Lights, Music And Markets: New York City Shines During The Holidays

It’s a cold Saturday night in December, and there’s a carnival-like atmosphere as hundreds of gawkers, along with a costumed Elmo (go figure), are congregated in front of a holiday display that would put even Clark Griswold to shame.


About a bazillion lights and decorations, including colossal toy soldiers, angels, snowflakes, snowmen, wise men, Santa Clauses, reindeer and a wiener dog, all but obliterate the yard and brick façade of the otherwise stately home.

While undoubtedly a standout, it’s hardly alone in its extravagance.

Each year dozens of homeowners in Dyker Heights, an affluent neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn, go full throttle in a holiday decorating spree that’s nothing short of extraordinary.


Considered one of the best displays in the country, it’s a tradition that homeowner Lucy Spata began in the 1980s. It since has grown in size and scope until becoming renowned in the last decade for its over-the-top pageantry.

Located primarily from 83rd to 86th streets (between Eleventh and Thirteenth avenues), holiday decorations usually go up after Thanksgiving and last through New Year’s and serve as the ideal way to get into the holiday spirit.


There are several ways to get there including Uber, taxi, subway (D train toward Coney Island, get off at 71st Street in Brooklyn, you’ll walk about a mile to reach the lights), or driving.

Before you hop in your car, however, it’s good to know that the spectacle draws upwards of 100,000 visitors annually, making parking and getting around pretty much impossible.


With that in mind, consider skipping the traffic and signing up for one of the many tours available instead.

A Slice of Brooklyn Tours ( is among the most popular, offering four evening bus tours of the lights (at 5, 6, 7 and 8 p.m.) beginning on Dec. 1 and running through Dec. 30, with the exception of Christmas Eve and Day.

The guided trips, which last three and half hours and cost about $55 per person, provide fun history, group singalongs and the inside scoop on some of the crazier, over-the-top homes like that of “Sam the Greek,” at 71st Street and 14th Avenue, and the Spata house at 1152 84th St.


During the tour, visitors may get off the bus and walk along the sidewalk for an up-close look, so coats, cold-weather accessories and comfy shoes are a must.

Some extra cash in your wallet is also helpful as many homeowners collect donations for charities, and on busy weekends, vendors are on hand with warm drinks and food.

Tours often sell out early in the season, so call or book reservations well in advance.

Bright Lights, Big City

Manhattan has its own share of spectacular holiday displays including perennial favorites like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and the decorated windows of retailers like Macy’s, Tiffany & Co. and Bloomingdale’s.

Saks Fifth Avenue and Disney unveil “Once Upon a Holiday” : 2017 Holiday Windows and Light Show

Photo: Joe Schildhorn | BFA.Com


Other festive displays include larger-than-life ornaments stacked atop the fountain outside the former Exxon Building (1251 Avenue of the Americas) and the equally oversized holiday light strand nearby at the McGraw-Hill Building (1221 Avenue of the Americas).

Both provide an excellent backdrop for holiday photos, so wear your favorite reindeer sweater and bring the camera.


Saks Fifth Avenue (611 Fifth Ave.) creates an amazing window display and also puts on a dazzling light show choreographed to music along the store’s Fifth Avenue façade.

Each year brings a new theme and show (this year’s is “Theater of Dreams,”) along with throngs of people eager to see the fantastic spectacle (Translation: Super-crowded but definitely worth the hassle).

Saks Fifth Avenue and Disney unveil “Once Upon a Holiday” : 2017 Holiday Windows and Light Show

Photo: Joe Schildhorn | BFA.Com


It’s a star-studded event when the holiday decorations come out at The Shops at Columbus Circle (Time Warner Center at 10 Columbus Circle) “Holiday Under The Stars” is an annual exhibit of illuminated color mixing that features a dozen 14-foot stars suspended from the ceiling of the building’s massive atrium.


Overlooking Central Park, it’s a magical scene made even better if you happen to be there on a Monday afternoon when The Shops at Columbus Circle ( presents its free concert series, “Broadway Under the Stars,” featuring performances from current Broadway musicals.

