In a year of upheaval and interruptions, it is natural to wonder what New York City has planned for the 2020 holiday season. The big events, the annual shows, the exhibits and activities—very little will be business as usual this time around. But there is plenty happening across the five boroughs, whether it's holiday shopping, ice-skating or the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Find answers to questions you might have on just what, exactly, is going on with the big holiday traditions you know and love.
When does the holiday season begin and end?
The early seasonal events—the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, say—usually kick off in the first half of November, though Bryant Park’s Winter Village opened up before October saw its conclusion. Some activities, especially the museum-based exhibits, run through the end of January or even beyond, well after holidays themselves have taken place. In general, though, count on mid-November to early January for the bulk of the happenings.
Will the big department stores have their holiday window displays?
Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue have already announced virtual reveals beginning November 23 so they could avoid big crowds gathering for the unveilings. Macy’s will begin even earlier, on November 19. Passing by to gaze at any of them—and whatever other decorations are up along Fifth Avenue—during the month that follows should bring some cheer.
What is going on with the holiday markets?
This alfresco shopping tradition will carry on in some fashion, with the outdoor Holiday Shops at Winter Village at Bryant Park happening, along with a holiday market at Fort Hamilton. Keep an eye out for other pop-ups that might occur across the boroughs.
What about the ice-skating rinks?
Most of the rinks are gearing up for the season, with special protocols intact. If you want to glide on the ice in Bryant Park, Brookfield Place, Rockefeller Center, Prospect Park and numerous other spots throughout the five boroughs, you’ll have your chance.
Can I attend the Thanksgiving Day Parade?
There won’t be a parade heading down the traditional route this year. The activities that take place in and around Macy’s Herald Square will be closed to crowds, but you’ll be able to watch them unfold virtually on Thanksgiving Day.
Will the Christmas tree be lit in Rockefeller Center? Can I see it, if so?
Details are still coming in about visiting times, how long the tree will be up and any access limitations, but tree will arrive on November 14 and be lit on December 2. You will have the opportunity to go see it in the weeks afterward. What you cannot do is attend the lighting ceremony itself; you’ll have to watch that on your screen.
What about watching the ball drop in Times Square for New Year's Eve?
Again, due to the ban on large gatherings, the usual communing space in Times Square will be closed off to spectators and partygoers. You can instead watch the ball drop, along with whatever entertainment does take place, from home.
Are there any other virtual ways to experience the holidays?
What else do I have to wait till next year to attend in person?
The New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker; Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular; the New York Philharmonic performing Handel’s Messiah; Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square; the NYRR Midnight Run; watching the balloon inflation on the eve of the Thanksgiving Day Parade; the holiday markets at Union Square and Columbus Circle; and Kwanzaa performances at the Apollo, for a start.
What about those people on Coney Island who take an icy dip on New Year’s Day?
The fate of the 2021 Polar Bear Club plunge is unclear; organizers are getting clarification from the City and hoping to announce something by late November. If it does take place, you would need to register to be able to take part (membership is currently closed) or you could always head down to the boardwalk to watch the group of daring folk engage in this shivery ritual. [Update, 11/30: The New Year’s Day plunge has been canceled.]
I’m a Scrooge. Can you point me to other things to do in New York City that are not holiday related?
Of course. Check out our neighborhood-based Staycation Guides, museum exhibitions and public art displays and all kinds of great restaurants and shops. The City’s parks and outdoor spaces always make for a nice wintry tableau.
There’s also our Neighborhood Getaways program, which highlights offers from businesses across the five boroughs. Some will have holiday elements to them, but in the main they comprise everyday deals on tours, attractions, dining and shopping that help you get discounts and support local businesses.
Read our overview of 2020 NYC holiday events here.