Holiday Fun

Your Alternative Guide to Celebrating the Holidays in New York

If the mainstream holiday hoopla isn‘t your bag—or if you’ve been there and done that—try these under-the-radar happenings instead.

Photo courtesy of Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is bold and brilliant and Fifth Avenue windows are classic displays. That’s why they’re consistently mobbed. You’re lucky if you can get within five feet of the main attractions without getting hit in the eye with a selfie stick. But don’t worry! There is enough holiday spirit in this town to go around. And many of the best events and activities below will take you from feeling ho-hum to ho, ho, oh!  So if you want to experience the New York holiday season with more welcome surprises and fewer hassles, follow along…

Instead of Lincoln Center’s The Nutcracker…

…snag seats at BAM’s Next Wave take on the classic tale, The Hard Nut. The Mark Morris Dance Group reimagines it with a bit of silliness, gender-bending, and outrageous ragers—all set to Tchaikovsky’s original score. Despite the added pizzazz, the show still stays true to the holiday spirit. 30 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene

holiday events
Photo courtesy of BAM/Facebook

Instead of Rockefeller Center’s tree…

…feast your eyes on the American Museum of Natural History’s Origami Holiday Tree. This year’s theme, Oceans of Origami, is directly inspired by the museum’s latest exhibition, “Unseen Oceans”. It will be tough to pick a favorite from the 800-plus unique figures folded by artisans from all over the world. You and your family can even try your hand at the craft yourself with volunteers from Origami USA. Central Park West and West 79th Street, Upper West Side

Museum holiday events Do
Photo courtesy of American Museum of Natural History

Instead of festive cocktails at Miracle on 9th Street…

…take the L train to Snowday in Brooklyn, a holiday pop-up in the ever-popular destination aptly named Sunday in Brooklyn. Cozy up with blankets by the fireplace as you feast on melted raclette and sip festive cocktails. Our favorite, The Old Krampus, is bourbon served on the rocks with aged cachaça, Czech spices, vermouth, maple, and Angostura bitters. This sweet and spicy drink is best enjoyed with a game of What Do You Meme?, tucked right next to your booth. For an added wintry touch, your waiter will cheerfully shake a snow globe with every visit to your table.  348 Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg

Drink Eat Restaurant
Polar Bear Club. / Photo by Eric Medsker

Instead of dining at Rolf’s…

…fill up your Insta feed with the fabulously festive One if by Land, Two if by Sea. During the holidays, red and silver ornaments drip from its elegant candelabras like melted candle wax. Decorations are also strung across the dark wood staircase and the ceiling-tall Christmas tree. This West Village charmer is known to be one of the most romantic restaurants in the world—and with the added holiday enchantment, we’d have to agree. 17 Barrow Street (between Bleecker and West 4th Streets), West Village

Instead of Fifth Avenue window-shopping…

…head downtown to Barneys New York’s Chelsea outpost to take a look at its philanthropy-inspired window display free of crowds. In partnership with Save the Children, this upscale department store chose to skip the bells and whistles and instead focus on a simple message: Make change. Each window emphasizes the power of donations—no matter the size—through large graphics with phrases like “Change matters,” along with oversize pennies set on a lavender background. 101 Seventh Avenue (between West 16th and 17th Streets), Chelsea

Instead of skating through crowds at Wollman Rink…

…skate freely at the Seaport’s Pier 17 Winterland Rink, New York’s only rooftop ice-skating venue. The bean-shape rink is surrounded by a warming hut and a marketplace filled with artisanal shops and bites. The views of the river, Brooklyn Bridge, and Empire State Building are a bit more New York than Wollman’s tree-lined view. This winter wonderland stays connected to its Seaport identity by using shipping materials and cargo units to construct the space. The rooftop also has recently opened restaurant-bar R17, perfectly decorated for cozy winter nights. Pier 17, South Street Seaport

Ice Skating Winter holiday events
Photo courtesy of Pier 17 New York

Instead of kicking it with Radio City’s Rockettes…

…sneak your way uptown for a more diverse take on this rockin’ holiday tradition. When a Times Square tour group decides to take exploring into their own hands, they wind up immersed in the epicenter of jazz, blues, and hip hop: Harlem. A Harlemettes Holiday guides you on a journey through a much more eclectic New York than what’s featured during Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular.  645 St. Nicholas Avenue (between West 141st and 145th Streets), Harlem

Instead of shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market…

…buy locally at Sunnyside’s Bliss Plaza Holiday Market. More than 30 vendors will rotate each day, selling crafty gifts such as 3-D-printed jewelry, artisanal candles, and ceramics. Local cuisines will also be highlighted in pop-up food stands that offer neighborhood favorites like Burmese palatas and Romanian chimney cakes. Bliss Plaza, 46th Street and Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside 

Market Holiday Do Shop
Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Shines/Facebook

Instead of dozing off during It’s a Wonderful Life

…keep your eyes wide open during Eyes Wide Shut at Nitehawk Cinema this Saturday and Sunday. Stanley Kubrick’s erotic film takes place during Christmastime in New York and perfectly evokes its energy—or at least the undercurrent. EWS is not only the ultimate Christmas movie but a quintessential New York movie on par with Manhattan and Taxi Driver…well, at least we think so.

new york movie holiday events

Instead of traveling to Dyker Heights for Christmas lights…

…travel even farther for the NYC Winter Lantern Festival. What better time to hit Staten Island than when it’s lit up with LED installations up to 30 feet tall. Schedule your visit around one of the many traditional Chinese dance and art performances (every day but Monday and Tuesday). 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island

Instead of Summoner’s A Christmas Carol

…opt for a non-sober interactive rendition at Littlefield. This “drunk restoration comedy” features heavily intoxicated improv actors performing a dramatic reading of the Dickens classic. Get on their level at this mimosa matinee as you pair your holiday spirit with those of the alcoholic variety. 635 Sackett Street, Gowanus

Carol Do Holiday
Photo by Jo Kroger