Five Favorite Manhattan Christmas Traditions

Is there any place in the world that does Christmas better than New York? In my opinion, absolutely not–and while I may be biased, as a native New Yorker, there are millions of visitors to back me up on this! Whether you live in Manhattan or are just visiting around the holidays, here are five of my favorite Christmas traditions that you may not know about. What are your favorite things to do in New York around the holidays?

The Brick Church Tree Lighting: The Brick Church’s tree lighting is an Upper East Side tradition. Friends and family gather, sing carols, and enjoy each other’s company. This year the tree lighting was on December 5th–it’s always early in December, so mark your calendar for next year!

Caroling in Gramercy Park: Gramercy Park is one of the handful of private parks remaining in Manhattan, with keys to the Park restricted to the people who live in buildings bordering the park. Once a year, for one hour a year on Christmas Eve (usually 6pm to 7pm), the Park is open to the public for Christmas caroling. It’s a beautiful tradition and one I remember well from childhood!

St. Patrick’s Cathedral Christmas Concert (“A City Singing at Christmas”): St. Pat’s has been a special place to me all my life–I was baptized here, as were my siblings; my parents were married in the Lady’s Chapel; we held my mother’s memorial service here. Any time we were in the City for Christmas, we would come for Midnight Mass and for the Christmas Concert. This year the Christmas Concert is on December 16th. Don’t miss if you’re able to attend!

Dinner at Pete’s Tavern: The writer O. Henry wrote “The Gift of the Magi” at a booth at Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy (and Ludwig Bemelmans wrote Madeline here, too!) One of my mother’s favorite traditions was to read “The Gift of the Magi” and then have dinner at Pete’s. We love the Christmas decorations and the traditions we started. We always try to gather with friends here as well (tip: if you have a large group, you can reserve their private room upstairs!) My mother lived in Gramercy for a long time, and I went to nursery school at the Jack & Jill School, so many of my earliest memories are in this neighborhood, from after-school playdates in the Park to the family Christmas party at the National Arts Club to meals (and later drinks as an adult) at L’Express and Pete’s with family and friends. It’s so special to continue these, even though my mother is no longer with us.

Christmas at the Cloisters: Everyone knows about the Met’s Angel Tree (also a tradition!), but relatively few people know about the Cloisters’ Christmas music concerts that are performed throughout the month of December. If you haven’t visited the Cloisters, with its beautiful collections, gardens, and stunning view of the river, please be sure to do so. One of my favorite Christmas concerts was attending a Byzantine music performance with friends of mine (one of whom is a Byzaninist) in the early evening. It was immediately transporting and I know I wasn’t the only one to suffer from culture shock stepping back into the present day!

What are your favorite things to do in New York at Christmas?

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