Christmas &c in New York

The Holiday season snuck up on me quite suddenly. Even at Thanksgiving, which seems to be the start of the holidays (if not Halloween), I hadn’t really grasped that the end of the year (and the world, if some were to be believed) was nigh. My super put up holiday decorations in the foyer soon after ThanksgivingPhoto: Apartment building lobby

Photo: Beginning to look a lot like you know what

Photo: Decking the halls with bows of...

but work and the sniffles kept me from noticing that it was Christmas Eve practically till that night. On the way to a friend’s family dinner in Brooklyn, I thought it would be nice to go via Manhattan and enjoy the lights and sounds of some of the window displays and Rockefeller Center. If you live here, you already know that this is a terrible idea. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I took the 7 train to the 5th avenue stop by the New York Public Library, an extraordinary monument to books. It was already dark by 6:15, despite being three days after the winter solstice (and the end of the world). The sidewalks were busy with tourists and locals who had had the same idea that I did. But I was filled with good cheer and walked down 5th avenue to the Lord and Taylor store on 39th street. They had several clever little window displays with different scenes and automata:

a Japanese garden
 a Manhattan apartment
Central Park
a Swiss village
and Santa at the North Pole.
 Photo: Lord and Taylor Santa window display in Manhattan

People jostled to get photographs and grumbled at those who were blocking them by actually standing in front of the windows to get a look. One little old lady with a Paleolithic cellphone actually scolded some of the whipper-snappers who were preventing her from sending pixelated images to the grandkids (who were probably playing videogames at home).

By this time, my fingers were freezing as I waited to get a better shot so I gave up and decided to hike up to Rock plaza. The sidewalks got slightly more packed with every block, which should have been a clue. A recent article in the NYT talked about sidewalk behavior and how city residents function like schools of fish in order to avoid getting snarled up by other pedestrians, something tourists forget—this was a stellar example.

After a while, I felt like I was back in my hometown, one small leaf pushed about in the eddies of a confused river. It took me nearly a half hour to get to Rockefeller Plaza, a walk that shouldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes. Most everyone was wearing puffy coats and traveling in pairs or groups, which must have made us look like a sluggish blender from above.

As I got to the block, I noticed a digital clock projected on the side of the building overlooking the plaza and it was counting down to something. Having seen light shows at Christmas in the Grand Place in Brussels last year, I squeezed myself into a corner of the sidewalk to watch.

As the show wound down, it began to snow. You think snow on Christmas Eve only happens in the movies but it was quite magical—for all of two minutes before it turned to rain.

I turned away and waded into the crush that was the plaza leading down to the Christmas Tree and the skating rink. I think I heard languages from every possible corner of the globe, including my childhood neighborhood, as I jostled with the mass of humanity that had descended.

There is no denying that the tree and the skaters are pretty to look at

but next time around, I might go on a day other than Christmas Eve. In any other city, it might be a time for gathering at home with the family but here, it’s another reason to be outside with thousands of other great minds like you. (Hence the firetrucks and weary-looking police all around us.)

By this point, I was late getting to dinner, a trip that was likely to take another half hour, so I abandoned the plan to see more store windows that evening. But I intend to go back to get some pictures of those as well. I just won’t leave it till New Year’s Eve…

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