By Mia Salas and Emily Davenport
The holidays in New York are looking different this year. Time-honored traditions such as Macy’s Santaland and the Holiday Lights at Bronx Zoo have been reimagined in response to the pandemic, while many others have adjusted their format to account for social distancing or have moved online completely.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still ways to have an iconic New York City holiday this year. From lighting ceremonies and sledding to virtual holiday-themed classes, there is plenty to do this winter to enjoy the holidays. Check out some of the activities below that you and your family can take part in this year.
Skate reservations are now open! Ice skating at Winter Village is now a fully outdoor experience, and the Holiday Shops have a reconfigured layout with fewer shops to allow for more spacious walkways. This magical winter village in Bryant Park will still be happening this year with changes to keep your family healthy and safe.
It wouldn’t be Christmas in NYC without the Rockefeller Tree. Coming this holiday season, the 2020 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be displayed on The Plaza between West 49th and 50th streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues. Additional details about this year’s Tree and the Lighting ceremony will be announced soon, so stay tuned for updates about COVID-19 protocols.
The American Museum of Natural History is gearing up for their famous Origami Tree, which will run November 25, 2020 through January 10, 2021. The theme of this year’s 13-foot tree is Cranes and Colors, featuring 1,000 brilliantly colored origami cranes, presented as symbols of peace and good wishes as New York continues to endure the many challenges posed by COVID-19, and drawing inspiration from The Nature of Color special exhibition, which explores the role and power of color in the natural world.
Hot cocoa is a must for the holiday season in NYC! This year, we recommend the decadent and delicious chocolate drink from Daily Provisions on the Upper West Side. Made from Vesta dark and milk chocolates, your kiddos will be obsessed. It’s made with creamy dairy, but you can choose almond, coconut, or soy milk.
The 5K tradition continues on December 6, 7 am-noon! There are several COVID-19 protocols in place, and aspects of the race are subject to change, but for now, register online to secure your family a spot. This race will start and finish near 108th Street inside Riverside Park. You’ll wind through tree-lined paths and waterfront walkways on this totally traffic-free and peaceful course. Water at the finish will be delivered in a goodie bag along with Gatorade, Dole Fruit Bowls in 100% Juice, and other snacks.
With limited capacities, social distancing, and many more protocols to protect your health and safety, LuminoCity is confident that they can deliver a spectacular festival of lights this holiday season. This immersive wonderland of lights in Randall’s Island Park runs from November 27, 2020 through January 10, 2021. LuminoCity Festival features all new light art installations spanning several acres. Each of the three parks illuminates the night with beautiful sculptures inspired by nature, history, and magic. $22 Kids ages 3-12, $38 Adults.
Baked by Melissa never fails to surprise us with fun flavors throughout the year, and the holiday ones are our favorites! These delicious bite-sized cupcakes are right up kids’ alleys because they can try a bunch of flavors without getting full on one. There are lots of options for holiday packages online, but you can also grab-and-go at a NYC store near you. Cupcake flavors include Snowball, Chocolate Babka, Caramel Hot Cocoa, Cookie Blizzard, Candy Cane, Snowcap and many more.
Magnolia Bakery is a NYC classic, especially during the holiday season. Each year, they put out a Holiday Gift Guide full of decadent treats, and this year is no different. But no need to buy these treats as gifts only! Treat your family to Magnolia holiday cookies, banana bread pudding, cakes, cupcakes, and more. You can even choose a “dessert party” day to share an assortment of Magnolia desserts this winter.
Get ready for Grand Central’s holiday gift fair! The 2020 Holiday Fair has been redesigned to comply with state and federal government-recommended social distancing guidelines. Although smaller, this year’s Fair retains all the festive charm that makes it such a popular experience for vendors and visitors alike. This is a great opportunity to do some of your Christmas shopping and get your friends and family unique gifts that they’ll love.
Experience Central Park’s winter wonderland with a horse and carriage ride. Visit well-known attractions like Belvedere Castle, Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Fountain, and the Mall. Each carriage will be detailed and sanitized fully every day. Seats will be sprayed after each ride and hand sanitizer/wipes will be available for guests. If you’re looking for a peaceful winter activity, this is perfect for your family!
