Opinion

Happy Holidays in New York City

Helen Hickey

Helen Hickey is a British freelance journalist living 40 floors up in New York City's Upper East Side with her hubby, cat and four children who miss everything Malaysian, even those dodgy traffic cops.

The most intriguing Christmas shop window displays where no expense is spared has to be Bergdof Goodmans on Fifth Avenue, but Lady Gaga’s Boudoir in Barneys, Madison Avenue was worth a detour. The most intriguing Christmas shop window displays where no expense is spared has to be Bergdof Goodmans on Fifth Avenue, but Lady Gaga’s Boudoir in Barneys, Madison Avenue was worth a detour. JAN 1 — If I hear one more “Happy Holidays” I shall look the jolly greeter hard in the eye and blurt out: “It’s Merry bloody Christmas...okay?” 

Seriously, apart from the wishy-washy political correctness of the all-encompassing Happy Holidays theme (I know, I get it, there’s a host of Yuletide celebrations besides my “Merry Christmas” like Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday, and Jewish Hanukkah), we are having a jolly good time. 

New York City is “the best” at Christmas, locals say. It’s true. It comes alive with hoards of must-dos; we’ll never do them all, not in a lifetime of Decembers and unfettered access to Carlos Slim’s bank account. 

Here’s a potted version of the outings we’ve managed (to afford) during our first Christmas in the glittery Big Apple: 

Ice skating with film stars at the oh-so-trendy “The Standard” hotel, in  West Village. Ok. So the evil zookeeper (Clark Gregg) from “Mr Popper’s Penguins” movie was ice skating with his daughter at the Standard’s outdoor ice rink. It qualifies. Children’s hot chocolates topped with marshmallows and sugary crepes served from twee alpine huts by handsome ski bum types (one for the mums). Warming cheese fondues enjoyed from comfy seats furnished with fluffy red blankets to stave off the chilly late December air. All with a view of Mr Zookeeper artfully completing circuits of the small rink. And after a few glühweins... us parents joined the children on the ice, like regular Torvill and Deans, or was it Thumper and Bambi? 

FAO Schwarz, Fifth Avenue. NYC’s toy nirvana as advertised on the backseat TV screens of every single yellow cab journey I’ve made this month. My children waited a whole year for their visit. They weren’t disappointed, except for my youngest who asked where the “real toy car” was. I think he was referring to the one in the advert driven by a precocious-looking toddler (dressed like an adult — such an Upper East trait) dodging a “live” monkey scurrying across a steamy jungle-clad aisle (what? are we back in Bukit Tunku?). 

Fortunately, this $24,999.99 Barbie doll foosball table wasn’t going to fit into the girl'’s Christmas stockings... Fortunately, this $24,999.99 Barbie doll foosball table wasn’t going to fit into the girl'’s Christmas stockings... The hot pink Barbie doll foosball table with a price tag of $24,999.99 (RM79,224.97), one of 10 made worldwide, caught my girls’ attention. But first prize for the ridiculous was awarded to two overly excited twenty-somethings giving a “live” performance of Chopsticks on what must be the largest piano on the planet—they were jigging erratically across the top of it, pressing the keys with their feet (and hands following a forward flip). Hard to explain; got to be there. 

A visit to Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, starring the Rockettes (dressed as Santa’s reindeer below), has been a New York Christmas tradition since 1933.A visit to Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, starring the Rockettes (dressed as Santa’s reindeer below), has been a New York Christmas tradition since 1933.Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Rockefeller Centre. Not a peep from the marvelled audience during the one-and-half-hour show consisting of close to 40 dancing girls called The Rockettes dressed as leggy showgirls (one for the dads), Santas, or as part of a Christmas Nativity and joined by three “live” camels, a flock of sheep and a donkey. 

Lady Gaga’s hairy shop window display at Barneys, Madison Avenue. Lady Gaga was there too, well, a mannequin of, and literally everything in her boudoir was covered in hair: a frizzy blonde chaise longue, black braided stiletto and a ginger-lock framed mirror. Very weird. But in keeping I guess with NY’s most provocative lady of fame. 

The New York Botanical Gardens annual holiday train. Following a NY tradition for the past 20 years, we made our first trip to the Bronx area to see model trains merrily winding their way around a miniature Manhattan. 

The twist to this exhibit, housed in a giant greenhouse, was that buildings—including Lady Liberty herself, the wedding cake shaped Chrysler Building, Metropolitan Museum and hundreds more—were painstakingly made from plants, nutshells and fungus.  “I just saw the Polar Express train mummy!” my seven-year-old cried as we walked under George Washington Bridge constructed from pine bark, twigs and magnolia leaves. 

Tiffany’s at Christmas, very theatrical, and if you leaned into the Fifth Avenue displays to see the moving carousels you can smell the strong pine scent of the surrounding foliage. Tiffany’s at Christmas, very theatrical, and if you leaned into the Fifth Avenue displays to see the moving carousels you can smell the strong pine scent of the surrounding foliage. And for New Year’s Eve my friend — a fellow Brit and a relative “newbie” like ourselves recently emailed certain options for the big night: 

“Well, after some research I managed to find: 

a “Gala Night” at the Mandarin Oriental for $1,500 per head which clearly Jason [hubby] blew out of the water straightaway, 

an over 35s night at the Bryant Park Grill followed by ice skating and broken legs! 

got laughed at loudly when I called the Standard to see if they had any tickets left for the Debbie Harry concert at the rooftop bar!” 

Ahem, none of the above I don’t think. 

Times Square is the big draw here. Only I have heard you have to be there at 3pm to save your spot of concrete — and with four children under nine — maybe not. 

My hubby wishes to wander the streets of NYC, maybe nipping via the Rockefeller Center to see the famed Christmas tree. The 75-year-old Norway Spruce from Pennsylvania reaches a heady 74 feet and is topped with a 25,000 Swarovski crystal studded star. 

Me? Well, I’ve a dreamy idea of finally taking that ride through Central Park on a horse-drawn carriage, children too — after all they are old enough now to remember what we did on New Year’s Eve 2011 in NYC. And, please, finally, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Comments