Harlem Holiday Lights festival to return digitally for New Yorkers to enjoy this year

Photos courtesy of the 125th Street BID

Though the holiday season will look different this year due to the pandemic, a tried and true tradition will spread joy and cheer throughout Uptown Manhattan.

The annual Harlem Holiday Lights event brings holiday cheer to Harlem residents starting on Nov. 16 and continuing throughout December. This festive light display hosted by 125th Street Business Improvement District (BID) in partnership with Manhattan Community Boards 9 and 10 celebrates its 27th anniversary this year.

“After COVID, we looked at what was going on and were thinking we were not going to do anything because the Governor and Mayor said no gatherings. But we felt like we had to do something,” said Barbara Askins, President & CEO of the 125th Street BID. “We looked at our past holiday lighting events, took out some existing events and tried to understand how to do different things in the digital space.”

Like many events this year, much of the programming associated with the festival are going to be virtual. Unlike years past, this year’s festival will not have a parade due to COVID-19 regulations. Instead, there will be a Caravan of Lights that will spread cheer to Manhattan residents.

The caravan will feature three floats from the 125th Street BID and Community Boards 9 and 10. The caravan will start at 125th Street, turn on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, swing past Central Park North and head back up towards 125th Street. In an effort to discourage crowds, New Yorkers can enjoy the Caravan of Lights from the comfort of their homes as it will be live-streamed. 

Those who live near the caravan route are encouraged to look out their windows and make some noise, turn on their lights and spread their own cheer as the caravan drives by. A Snapchat filter is being created for users to share with friends and family as they wait for or experience the caravan.

“As hard as it’s been, and it is going to get harder, we deserve some happiness in the holiday season,” said Askins.

Among the activities that will take place virtually include viewing online art exhibitions and entertainment. There will also be interactive and educational activities surrounding topics such as Black health, as well as interactive karaoke and the beloved Children’s Village hosted by Community Board 9. A full list of activities is available on harlemlightitup.com.

This year’s Grand Marshals for the Holiday Lights festival will be Harlem’s own Bevy Smith, host of Sirius XM’s “Bevelations” on Radio Andy, and Dr. Joseph L. Tait, a groundbreaking leader in the community. Smith is a quintessential Harlem girl who has made a name for herself in front of the camera and has hosted “Fashion for Action,” an annual fundraiser for Housing Works, for the past 5 years. Dr. Tait served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Harlem Commonwealth Council, Inc., its subsidiaries, and affiliates from September 2004 until September 2020 and led the organization in programming that invested strongly in the Harlem community.

All the festivities for this year’s Harlem Holiday Lights festival will last until Dec. 31. In an effort to promote shopping local, the 125th Street BID will be releasing a Holiday Passport that can be stamped at participating local businesses in Harlem. After receiving 10 stamps, the passport holder can enter a giveaway that will take place over Zoom in January 2021.

Stay updated on the latest news with the Harlem Holiday Lights event at www.harlemlightitup.com.

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