The Best Christmas Shows to See in New York City

2019 Christmas Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes Opening Night
Steven Ferdman / Getty Images

From Thanksgiving until New Year's, New York City is a holiday lover's paradise. In addition to the famous displays that take over Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue, the Big Apple becomes a hub for holiday shows, from Brooklyn's Dyker Heights to Carnegie Hall. You can catch a festive musical, a thought-provoking play, a world-class ballet, or a train show—whatever you prefer. New York City brings holiday joy to visitors and residents alike with seasonal shows all over town.

Most performance venues in New York City will remain closed during the 2020-2021 holiday season. Check the websites of individual organizers for more information.

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Holiday Train Show

2013 Holiday Shopping Windows
Ben Hider / Getty Images

The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden is an annual tradition. Featuring model trains and more than 150 replicas of New York City landmarks—including the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and Rockefeller Center—the Holiday Train Show is equal parts nostalgic and festive. Being held indoors, it also makes for a nice break from the cold. During the 2020-2021 season, the show will be held from November 12 to January 31. Capacity is extremely limited, so purchase tickets far in advance.

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Messiah Sing and Caroling Walk

West Village Chorale performing

West Village Chorale

The West Village Chorale hosts its annual Handel's Messiah Sing, Village Noel, and Caroling Walk in mid-December. The walk begins and ends at Judson Memorial Church, located at 55 Washington Square South (at Thompson Street). In 2020, the walk will be held on December 7 and cost a $10 admission fee.

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Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree

Rockefeller Center

It may be crowded, but witnessing the moment when New York City's colossal spruce is illuminated is simply priceless. The free tree lighting ceremony is open to the public and includes live performances by big-name musicians like Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, and others in the past. After that, the tree remains on display until early January. In 2020, there will be no public access to the tree lighting, but you can watch it online or on NBC on December 2 at 7 p.m.

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"A Christmas Carol" at The Merchant's House

A Christmas Carol at The Merchant's House
Summoners Ensemble

This one-man production of Charles Dickens' iconic Christmas tale is a moving, intimate experience. An audience of just 40 people sits in the parlor of the historic ​Merchant's House while the talented Kevin John Jones plays 20 different characters over the course of the one-hour production. In 2020, the performance will be virtual (and available only to a limited audience) from December 17 to 24. Registration is required and attendance is free, but a donation of $30 is suggested.

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Oratorio Society of New York's Messiah Concert

Oratorio Society of New York performing

Oratorio Society of New York

An annual tradition since 1874, the Oratorio Society performs Handel's Messiah with a 200-voice chorus, soloists, and orchestra at the iconic Carnegie Hall. In 2020, the show will be offered via a spectacular video compilation of all participants performing Messiah in their homes.

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Radio City Christmas Spectacular

2017 Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes Opening Night

Steve Mack / Getty Images

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is one of the most well-known holiday shows in the city. See the Rockettes clad in wooden soldier costumes doing their famous high kicks while Santa goes flying through the sky. You can even opt to watch the iconic performance through a pair of 3-D glasses for something extra special. In 2020, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular was canceled.

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The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet

Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker New York City 2013

Jemal Countess / Getty Images

The New York City Ballet continues its annual tradition of performing George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" at Lincoln Center every December. Matinees are extremely popular and tickets go quickly, so plan accordingly. About 90 dancers, 60 musicians, 30 stagehands, and two casts of 50 young students make each performance as magical as possible. In 2020, the New York City Ballet canceled performances of the beloved seasonal show.

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The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall

New York Pops 33rd Birthday Gala at Carnegie Hall

Brian Killian / Getty Images

The New York Pops is the largest independent pops orchestra in the country. It's unique in that it's the only professional symphonic orchestra in New York City specializing in pop music. The group's annual holiday celebration at Carnegie Hall is interdenominational and features many a widely adored tune with which to sing along. The group's 2020-2021 performance, Merry and Bright, was canceled.

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"A Christmas Carol" Musical at The Players Theatre

'A Christmas Carol' Opening Night

Cindy Ord / Getty Images

Enjoy this annual musical adaptation of the Dickens classic, dubbed "Scrooge in the Village," at The Players Theatre in the West Village. The familiar holiday tale about the joy of community triumphing over selfishness is presented via a fresh musical by Sgouros and Bell. This production features an updated, British pantomime-inspired scenic design. The Players Theatre will remain closed during the 2020-2021 holiday season.

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Holiday Events at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

The Cathedral of St. John

Kripaks / Wikimedia Commons

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine hosts a variety of musical and religious events throughout the month, including Advent services, the Cathedral Christmas Concert, children's workshops, and the anticipated Peace Tree. During the 2020-2021 season, the cathedral will only be offering services and workshops virtually.

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Christmas Events at the Riverside Church

Riverside Church

Gryffindor / Wikimedia Commons

The Candlelight Carol Festival and production of Handel's Messiah are among Riverside Church's festive performances. It combines carillon, organ, harp, and all of the church choirs in a rousing musical celebration. During the 2020-2021 season, however, all in-person events have been canceled. The church will provide services and seasonal workshops online.

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Dyker Lights

Santa Claus and the nutcrakers at Christmas display in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.
Barry Winiker / Getty Images

Whether you head to Dyker Heights by yourself or with a tour, the unbelievable holiday light displays on residential houses in the middle of Brooklyn are a show of their own. Each year, more than 100,000 people flock to the Brooklyn neighborhood to witness some of the most over-the-top Christmas lights, huge inflatable Santas and snowmen, and neighbors blasting Christmas carols from loudspeakers, making for a huge holiday-themed block party.