Recommended Field Trip:
Being a child in New York City between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's is a magical experience. When I moved here at age eight I discovered this truth. That was the first year my mother took me on our annual jaunt down Fifth Avenue at Christmastime. It was usually cold when we boarded the bus at 82nd St. along Central Park, heading south. I thought I could sit down and rest, but suddenly my mother would jump up and insist that we disembark, so every year we ended up strolling down the long avenue. What tempted her off the bus might have been a store window or an outdoor decoration or a chestnut vendor or a cathedral - it all felt like the holidays. Every year I looked forward to this excursion and as an adult I took my children on the same annual pilgrimage. The entire trip is low-cost (if you resist the urge to shop), and a delight for all ages!
We started with the Christmas trees. A pay-what-you-wish or suggested admission should suffice at the American Museum of Natural History to see their intricate and amazing origami tree. Whimsical paper animals are made all year long, by serious folders who appreciate scientific accuracy! You can gaze for hours at these decorations. Look for free origami paper-folding activities in the nearby hall. A cross-town bus takes you through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum, where you can gaze with awe at their 18th-century nativity scene. Animals and figures journey beneath a huge ornate Christmas tree covered with Florentine angels. Medieval music surrounds you setting the mood. Here the admission fee is also "suggested" or "recommended" so don't feel shy about paying just whatever you can afford.
FAO Schwartz used to be located on 58th St. and 5th Ave., but has recently closed. Look for an announcement about their new location in 2017 (http://www.fao.com/). This is a must for a Christmas tour of Manhattan and the new location is sure to include the following: a real-life Toy Soldier who will greet you at the door and let you take his picture; a piano keyboard large enough to play with your feet (seen in the movie "Big"), a three-story clock, the largest stuffed animals in the world, an enormous candy store, and endless toy demonstrations.
Between 57th & 58th St. are the Bergdorf department store windows, known for their avant-garde style. This year their theme is the roaring twenties, also known as the Jazz Age and the Gatsby era. Fancy and fun! Henri Bendel, on 56th St., also chose the 1920s for their window theme. They topped their Christmas tree with an oversized champagne glass instead of a star or angel!
Going south on Fifth Ave., the next stop is St. Patrick's Cathedral between 50th & 51st St. This magnificent cathedral is currently being restored, but is still open to visitors for services, Christmas mass, and vocal and music concerts, all free to the public. Step in for a rest and listen to some organ music.
Right across the street is Rockefeller Center, with the enormous lit tree overlooking the skating rink, rising above the Prometheus statue. Walk past the illuminated Herald Angels along the promenade that extends from 5th Ave. to the rink and enjoy the enchanting spectacle of skaters gliding beneath the tree. Stay for a skating experience if you like (you will find a better bargain farther downtown, at the rink at Bryant Park on 42nd St., a good spot to visit when you are all done with this tour).
Stroll south for more stunning holiday window displays. If you're getting cold, buy some hot chestnuts from a street vendor. Eating them warms your insides and, kept in your pocket, will keep your hands warm too. Saks, at 50th St., is worth a gander. The final stop on Fifth Ave. is 38th St. and 5th Ave, for the Lord & Taylor windows. This was the very first department store to make Christmas windows, and they have remained the finest ever since. It's worth taking the time to stand in line and get a close look. Every year the windows have a new theme.
For more windows, turn west on 34th St. to Macy's on 7th Ave. for their traditional windows. Or head over to Lexington Ave. and 59th St. for Bloomingdale's windows.
This is a good time to learn about world religions and different faiths. Here is a list of museums and places of worship in NYC that offer educational activities for the whole family.
Train exhibits are a holiday tradition at this time of year. Here are three:
For updated events, check out the Time Out Guide to Christmas for NYC Kids.
Children's books exploring Christmas and New York:
Children's books on winter solstice holidays: