifth Ave. at 59th St.).

The Grand Central Terminal Holiday Laser Light Show (E. 42nd St. at Park Ave., 212-340-2210, www.grandcentralterminal.com) brings the beautifully restored Sky Ceiling to life with a seasonal light and music celebration beginning November 21st and lasting through December 31st. Every half hour from 11am until 9pm, one of six unique five-minute shows will grace the terminal ceiling.

The Chorus Tree at South Street Seaport (12-14 Fulton Street bet. Water & South Sts. 212-732-7678, www.southstreetseaport.com), decorated with a gorgeous vista of white lights, will be the backdrop for a performance by The Big Apple Chorus. Six performances per weekend, lasting until January 1st, ensure that everyone can catch the big show.

Go to Mulberry Street between Canal and Broome Streets for Christmas in Little Italy. From Dec 13-15 and Dec 20-22, 12 noon to 5pm, join in parades with music, floats and free entertainment as Little Italy celebrates the season. Street vendors selling holiday gifts and streets glowing with Christmas lights add to the holiday festivities (212-586-2600, www.littleitalynyconline.org).

Museum Events

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Fifth Ave. & 82nd St., 212-535-7710, www. metmuseum.org) the Neapolitan Baroque crèche adorns a candlelit spruce tree in the Medieval Sculpture Hall November 22nd, 2005 to January 8th, 2006. At The Cloisters Museum (Fort Tryon Park, 212-923-3700, www.metmuseum.org) Christmas choral performances are held throughout the season.

The American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th St., 212-769-5100, www.amnh.org) is noted for its origami tree, decorated with more than 1,000 brightly colored, intricately folded paper decorations representing objects in the museum’s collection. The Annual Winter Festival at Lefferts Homestead (Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 718-789-2822, www.prospectpark.org), an 18th-century farmhouse, features candle- and toy-making workshops beginning on November 3rd and continuing throughout the month. Step back in time and get into the holiday spirit at Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town (441 Clarke Ave., Staten Island, 718-351-1611, www.historicrichmondtown.org) December 4th when this restored village whose buildings date from the late 17th to late 19th century will be decorated for the season; there will also be candlelight walking tours of the village.

December 11th on the Annual Historic Holiday Tour, organized by the Queens Historical Society (718-939-0647 x17, www.queenshistoricalsociety.org), four landmarks on the Flushing Freedom Mile – the Lewis H. Latimer House, Kingsland Homestead, Friends Meeting House, and Flushing Town Hall – will be decorated for the holiday season, and offer refreshments. They will be open for touring 1-5pm and some will hold events such as readings and choral performances. There will be free parking and trolley service.

Winter Diversions and Celebrations at The King Manor Museum (150 Kings Park, Queens, 718-206-0545) showcases period rooms decorated for the holidays this December. Return to the holiday spirit of 1830 with a Candlelight Tour and Holiday Music Concert at the Mount Vernon Hotel & Museum & Garden (421 E. 61st St., 212-838-6878, www.mvhm.org) December 15-17.

Parks, Gardens, and Zoos

New York is the greenest large city in America based on the percentage of parkland, and in winter all that green turns into a white play land. There’s nothing like strolling through one of the city’s many parks as they sparkle after a snowfall. You’ll revel in the quiet broken only by the whoops of children sledding down the hills.

The Central Park Conservancy (830 Fifth Ave, 212-360-2276, www.centralparknyc.com) marks the African-American “first harvests” holiday with a musical Kwanzaa Celebration at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center on December 26th. Polar bears get presents on Saturdays and Sundays in December at the Central Park Zoo Wild Holiday Party (64th St. & Fifth Ave., 212-439-6400, www.centralparkzoo.com).

More than 100 replicas of historic New York buildings, railway trains, and trolleys are part of the annual New York Botanical Garden Holiday Garden & Train Show (200th St. & Southern Blvd., Bronx, 718-817-8700, www.nybg.org), November 19th, 2005 to January 8th, 2006. The Bronx Zoo’s Holiday Lights (Bronx River Pkwy. & Fordham Rd., Bronx, 718-367-1010, www.bronxzoo.com) shine brightly with giant illuminated animal sculptures, ice carvings, choirs, and special evening visits to animal exhibits.

If you want to see Dasher or Dancer, be at the Staten Island Zoo (614 Broadway, 718-442-3101, www.statenislandzoo.org) December 10th for “A Dickens of a Christmas” and real reindeer.

Ice Skating

Indoor rinks include the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers (23rd St. & West Side Hwy., 212-336-6666, www.chelseapiers.com), where you can skate 24 hours a day, and the 18,000-square-foot rink in World’s Fair Ice Skating Rink (Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, 718-271-1996). The rink at Rockefeller Center (50th St. off Fifth Ave., 212-664-3700, www.rockefellercenter.com) is a little gem and the two rinks in Central Park – Lasker Rink (107th St., 212-534-7639, www.nycgovparks.org) and Wollman Rink (63rd St., 212-439-6900, www.nycgovparks.org) – are gorgeously scenic. So is the 25,000-square-foot Kate Wollman Rink (East Dr., 718-282-7789, www.nycgovparks.org) by the lake in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The Staten Island War Memorial Ice Skating Rink (Victory Blvd., 718-720-1010, www.nycgovparks.org) is in Clove Lake Park on Staten Island.

