A Guide to New York Holiday Events: Trains, Nutcrackers and a 79-Foot Tree

The wait is almost over. Not only is the holiday season returning with full force, but this year — thanks to vaccines and booster shots — New Yorkers can (safely) return to most of their favorite festive traditions. Most venues require proof of Covid-19 vaccination or a negative test from the last 72 hours, as well as mask wearing, so check protocols beforehand. And read on for a smorgasbord of seasonal offerings around the city.

‘The Nutcracker’

Perhaps nothing says Christmas in New York quite like “The Nutcracker” — especially George Balanchine’s version, performed by the New York City Ballet through Jan. 2. Watch as the famous one-ton Christmas tree grows from 12 to 41 feet onstage. Or, if you’re looking for a more retro-modern twist, try “The Hard Nut” by the Mark Morris Dance Group at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, through Dec. 23. This witty reimagining adapts the conventional 1890s story to the swinging ’70s, gender-bending roles along the way. And “The Brooklyn Nutcracker” comes to the Kings Theater on Dec. 11; enjoy a fusion of ballet, hip-hop and dance genres from around the globe.

Carnegie Hall

Holiday-themed performances come to the stately concert hall this month, beginning with “Sing! An Irish Christmas” with Keith and Kristyn Getty on Dec. 16. The next day, the New York Pops will be joined by Tony Award winner Laura Benanti in their annual “Back Home for the Holidays” show. Then, a flurry of takes on Handel’s “Messiah”: the Oratorio Society of New York will play the classic piece on Dec. 20, Musica Sacra will present its rendition the next day and the Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra will take its turn on Dec. 23. And on Dec. 27, the Russian pianist Katya Grineva will play a selection of Bach, Tchaikovsky and other greats in “A Classical Holiday.”

‘A Christmas Carol’

A scene from “A Christmas Carol” at the Players Theater in Manhattan. Credit…Martin Harris

Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic has left Broadway for a national tour, with stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the Ghost of Christmas Past still haunts plenty of New York venues. “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” will run Off Broadway at the Players Theater through Dec. 30. At the Merchant’s House Museum, Dickens himself (played by John Kevin Jones) will retell his timeless tale (just as he did in 1867 for a month of sold-out shows in New York City) through Dec. 31. For another theatrical spin on the Victorian era, try “The Streets of New York” at the Irish Repertory Theater.

Radio City Rockettes

Like many of the performances on this list, “The Christmas Spectacular” is back, through Jan. 2 at Radio City Music Hall. Snagging a ticket means joining the almost 80 million people who have seen the show since it officially began in 1933. Watch the 36 Rockettes onstage high-kick, tap-dance and twirl in synchronized precision in sparkling holiday costumes. And keep an eye on the streets outside of the Music Hall — the live camels, sheep and donkeys from the “Living Nativity” scene are walked there early in the morning and late at night.

Also Spectacular

BenDeLaCreme, left, and Jinkx Monsoon.Credit… Andrew AB

Four years ago, Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser successfully added New York touches to the British holiday tradition known as panto with their uproarious “Jack and the Beanstalk.” The only thing we can predict about the pair’s new panto, “Dick Rivington and the Cat,” at Abrons Arts Center through Dec. 19, is that there will be audience participation, topical references and pop songs once again.

The members of Broadway Inspirational Voices may ply their trade on the Great White Way, but the artistic director Allen René Louis is more likely to lead them through carols and hymns in “Welcome Home: A Holiday Gospel Concert,” at Symphony Space on Dec. 6.

A version of “Drag Race” alums Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme’s show “The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special” has been available online for a year, but the pair, like the best drag acts, thrive live. Catch them at the Town Hall, Dec. 3-4. Meanwhile, the showbiz maven Murray Hill single-handedly restores a ba-dum-bump sensibility in “A Murray Little Christmas” at Joe’s Pub, Dec. 14-18.

Outdoors in Midtown

The windows of Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s are once again decked out with glittering holiday lights and snow-filled displays. Highlights include a T. rex wearing a Christmas tree decorated with dinosaur ornaments and an owl teaching reindeer a course on how to fly. (For homespun but equally impressive mechanical Santas, check out the front yard displays in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.)

Also, take time to admire Rockefeller Center’s 79-foot-tall Norway spruce, now lighted through at least New Year’s Eve. Entry to the Rockefeller Center ice rink costs $20-$54, with an additional $10 skate rental. Bryant Park, the only ice-skating rink with free admission in the city, lets you bring your own skates or rent them there. Plus, its Winter Village, a European-inspired open-air market, offers local crafts, artisan goods and international gifts.

Light the Menorah

The rivalry continues between what are believed to be the world’s largest Hanukkah menorahs: one in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn and one in Grand Army Plaza in Midtown. Both stand at a towering 32 feet high, weigh in at 4,000 pounds of steel and are lighted most evenings through Dec. 6. At the Jewish Museum on Dec. 15, Hanukkah Family Day will include pop-rock music by Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights, build-your-own menorah tutorials and holiday storytelling by Jeff Hopkins.


Nothing will get in the way of “Kwanzaa: A Regeneration Celebration” after 15 years strong at the Apollo Theater in Harlem — not even Covid. This year, the virtual performance will feature the Forces of Nature Dance Theater, founded by Abdel R. Salaam; stream it live on Dec. 26 or watch it on demand from Dec. 26-Jan. 3. In person, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum will hold its 14th annual Kwanzaa celebration, Dec. 26-30, which will include art workshops, drum classes and storytelling sessions.

Sensory Celebrations

On Dec. 3, Actionplay — a theater organization for autistic, neurodivergent and disabled teens and adults — will present its holiday extravaganza at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, where the Actionplay Chorus will perform a selection of wintry favorites. Waiting in line to see Santa can be noisy and stressful; for children in need of a calmer, quieter experience, check out the Staten Island Mall, Empire Outlets in Staten Island, Queens Center and the Shops at Atlas Park in Queens.

Botanical Gardens

The Holiday Train Show returns to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

For the 30th year running at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, tiny trains zip past miniature models of city landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and Yankee Stadium, through Jan. 23. The garden’s “Glow” installation features a mile and a half of outdoor color and light through Jan. 22. Or explore Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s “Lightscape,” through Jan. 9. There, the Winter Cathedral tunnel, Fire Garden and Sea of Light will shine alongside a series of poems by Jacqueline Woodson, written in light.

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