New York City's glittery, enchanting department store windows are a sight to behold during the Christmas season. The festive window display tradition dates all the way back to 1874, according to Macy's, the first retailer to start the trend. You can plan your own walking tour to see some of the most popular New York City department stores' holiday window displays at their landmark locations.
The window displays are almost always on view shortly before Thanksgiving and remain up until just after New Year's Day, so they can be experienced by visitors throughout the holiday season. Many stores even host a special event to mark the unveiling of the year's designs, sometimes with a celebrity to flip the switch.
While holiday shopping and Midtown Manhattan both look very different in 2020 and many holiday events are being canceled, the most popular window displays are all back to provide some festive respite. Many of them have marked viewing places to stand for a quick picture, in order to keep visitors physically separated and to let everyone have a chance in front of the window.
The windows at Bloomingdale's on 59th Street are typically unveiled in late November just before Black Friday, so they can be enjoyed by holiday shoppers throughout the season. The theme for the 2020 windows is "Give Happy," featuring even more whimsicality than the usual festive scenes. Although the window displays along Third Avenue are also decked out for the holiday, the ones along Lexington Avenue are the ones you really want to see, as they feature the annual theme. Bloomingdale's often adds an interactive element to their displays, so make sure your smartphone is charged to fully enjoy the experience.
Right in the heart of Midtown, you will find the holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman along Fifth Avenue from 58th to 57th streets. These windows never fail to impress, as they usually feature antiques and couture fashions in beautifully designed scenes.
The theme during the 2020 season is "Bergdorf Goodness," highlighting different words that represent "goodness" in giant three-dimensional polychromatic mirrors, so spectators literally see themselves reflected in words like "love," "hope," "harmony," and "peace."
Saks Fifth Avenue
Between 49th and 50th streets, the Saks Fifth Avenue holiday window displays are unveiled in late November and are a great choice for visitors with children, because the light displays are much bigger than just the windows. There is always an impressive lighting show across the whole facade of the building that visitors can enjoy throughout the evening, turning the department store into an illuminated version of what looks like the Taj Mahal.
The window displays themselves always reflect the times, and the 2020 theme is "How we celebrate now." You'll see a couple bringing gifts home on the Roosevelt Island tram, an outdoor holiday dinner with social distancing, and festive celebrations with face masks.
Macy's has two sets of windows with holiday displays, one set on Broadway between 34th and 35th streets and another set along 34th Street. During peak hours, more than 10,000 people per hour will pass by the windows, usually featuring iconic New York City holiday scenes and encapsulating the feeling of the season. These are perhaps New York City's most famous holiday window displays and are always on view in time for visitors in town for Thanksgiving.
In 2020, the windows are all dedicated in a touching display to thanking essential workers, with the words "thank you" written in several different languages and depicting scenes that celebrate those who have worked on the frontlines throughout 2020.