Lasting about 20 minutes, the concerts begin at 5 p.m. and are held on the second-floor mezzanine through the second Monday in December.

This year’s lineup includes “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “Chicago,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Head Over Heels,” “Kinky Boots,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “School of Rock,” “Waitress” and “Wicked.”

For a restaurant’s holiday decorations the likes of which you’ve never seen (seriously, never), stop for a drink or a meal at Rolf’s German Restaurant (Gramercy Park at 22nd Street and Third Avenue).

rolfs 2

Photo: Rolf’s NYC


Its dizzying array of lights, garlands, dolls and glass balls will have you swearing that someone robbed the North Pole and used the bounty to plaster every free inch of interior space with holiday decorations.


Photo Rolf’s NYC


An institution in the city for more than 50 years, Rolf’s ( lavish Christmas decorations make it one of the most popular destinations in the city during the holidays; that means call early for reservations or listen to a busy signal for the entire month of December.


The heavens open up in joyous song, or at least it feels like it, during Handel’s “Messiah,” performed by the legendary New York Philharmonic ( at the David Geffen Hall, on the north side of Lincoln Center.

New York Philharmonic

Photo: Chris Lee | New York Philharmonic


In an annual tradition, the country’s oldest symphony orchestra performs the classic masterpiece for five nights during the second week of December, offering the perfect excuse to dress up in holiday finery (no gowns or tuxes necessary) and drink champagne from a fancy glass.

Exuberant and exalting, it’s a religious experience, even for the nonreligious, especially when the Westminster Symphonic Choir delivers the stunning chorus; a finale guaranteed to prompt at least a few goosebumps if not full-on salvation.

New York Philharmonic

Photo: Chris Lee | New York Philharmonic


Other holiday events include Holiday Brass, an annual Sunday afternoon performance of the Philharmonic Brass and Percussion on Dec. 16 ( and “Home Alone” in Concert (Dec. 21).

Making for a delightful family event, the perennial holiday classic “Home Alone” rolls on the big screen while the symphony orchestra performs the classic John Williams score, live and in-sync (

Ticket prices vary depending on performance and range from $34 -$145.

Holiday Markets

Europe’s holiday markets? Meh, who needs a transcontinental flight when New York’s charming outdoor markets are just over the border with no TSA pat-down required?

With more than 170 shops and food vendors, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park ( is pure holiday fun.

Holiday Shops 01 - Photo by Colin Miller

Photo: Colin Miller


An easy 10-minute walk from Grand Central Station, the market features an emporium of crafts and goods, along with artisanal food and drinks, including some mighty fine hot chocolate stands — the perfect antidote for cold December days.

For adult drinks, there’s an onsite cocktail bar that provides fabulous views of Bryant Park’s ice skating rink, the only free admission rink in the city.

Tree Night 03 - Photo by Angelito Jusay

Photo: Angelito Jusay


Nestled in the valley of the skyscrapers, it’s a wondrous wonderland and you’ll want to bring your skates (or rent a pair for $20 an hour) and take a turn or two in order to drink it all in.

To top it off, the Bryant Park Christmas Tree, resplendent with lights and adornments, holds court over the rink making it feel all dreamy and movie-like.

Several dozen blocks downtown is the Union Square Holiday Market ( in Union Square Park.

It’s red, white and green kiosks practically scream holiday cheer, which is exactly what you’ll do after finding gifts for practically everyone on your list.

Holiday Shops 03 - Photo by Colin Miller

Photo: Colin Miller


Among the hundred-plus booths there are handcrafted home goods, winter apparel like scarves and gloves, clothes, jewelry, art, gifts and lots of gourmet food.

There’s also a warming station onsite (it can be cold out), a kid’s arts studio, live music and a lounge.


From uptown to downtown, New York bustles with holiday spirit, with restaurants, hotels and retailers going all out to trim their buildings and storefronts with glad tidings and seasonal decorations. And pop-up Christmas tree markets line many city sidewalks, making even a casual stroll down the street feel positively festive.

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