Like any good writer, I’ll start off with a cliché: there is no place like New York for the holidays. There is something about the season that turns a relatively hostile New Yorker into a Who-down-in-Whoville, and while most people know what sights to see, most might not know how to put them all together. So, since your time leading up to Christmas will be spent hung-over from the plethora of Christmas parties you will attend, let me suggest the below—a holiday hike to hit all of those must-sees of the season while saving your cash for those who’ve hit your nice list.
Columbus Circle is not only brimming with holiday cheer this time of year, it is also a great spot to get some shopping done. The Shops at Columbus Circle boast well-known retail stores while the candy-cane striped holiday markets (November 28th-December 24th, Monday-Saturday, 10:00am to 8:00pm) at the entrance of Central Park secret unique gifts for those on your shopping list who may be harder to please. Even if you’re not in the shopping mood, the over-sized twinkling star lights adorning The Shops are worth the effort, and if these don’t entice you, Columbus Circle is a frequent haunt of the Wafels and Dinges food truck—from which you must treat yourself to an unforgettable Belgian cocoa ($3/$4). Be sure to check the truck’s site beforehand to see where they will be that day: http://www.wafelsanddinges.com/
From Columbus Circle, venture south and east a few short blocks to 119 W 56th street (between 6th and 7th avenue) to the lobby of Le Parker Meridien, at which you will find a Gingerbread Extravaganza (http://www.parkermeridien.com/gingerbread2012.php). Every other Christmas or so, my sister and I are inspired enough to buy pounds of candy in an attempt to make a completely original gingerbread house. This inspiration is usually a product of our desire to eat the candy, and so I am fascinated to learn that there are some people in this world who have practiced enough self-restraint to actually complete their gingerbread house. Albeit only a quick stop, this short trip is worth the walk to see some truly impressive candy houses (open at 12am and will run through January 3rd). Leave your mark on the world and buy a $1 ticket to vote for the gingerbread house that looks the least appetizing (i.e. the one that is so aesthetically pleasing your craving to gorge on it is curbed). Proceeds will go to City Harvest.
From Le Parker Meridien, head to Bergdorf Goodmans (59th and 5th avenue) to peek into some non-gumdrop windows. In most towns, Christmas display windows usually involve a scary slow-moving robotic santa cracking a whip at a Rudolph whose burnt-out light bulb of a nose would be hard pressed to guide any sleigh through any storm. In New York, window displays do not even have to have anything remotely to do with Christmas; I’ve seen ostriches, an octopus, astronaut squirrels, and Bobby Flay, but never a Santa adorning New York’s department stores. Despite this, the whimsical stories these windows manage to tell through their incredibly chic designs are striking enough to make you forget old St. Nick. So after gawking at Berdorf’s elegant exhibition, stroll down Fifth Avenue, past buildings wrapped like presents and 20-foot-tall snowflakes to steam up the glass at Saks.
Just across the street from Saks is where all of the good little Who’s from Whoville gather round to hold hands around the most beautiful tree you will ever see, purse their lips, and…who are we kidding, it will be crowded, you will be in the way of approximately one million pictures, and the deceptively delicious smell of chestnuts (truly not a testimonial to their taste) will bum you out, nevertheless, the tree at Rockefeller Center is a must-see. I got a little bleary-eyed when I first saw this Christmas tree, and to this day, I am convinced a tiny bit of Christmas magic goes into transporting that ginormous tree into the city without anyone (or, at least without me) spotting it. (Personally, I like to imagine that giant pine being squeezed through the Lincoln Tunnel much like the tree the Grinch snatches up Cindy Loo Who’s chimney.) The fact that a tree that large once existed in a forest somewhere is an awe-inspiring (if not slightly tragic) realization, and, the truth is, I’m not even a “Christmas Tree” type person. Actually, I am allergic to Christmas trees, a fact that universally pisses people off. I don’t remember the last time I celebrated Christmas with a real tree, and yet the tree at Rockefeller Center really pulls at my non-nostalgic heart strings.
At this point in the day/evening, you are probably cold and, despite the fact that the tree will have made your heart grow 3 times its normal size, you are probably mildly disgusted with the state of overpopulation on our fair planet. And so, walk down to 49 W 44th Street (between 5th and 6th) and step into Lantern’s Keep at the Iroquois New York (http://thelanternskeep.com/) where you can warm up next to the fire with a cozy cocktail (around $14) and prepare for your next and last venture into the crowds.
Just two blocks away (42nd and 6th avenue) is Bryant Park and thus an opportunity for some more shopping, or if you’re willing to splurge, some slightly sloshed ice-skating (skate rental, $14). If ice skating is your thing, then I’d recommend Citi Pond over Rockefeller, not only because of the price, but because I will be watching, laughing, and pointing if you fall on the ice at the latter.
Last on the agenda is only for those who have chosen Sunday for this joyous, jingle bell-filled day. Stay on 42nd street and walk over to 8th avenue to catch the downtown C or E train. Take this to 23rd street, and from there walk two avenues west to 10th avenue and 24th Street. Situated on this corner you will find Trestle on Tenth (http://www.trestleontenth.com/), at which, every Sunday until the end of February, you can warm your belly with fondue for only $25 (serves 2-3 people). After all, what says Happy Holidays more than a bubbling bowl of cheese?