Macy’s Herald Square Holiday Windows
This year, Macy’s will have a special window that gives thanks to our frontline heroes, essential workers, marchers for equality, and to all New Yorkers staying hopeful and showing resilience. Stop by to see all six windows at Herald Square. From neon lights spelling out “Thank You” to elves busily decorating in a city landscape scene, these holiday windows showcase the spirit of New York. From November 19th – January 1st.
Starting in the 1980s, Christmas started getting bigger and brighter out in Brooklyn with each passing year. In 2020, expect to see massive, professionally-done light displays (some costing upwards of $20,000!) at Dyker Heights. Homeowners compete to see who can present the best light display, and NYC families get to tour the breathtaking holiday decor. This is a must-see for 2020.
There’s always a ton to do at Prospect Park, and the holidays are no exception. While events are still up in the air because of the pandemic, the park has so much to offer that you can choose any day to stop by. We recommend a snowy day so that you can go sledding with your family and ice skating at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside.
Visit Brooklyn’s Largest Menorah in December! For each day of Hanukkah, there will be a menorah lighting celebration, featuring live music and great company. Social distancing protocols will be in place, but you are still welcome to bring your friends and family to the lighting of this huge menorah in Prospect Park.
Brooklyn is home to some of the best spots to go sledding as a family. We love Fort Greene Park, which has four different hills to choose from, but there’s also Hillside Park and Sunset Park. You could even go on a Brooklyn sledding self-tour and try a few of these sledding spots out!
Queens County Farm is such a joy throughout the year, but we especially love the fall/winter season. On December 26-28, 12-4 pm, the farm will host a free Holiday Open House (with COVID-19 guidelines in place). There will be kids crafts, tours, and much more!
Gear up for prime sledding season by making a list of your must-visit sledding slopes. Queens boasts some of the best sledding areas, so you’re in luck. Astoria Park and Juniper Valley Park are two of our favorites, but we also recommend Forest Park and Bowne Park!
On December 12 from 7-10 pm, bring your family to this outdoor caroling event. Bundle up, because it will definitely be cold! You’ll get to sing winter and holiday songs of all faiths, languages, and cultures as you stroll through Jackson Heights. Meet in front of Cassidy’s Ale House, corner of 31st Ave & 75th St in Queens.
Don’t know how to skate but want to learn this holiday season? Check out the Holiday Skating Program at World Ice Arena! This is great for your kiddos who are looking to get some time on the ice in a safe environment. Class sizes are limited due to COVID-19, so register soon. The December program runs from the 26th to 31st.
Holiday Train Show at NYBG
The New York Botanical Garden returns with its magical Holiday Train Show this season. Note that this year, with tickets and capacity very limited due to enhanced safety protocols that include social distancing, the only way to see this captivating display is as a Member, Patron, Corporate Member, or Bronx Community Partner. Marvel at model trains zipping through an enchanting display of famous New York landmarks each re-created from natural materials such as birch bark, acorns, and cinnamon sticks. The show will run November 12-January 31.
This all-new outdoor experience illuminates New York Botanical Garden’s landmark landscape and Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. With lots of room to spread out, explore a glowing world of color and light! Picture-perfect installations fill the Reflecting Pool and enliven surrounding gardens and collections. You’ll even get to enjoy artistic ice carving displays, roving dancers and musicians, plus more outdoor fun. Advanced tickets are required, and the experience is limited, so buy your tickets soon. The event will run November 27-28, December 5, 13, 18-19, 26-30, January 1-2, 9.
This iconic light show full of plenty of winter-themed activities is perfect for some family fun. There will be five animal lantern safaris, ice-carving demonstrations, holiday treats, costumed characters, wildlife theater, stilt walkers, and more! The lantern safaris, spread out throughout the park, each showcase a different wildlife region and will lead you on a fun, safe, and leisurely tour of the attractions. The event is on select dates from November 20-January 10, and tickets must be purchased in advance.
Let’s hope we get snow this year so that we can take advantage of the amazing sledding slopes in the Bronx! Not sure where to go sledding? We’ve got you covered. Check out the scene at Claremont Park, Crotona Park, Shoelace Park, Ewen Park, and Franz Sigel Park. Each has something to offer, so grab your sled, scarves, and winter coats, and head out to experience the snowy park.
