Saturday, December 15, 2012

Manhattan at Christmas Time

This is our third trip to Manhattan, New York City.  The first time, we went in October 1999 and hit the usual tourist sites such as the Empire State Building, Times Square, Broadway, Central Park, Battery Park and Wall Street.

On the second trip in November 2008, we tried to experience the various neighbourhoods, touring Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribecca, Chinatown, Little Italy, Union Square, Gramercy Park and the Upper East Side.  We were there right before the U.S. Thanksgiving, just in time to see the big Christmas tree arrive on a truck at Rockefeller Center.

At that time, we decided that our next trip to New York would be in December, so that we could actually see the Christmas decorations and lights in their full glory. This December 2012, we finally made that happen, and we were overwhelmed by what we saw. The decorations were large, bold, bright, innovative, and prevalent in the lobbies, courtyards and windows of most of the stores and offices along 5th avenue.

The giant, glowing crystal lizard hanging above Bvlgari Jewelry could be seen from blocks away, while the oversized Christmas balls and strings of LED lights at 50th street were delightfully whimsical. In one store, a Christmas tree was formed from a series of white pumps with bright red soles.

The entire storefront of Harry Winston Jewels sparkles, as does the UNICEF Star which hangs high above the street lights at the corner of 57th Street. Further up 5th Ave., large candy canes hang from an office building and the trees are lit up. The main lobby of the Empire State Building is decked out with two large Christmas trees, overhead snowflakes, and multiple wall panel displays showing holiday themes.

Walking through the Diamond and Jewelry district along 47th Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets was quite the experience. It was like passing a sports arena before a big game and being cajoled by ticket scalpers. In front of every shop was a hawker calling out, "Diamonds! Who wants diamonds? Who's got diamonds?".

Radio City Music Hall was lit up with its colourful Christmas tree. But this was just a harbinger for the ultimate, gigantic tree located at Rockefeller Center, looming over the skating rink and gilded statue of the Greek god Prometheus. Also scattered around the center were large marching band sculptures and glowing herald angels.

The Christmas windows in the large department stores in New York are so renowned that there is a walking tour on the internet taking you from one to the next. It all starts at Macy's, whose windows prominently feature scenes from the classic holiday movie that made them famous—Miracle on 34th Street and its message that you have to "Believe".

Bergdorf Goodman's windows had a more sophisticated, Art Deco/Roaring 20s feel. We found these displays to be spectacular with their beautiful, intricate designs and wardrobe.

Bloomingdale's windows featured a circus theme with animated scenes including a carousel, acrobats, aerial gymnasts twisting and twirling as well as a strong man who made a puppet rise when he hits the lever with his mallet. It was fun trying to take multiple photos of a scene in rapid succession to simulate the motions.

Barneys partnered with Disney to create a short film set to a jazzy score.  It stars Minnie Mouse, who dreams that she is front row during a fashion show, watching her Disney friends such as Goofy, Cruella De Ville, Daisy Duck and Snow White strut the catwalk dressed in designer duds. Slightly disturbingly tall, thin versions of Minnie and Mickey also are in the show.  Not quite sure this is setting the right message for young girls, but lets go with it. Animated cameos are made by celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and other names in the fashion industry.

The Parker Meridian Hotel held its second annual gingerbread sculpture contest which resulted in some impressive entries that took gingerbread creations to a new level of architectural complexity.

 A holiday market was set up in Bryant Park with rows of shops filled with quirky gift ideas such as microwavable stuffed animals called "Hot Hugs" and objects such as clocks or wallets made from vinyl records.

New York City certainly knows how to celebrate the Christmas season.  This is a really magical time to visit.

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