Holiday Fun

Long Live the NYC Holiday Window Displays!

’Tis the season to admire the whimsical holiday windows at these iconic New York City stores.

Photo by Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Macy's

The idea of making a trip to see store holiday window displays, however involved and complicated they may be, seems positively quaint in a city filled with blinking lights and screens of all sizes mounted on our buildings (let alone a time in which we all carry pocket devices that can conjure up new worlds at the swipe of a finger). But traditions count for something, and some of the city’s biggest retailers have held up their end of this holiday custom for almost 150 years, since Macy’s first showcased porcelain dolls from around the world in the windows of their original 14th Street location. It’s the least we can do to oblige them and take a gander at their labors of love.

And truth be told, the tradition is a charming one that reminds us of just how magical our city (and its pool of talented designers!) can be. We’ve got the details on our favorite holiday windows, plus ideas for where to warm up afterward.

Bergdorf’s Fifth Avenue holiday window display—titled “To New York With Love”—celebrates the city’s dynamic cultural institutions, paying stunning tribute to the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Academy of Music, American Museum of Natural History, New York Philharmonic, the New-York Historical Society, Museum of the Moving Image, and UrbanGlass. If your kid has been to even just one of the above, she’ll delight in seeing it represented in marvelous miniature.

Where to warm up afterward: Head on over to another famed New York City institution: Tiffany & Co. The flagship’s windows also feature lavish holiday scenes, but the real treat is inside its brand-new Blue Box Cafe on the fourth floor. Everything is Tiffany blue, from the walls to the seats—even the dishes are glazed in the signature color. Indulge in a fancy full tea service, complete with finger sandwiches, or grab a quick hot chocolate and a box of petits fours.

This year, Saks is using its iconic holiday window display to highlight another icon: Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Celebrating the film’s 80th anniversary, the store’s 10-story-tall light show, titled “Once Upon a Holiday,” will complement its 14 window displays along Fifth Avenue. For the first time in its 94-year history, all of those windows will be animated, each depicting a different scene from the classic movie and reimagining them in real-life detail. Marvel at Snow White dancing with woodland friends, peer at the dwarves heading home after a day in the mines, and “boo” at the Evil Queen and her legendary poisonous apple. Saks’s 49th and 50th Street windows continue the fairy-tale theme with modern-day gowns for Snow White from the creative minds of designers Alberta Ferretti, Naeem Khan, Monique Lhuillier, and Marchesa.

Where to warm up afterward: Further the fun at American Girl’s brand-new flagship right around the bend (75 Rockefeller Plaza, between West 51st and 52nd Streets). Split a traditional afternoon tea spread with your kiddos (and their favorite dolls); how could you go wrong with classic choices like flowerpots filled with chocolate mousse and Linzer cookies reminiscent of Grandma’s?

Lord & Taylor unveiled its 80th annual holiday windows at its flagship on the early side—November 9—for what might be the last time ever (the store was sold to WeWork earlier this year). The theme, “The Best and the Brightest,” isn’t melancholy, though. Five animated windows along Fifth Avenue show off arctic adventures (think: friendly polar bears), winter woodlands (magical trees with whimsical woodland creatures), and a holiday circus (nostalgic circus acts). The Christmas in the city window—with its snow-cloaked skyline circled by bright yellow taxis—is a simple but classic reminder of the retailer’s heyday as a center of urban life.

Where to warm up afterward: Walk a few minutes uptown to Maison Kayser (8 West 40th Street), across the street from the main branch of the New York Public Library, for a chai latte and a thin-crust apple tart.

“The Perfect Gift Brings People Together” is the theme of Macy’s display this year. Each of its six Broadway windows frames various family traditions: trimming a Christmas tree, ice-skating in a snow-filled park, sightseeing in a big city, a holiday show at the theater, and trams and boats filled with anxious-to-get-home travelers. The denouement: a dollhouse that opens to reveal Santa Claus beneath a beautiful Christmas tree, waiting to greet visitors in Santaland.

Of course, “the world’s largest store” has room for much more holiday excitement. Its 34th Street windows will spotlight scenes from the holiday classic Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, and the store’s Seventh Avenue windows will showcase beloved FAO Schwarz toys with playful displays.

Macy’s Herald Square legendary Christmas windows celebrate the theme “The Perfect Gift Brings People Together.” / Photo by Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Macy’s

Where to warm up afterward: Defrost your fingers and toes at Besfren (315 Fifth Avenue) with modern Korean desserts that are so beautiful they double as artwork. Try the chiffon doughnuts and the deliciously adorable mini desserts.

We’re ready to book the perfect festive day for you (as long as you’re not on Santa’s naughty list).