Weekends in November and December
Not too far away from NYC, The Polar Express in Phillipsburg, NJ is ready for your family! The train ride is one hour and 45 minutes, and the train is decorated with over two miles of lights. There’s a snack bar and gift shop aboard, and Santa will visit each family. As for entertainment, there are chefs, jugglers, elves, and more. Due to COVID-19, they will be selling only 50% of capacity to increase social distancing, so get your tickets soon. $32 child, $42 adult, 100 Elizabeth St, Phillipsburg, NJ 08865
Nov 19-22, 26-29, Dec 3-6, 10-13, 17-30
This incredible light show in Long Island is truly a spectacle. As the largest drive-through light show in Suffolk County, you won’t be disappointed. The lights in the show dance along with the music playing over your car’s radio, making it an immersive experience as you check out some of the never-before-seen displays. We love this holiday activity because it is totally compliant with COVID-19 protocols since you’re in your own car with your family! Buy your tickets now. $23 per vehicle, Long Island Sports Park, 149 Edwards Ave, Calverton, NY 11933
Book your NYC winter getaway now! If you’re looking to take a short trip during the holiday season, we’ve rounded up the best family-friendly ski resorts in Upstate New York and their updated COVID-19 policies. Some of the closest resorts/centers are: Thunder Ridge Ski Area (1 hour and a half), Mount Peter Ski Area (just over an hour), and Maple Ski Ridge (two and a half hours).
This virtual program will be streamed on YouTube for exciting events and activities for the whole family! Listen to festive music in a holiday-themed concert, sketch Hanukkah menorahs from around the globe on a virtual tour, create art together at home with multiple project ideas, see a drawing performance, and more. Free with RSVP, one ticket per household.
Nothing says the holidays like cooking and eating food! Learn how to make delicious holiday treats and eats at Taste Buds Kitchen. These online classes are live, so you can ask questions and meet new people as you go. Choose from Holiday Cookie Decorating, Thanksgiving Chef’s Challenge, and so much more. There are classes for all ages, so choose the one that works best for your family. $30-$40 per household.
In light of the global pandemic, Macy’s has decided to move Santaland online this year. But they have reimagined the iconic experience in a creative, engaging, and immersive way for your kiddos. And did we mention it’s free and there are no online reservations needed? That’s right! Santa can’t wait to hear all of the wonderful thoughts and wishes that your little ones have, and he will respond in his uniquely whimsical way through a pre-recorded, open-ended conversation. All new for 2020, your magical adventure begins online on November 27.
No need to travel this year to see this spectacular tree lighting, because it’s coming to your home! No matter where you are, you can enjoy the beauty of Nantucket, MA as they prepare for this one of a kind holiday season. Over 150 trees will magically come alive in a blaze of light and well wishes will be given from island community members. Your family will love this virtual tree lighting.
Stream this beautiful production between December 19 and 29. Cozy up in the living room on a chilly, snowy day and watch this smash-hit holiday tradition at home. You’ll even get to take a trip backstage with the cameras for a look at how the magic is made. Hear it first-hand from world-class artists, designers, and the creators of this cherished production as you get all the behind-the-scenes action. Kings Theater in Flatbush, Brooklyn is more than ready for a virtual holiday season of theater. $24.99 general stream, upgraded packages available.
IGTV brings to you the Jewish Children’s Museum Virtual Winter Workshops! Kids can learn how to make hammered styled candles, confetti challah covers, marshmallow flowers, Shavuos snow globes, and more in each of the virtual workshops. The supplies needed for each craft are listed online, but you can also pick up a kit at the Museum for $3. Join live each Sunday, or do the crafts on your own time using the IGTV videos.
The date is TBA, but stay tuned for a virtual wreath-making workshop in December. Your kiddos will love this at-home craft, and your whole family can follow along. At the end of the workshop, you’ll have beautiful winter wreaths as holiday decor. Get crafty and creative this holiday season!
This story first appeared on our sister publication newyorkfamily.com.