Cultural Celebrations

The New York City Ballet (20 Lincoln Center Plaza, 212-870-5660, www.nycballet.org) will perform The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater November 25th, 2005 to December 30th, 2005. Carnegie Hall (881 Seventh Ave, 212-247-7800, www.carnegiehall.org) hosts the New York Pops Holiday Celebration December 16-17 and the renowned Vienna Boys Choir will pay their annual visit to Carnegie Hall on December 18th. Holiday on the Hudson, December 9th at the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers (23rd St. & West Side Hwy., 212-336-6666, www.chelseapiers.com), includes a figure-skating exhibition and holiday music.

Churches citywide hold holiday concerts, with Handel’s Messiah topping performance lists. Catch a performance at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave., 212-932-7314, www.stjohndivine.org), St. Bartholomew’s Church (109 E. 50th St., 212-378-0200, www.stbarts.org), and St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Fifth Ave. & 50th St., 212-753-2261).

Stuffing for Stockings

Shoppers will find unique gifts from artists, craftsmen and importers at holiday markets at Grand Central Terminal (11/21-12/24, 15 Vanderbilt Ave., 212-340-2347, www.grandcentralterminal.com), Bryant Park (11/25/05-1/1/06, 42nd St. & Sixth Ave., 212-472-1522, www.fetesdenoel.com) and Union Square (11/25-12/24, Broadway & 14th St., 212-460-1200, www.unionsquarenyc.org). Visitors can also bring home a Big Apple treasure for the tree from the Christmas Cottage (871 Seventh Ave., 212-333-7380, www.thechristmascottage.com).

More Holiday Fun

Macy’s Santaland opens November 25th (151 W. 34th St., 212-695-4400, www.macys.com) and is a wonderful world of elves, reindeer, toys, and, of course, Santa himself.

The Big Apple Circus comes to Lincoln Center (62nd Street at Columbus Ave., 212-875-5456) for a fun show for kids of all ages during the holiday season, from October 20th to January 8th 2006.

Spirit Cruises (Pier 62, Chelsea Piers, 23rd St. & West Side Hwy., 866-211-3805, www.spiritcruises.com) celebrates the holidays with special Christmas cabaret shows on its three ships that cruise around Manhattan.

Hanukkah will be celebrated at The 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Ave., 212-415-5500, www.92y.org) with events including “Make a Menorah,” for families with children 2-4 years old, on December 15th and a Family Hanukkah Festival, December 18th. On December 23rd, internationally acclaimed singer David Broza performs in “World Music From Israel.”

Window Wonderland

From the red awnings and understated elegance of Saks Fifth Avenue (611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000, www.saks.com) to the lavish Yuletide glow of Macy’s Herald Square (151 W. 34th St., 212-695-4400, www.macys.com), New York’s legendary department stores offer a window wonderland at holiday time. These fantasies are usually unveiled in November and thousands line up to view the creative celebrations of New York’s singular style. Animated figures carry out imaginative themes that range from best-loved ballets to Dickensian characters and modern-day Muppets. Lord & Taylor (424 Fifth Ave., 212-391-3344, www.lordandtaylor.com) is known for its extravagant windows and magical animation. The windows at Bloomingdale’s (1000 Third Ave., 212-705-2098,www.bloomingdales.com) are a study in urban chic and displays at Tiffany & Co. (727 Fifth Ave., 212-755-8000, www.tiffany.com) have a holiday sparkle all their own. Look for a fabulous Toyland theme from the soon-to-reopen, fully renovated FAO Schwarz (767 Fifth Ave., 212-644-9400, www.faoschwarz.com). And, here’s a hint from savvy window shoppers – wait until after closing hours to take in the displays – the lines will be shorter.

New Year’s Celebrations

Join hundreds of thousands in person and millions watching on television to ring in 2006 in Times Square at the annual Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration & Ball Drop (212-768-1560, www.timessquarealliance.org). Fireworks blaze over Prospect Park (Eastern Pkwy. & Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, 718-965-8999, www.prospectpark.org) and Central Park (59th -110th Sts., 212-360-3444, www.centralparknyc.org) where they will signal the start of the New York Road Runners Midnight Run (212-860-4455, www.nyrrc.org).

Hopes for a peaceful year will be voiced at the Annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave., 212-662-2133, www.stjohndivine.org).

Paint the Town Red / Winter Restaurant Week 2006

Give the gift of New York City this holiday season. Plan a visit during the Paint the Town promotion (212-484-1222,www.nycvisit.com) this winter and take advantage of hundreds of savings offers on everything from New York’s world-class hotels, restaurants and Broadway shows to the Big Apple’s celebrated museums and landmark attractions. Fans of New York City’s legendary restaurants will thank you for a lunch or dinner date during Winter Restaurant Week (212-484-1222, www.nycvisit.com), when more than 100 of the city’s best restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe lunches ($20.06).

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