Visiting New York City during the holiday season provides plenty of opportunities to see festive lights, decorations, and Christmas trees across the city.
This is only fitting because New York City was the home of the first Christmas tree to have electric lights. As the story goes, engineer and vice president of the Edison Electric Company, Edward Hibberd Johnson—who was also Thomas Edison's business partner—decorated a Christmas tree with 80 red, white, and blue light bulbs and placed it in the parlor window of his townhouse on East 36th Street in 1882. Before that, trees were lit by candles only briefly on Christmas Eve and Day.
Today, Christmas trees have become a staple of winter decorations in New York City. From the elaborate displays in shop windows along Fifth Avenue to the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, there's no shortage of holiday sights in Manhattan during the 2019 holiday season.
For over eight decades, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has served as a world-renowned symbol of the holidays in New York City, welcoming visitors and residents alike to gather at Rockefeller Plaza to reflect on the Christmas season and take in the lights and decorations.
Although the Rockefeller Christmas Tree arrives at the plaza in early November and the Swarovski star is raised onto the tree in mid-November, the tree is not lit until December each year. In 2019, the free tree lighting ceremony, which is open to the public, takes place on Wednesday, December 4. The ceremony includes live performances that entertain bystanders packing the city streets, sidewalks, and walkways leading up to Rockefeller Plaza and the millions of viewers watching it live on television. However, access to the venue is available on a first-come, first-served basis and crowds typically fill the street well before the ceremony starts.
Fortunately, the tree remains lit and on display in the plaza between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues from late November to mid-January, so you'll have plenty of opportunities throughout the holiday season to take in the spectacle, even if you miss the ceremony.
Origami Christmas Tree at AMNH
Since the 1980s, the American Museum of Natural History has celebrated the holiday season with its highly original origami tree. Produced in partnership with OrigamiUSA, the tree is on view from mid-November through early January in the museum's Grand Gallery on the first floor.
The Origami Christmas Tree stands at 13 feet tall and is decorated with more than 800 hand-folded paper models created by local, national, and international origami artists. Each year, the tree's origami ornaments are created with a specific theme in mind, and in 2019, the theme is "T. rex and Friends: History in the Making." Models on the tree are inspired by the museum's special exhibition, "T. rex: The Ultimate Predator," which celebrates this historic beast that was first discovered, named, and exhibited by the American Museum of Natural History.
Throughout the holiday season, OrigamiUSA volunteers will also be on hand to teach visitors how to fold and make their own origami through a series of holiday workshops.
Christmas Tree at the Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque creche is on display from late November through early January. The 20-foot blue spruce features 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs flanking the nativity scene at its base in the museum's Medieval Sculpture Hall.
Made possible by gifts to The Christmas Tree Fund and the Loretta Hines Howard Fund, this installation is set in front of the eighteenth-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid, and recorded Christmas music adds to the enjoyment of the holiday display throughout the holiday season.
Cathedral of St. John the Divine Peace Tree
Located in Morningside Heights on Amsterdam Avenue between West 110th and 113th Streets, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine celebrates Christmas each year with a uniquely-decorated Christmas tree and a variety of church services and holiday concerts.
The Peace Tree in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is decorated with 1,000 paper cranes and other peace symbols. Children can participate in a workshop to learn to make the cranes, and you can also take a walking tour of the cathedral that highlights the pre-Christian origins of Christmas as well as the ways the cathedral celebrates the holidays.
Part of Cathedral life since the 1980s, the Peace Tree is on display from early December through the end of the month and is dedicated in a Cathedral School service focused on world peace, diversity, and global understanding each year.
Park Avenue Trees
Anyone driving or walking on the Upper East Side during the holiday season should take a detour to view the stretch of Park Avenue between 54th and 97th streets, where beautifully lighted trees illuminate the street. The tradition began just after World War II ended to honor those who had lost their lives in the war, and the lighted trees are still a symbol of peace and the price paid for it today.
The trees are traditionally lit on the first Sunday evening of December following a ceremony outside the Brick Presbyterian Church (Park Avenue and 91st Street), but in 2019, the official lighting ceremony takes place on Sunday, December 8. Made possible by donations to the Fund for Park Avenue, the ceremony commemorates the original meaning of the lights and serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made during World War II.
Lincoln Square Christmas Tree
The annual Winter's Eve Festival at Lincoln Square on the Upper West Side starts with a tree lighting in Dante Park in late November or early December, with festivities running along Broadway from Columbus Circle to 68th Street.
Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square is an annual neighborhood holiday celebration that draws almost 20,000 people and features free entertainment and live music at over 20 performance venues, food tastings from over 30 of the area’s finest restaurants and eateries, family fun, shopping, and more. After the event, guests can visit Lincoln Square throughout the holiday season to see the tree lit up each night.
Tree at South Street Seaport
South Street Seaport, which is located at South and Fulton streets in Lower Manhattan, celebrates the holidays each year with a variety of events and attractions throughout the month of December including a towering holiday tree on the cobblestones at Fulton and Water Streets.
Along with the centrally-located tree, guests can also stop by Winterland on the rooftop of Pier 17 for ice skating and tasty holiday treats or visit the Tree Farm at the Seaport at Seaport Square between Piers 16 and 17. Additionally, the South Street Seaport Museum puts up trees on both the Wavertree and Ambrose ships in the harbor just offshore of Pier 17.
NYSE Christmas Tree
The New York Stock Exchange Christmas Tree at 11 Wall Street has been a downtown New York tradition since 1923. The lighting ceremony takes place on December 5, 2019, and features holiday performances by five-time Grammy-award winning singer Dionne Warwick along with the casts of "Phantom of the Opera," "Dear Evan Hansen," and "School of Rock" as well as appearances by the world-famous Radio City Rockettes and Macy's Santa Claus.
The NYSE Christmas Tree remains lit throughout the holiday season, so even if you miss the official lighting ceremony, you'll still have plenty of opportunities to see this famous tree all December long.
Holiday Tree in Bryant Park
The Holiday Tree at Bryant Park is a 55-foot-tall Norway spruce decorated with more than 30,000 LED lights and 3,000 custom ornaments. Part of the Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park, the holiday tree is lit each year in early December and remains a central part of the holiday village throughout the season.
Each year a celebrity guest reads an original Christmas tale to the crowd. As the story unfolds, the characters are brought to life by world-class skaters performing on the ice, under the stars in the Midtown cityscape. Excitement builds until the finale when the tree is lit against the backdrop of a brilliant firework display.
The annual tree-lighting ceremony takes place on December 5, 2019, and visitors can go ice skating for free or do some holiday shopping at the Winter Village afterward. Bryant Park is at Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets.