Twelve years ago was the last time I was in New York for this Christmas/New Years Week. Escaping the cold at every turn, I’ve always found sunshine and solace wherever I could. Hawaii, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Australia and more; I flew the coop and ran to where my toes were free to roam the sand and the sun was ever-present. This year was different.
This was the first year that I wasn’t teaching or traveling in December. With the knowledge that a trip to the Australian summer will be in front of us in a few weeks time, we stayed in New York. We had our heavy winter parkas, ear warmers, gloves, scarves and hand warmers ready and instead of a flip-flop wearing barbecue; we turned to a boot-stomping adventure in New York City. This was a new one for the both of us.
We’ve always heard that Christmas in New York is special. This was a great time to get a seat on the Long Island Rail Road and a perfect time for that photograph of an empty Times Square. New York City treated us to a special and glorious day with a Christmas adventure celebrated just they way we wanted (and even threw in a bit of sunshine). No expectations, no stress-just curiosity, wonder and a day as a traveler in our own city. All rugged up we were ready to take on the day.
I would highly recommend planning for a day like this as although there are many things that are surprisingly open, there are often only select time slots available on the holiday. We had booked in advance for our exhibit, show and lunch and built the rest of the day around those scheduled times. We did, however, notice heaps of people able to find restaurants open (that may or may not have had a specific holiday menu) and plenty of sights available to experience.
After a quick stop at Pie Face (our favourite Aussie pie shop) for a snack and warm drink we were full speed ahead to the Macy’s windows. Used to visiting the Myer windows in Melbourne in shorts and singlets (tank tops), our faces and varied outfits saw another set of iconic window designs. This year’s theme ‘Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’ lit up the panes. Hand crafted characters, a beloved story, abounding colors and compassion jumped out of the windows and brought warm smiles to the faces of the masses littered in front. Macy’s windows-check!
Our first planned stop was at the Discovery Center in Times Square. We’ve seen both the Harry Potter and Spy exhibits here before and this time it was The Art of the Brick. A warm place on a winter’s day, this old New York Times‘ building houses a belief that ‘the world is just awesome’ and that curiosity is both infectious and necessary. This exhibit, as the others, did not disappoint.
Created by Nathan Sawaya (a NYC based artist raised in Oregon), every piece is made strictly of lego. Having just resigned from my job of over fifteen years, his story along with his art resonated. This university graduate and corporate lawyer for years finally broke out of the mold he thought he had to be in and became and artist using the medium of lego. He managed to exchange one career for another and a job for a creative passion that brings out his happy. Room after room was filled with magical creations all made out of a favourite children’s pastime that as we all know, when stepped on leads to sheer pain and often screaming swear words. Next to each three-dimensional design there is a ‘piece count’, title and description that seems to come directly from the heart. The artwork ranges from Athen’s Parthenon to an underwater swimmer, from an apple to a life-size dinosaur and everything in between.
Leaving you wanting more and wondering just what you can create with that box of goodies you have at home, these world-famous pieces of art and creations all his own are brought to life in lego. Designed specifically for the New York exhibition, his newest piece is a recreation of The Freedom Tower. Stepping into the room surrounded by a backdrop of NYC and a model of the Statue of Liberty complete with her heart wide open-the pride and warmth of this city is palpable. The exhibit was incredible. What a beautiful expression of imagination, art, wonderment and true sense of what passion and perseverance can create. I can’t wait to create with my nephew’s lego stash next time we’re in Brooklyn.
With a jaunt through Times Square complete with a smattering of people and characters a plenty (2 Mickeys, Elmo, Cookie Monster and a bunch of super heroes) we wandered to 42nd street’s Bryant Park. Christmas Markets, a winter village with an ice-skating rink and a picturesque Christmas tree stole our attention for a while. It was cold outside, but there was an immense feeling of warmth emanating everywhere. New York City feels different today. As we strolled down 5th avenue amidst enough people able to pack a city sidewalk we noticed some interesting things. There are fewer people on the streets but a greater feeling of community. Families celebrating the holiday their way, travelers seeing the sights and people existing on what to them might be ‘just a Wednesday’ fill the city. Seems we’re both really glad we planned this adventure.
A traditional Christmas lunch was requested for today, so we booked in at The Churchill, a British pub on East 28th Street. As soon as the door opened we felt like we were in the UK. Holiday decor draped over the low slung ceilings added bright greens and reds to the warm wooded atmosphere while holiday revelers sat at high and low top tables with their Christmas crowns and British beers. Accents fluttered through the air while Yorkshire & Sticky Toffee puddings filled plates. We’ve had better food before, but the atmosphere was festive and the day still a success.
A subway ride across town took us to where we found all of the people we noticed lacking from other parts of the city. They were here, at Rockefeller Center. Warming their icy fingers and toes with heat and hot chocolate aplenty-children and families were strewn everywhere. People were sitting on the floor, waiting in queues for the loo & the ubiquitous Starbucks and some lucky ones had grabbed tables next to the window able to watch the ice skaters on the plaza’s rink. Above ground the tree was lit in all its glory and photos were clicked from every angle. Twinkling lights lit the night’s sky as people came together on this holiday evening.
Last on our agenda for this day’s extravaganza was Broadway’s Tony Award winner for this year, Kinky Boots. Keeping with our international theme of the day, set in England, this high-heeled entertainment sparkled through both acts. Dancing, singing, glitz, glam and a stage full of gorgeous drag queens high-stepped their way into the audience’s hearts. Long lasting ovations and ear-to-ear smiles were just two of the many signs of a very successful show.
The subway and the LIRR back to Long Beach ended our adventure-packed Christmas day in New York City. We had a wonderful day and learned some more about how we feel about travel and holidays. Years ago we traveled together on Thanksgiving. It was that first ‘holiday time trip’ where I saw first-hand that there were people celebrating a holiday in various ways. It seemed that for us, being together & experiencing (along with a bit of holiday festivities & food thrown in) was what we loved and finally felt secure in that understanding. We’ve been out-of-town now for Thanksgivings, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and a few Christmases and have not only survived, but thrived.
Growing up, we both had our own experiences with holidays and how they were celebrated in our families. Now, we get the opportunity to make our own choices and start new traditions. We know we’re lucky to have that choice and have learned that regardless of society’s opinions-there’s no wrong way or right way, just the way that’s right for you. At home or abroad, near or far, with others or on your own-there’s meaning in whatever way people choose to spend a day.
Truthfully, we are both still warm weather people. Given the choice we’d choose sun over gloom and hot over cold. This year we spent Christmas in New York and returned home to our apartment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean instead of a hotel room somewhere else in the world. We had a magical day…even in the cold. Moments and days are what you make of them and the fact that we had shoes instead of thongs (flip-flops) and jackets instead of singlets (tank-tops) never once got in the way. Experiencing a journey, gloves or otherwise; we were still able to spend the day together walking hand in hand and what could be a greater gift?