The Magic of the Holidays in NYC

         One afternoon I approached two employees in the lobby of my residential building, and a retail agent in the shop on my block, to ask them all the same question. I asked what the holidays mean to each of them. Here’s what they said: To porter, Ace, the holidays mean “love and happiness.” 

         And once Ace left the lobby to attend to a work order on a higher floor doorman, Freddie, emphasized his agreement with Ace. “…Ace and I are both family men. We think along the same lines.” 

         Upon entering the museum on my block, I found Sue and asked for her feelings on the subject. 

         Realizing there would never be a good time to get her complete attention, I interrupted what she was doing so I could get my query answered. She happened to be hustling to wrap another gift for a customer, when, with a twinkle in her eye, she hurriedly replied, “People who work in retail don’t do holidays.” 

         Sue was kidding. She was obviously busy. 

         When I pressed her after the customer had left, Sue explained that work is hard in December, around the holidays. Stores are always busy. The “holidays” don’t signify a restful, celebratory time for retail employees. 

         And in that instant I learned that the holidays mean different things to different people, that being especially true in New York.

         It’s now mid-December and the fervor of this holiday season is in full swing. The passion and hustle involved in keeping up with the throngs of people who pilgrimage to this great metropolis during this time of year, every year, is really unheard of. With so many “Winter Wonderland” spaces to visit in the city, from Lincoln Square’s one-night Winter’s Eve celebration in late November that displays ice sculptures, booths from local restaurants, as well as a tree lighting ceremony outside of the Empire Hotel, to Bryant Park’s “Winter Wonderland” with decorations, booths, and an outdoor ice skating rink, to Union Square’s very own winter utopia downtown, New York City has something for everyone, always with the smell of pine in the air. And in addition to the grand festive destinations, New York City is known for its department stores along 5thAvenue, which are magnificently decorated just for the holidays. Every square foot, and neighborhood, of Manhattan is covered with a unique mark on the season, causing it to be an absolutely FABULOUS city for winter festivity. 

         It’s oh so special and exciting. ‘Tis the season.

         Also curious about the feelings that white-collar workers may have during the holiday season, I asked a financial professional and a lawyer, Nick. Both professionals admitted to appreciating the time off from work to take in the scenery. Nick admitted, “The holidays provide an opportunity to get together with friends…in festively decorated places!” The finance professional agrees, when he said that in addition to the ability to “reconnect with friends and family during the holidays, he most enjoys the Christmas displays and decorations that seem to be “all over.” 

         But having sensed a reluctance to disclose more, I did not press these gentlemen. Had they revealed the extra stress that exists during this time of year, it may not have reflected well on their vocations, or companies? (After all, I didn’t want anyone to cause a stir at their companies…especially right before Christmas.)  

         Personally, what I’ve found to be true is that when people rave about “decorations,” so oftentimes they’re suggesting the abundance of lights that exists in December. From Freddie and Ace, who work for the same management company, to James, a bartender in the West Village, to Liz, my personal friend and comic, and finally to Angela, a celebrated opera singer at the Met, the truth is that every one loves the lights. To add illumination during a time of year when nearly three quarters of every day is covered in darkness is like magic. For more light to be provided, where there wasn’t much of it before, feels like a trick that only a skilled illusionist could pull off. The white lights covering the bear Norway maple trees that line my Upper West Side Street, and the brightly colored lights that twinkle on the Rockefeller Christmas tree are all so obvious against a dark sky. The existence of extra lights on trees, at a time of year when the city is teeming with people and smothered by darkness, makes this place all the more enchanting. We can all live in this dreamlike aura, now.

         Two interviewees who appreciate the arts above all else are Angela and Nick. The opera singer, Angela remarked, “I love performing inThe Magic Fluteat the Met. All the children attend. They are always excited!!!” Similarly, Nick shared his heartwarming holiday story with me when he said, “I'm a ballet fan, so I take in the Nutcracker. It's always great to hear the audience ‘wow’ when the Christmas tree begins to grow on the stage and to watch the kids, [who are] exquisitely dressed jumping around during intermission, doing their level best to be ballerinas.” 

         To these stage aficionados, Angela and Nick, the holiday season signifies the presence of shows that are not performed during any other time of the year. While one enters the brightly lit doors of each of the performance spaces, of opera or ballet, Angela is reminded of what excites her most about the holidays in this city. Above all else, she loves “the decorations in Lincoln Center [during this time of year].” But performing in The Magic Fluteat The Met is what reminds her that that the holiday time has come again. With her family living just outside of the city, Angela has the pleasure of returning to Manhattan for very cold days and nights to practice and perform. And Nick enjoys being a spectator in Lincoln Center with the same joy that Angela has performing in it.

         The reason for loving the holiday season in New York City is unique for each and every person. 

         So yes, while New York is a fabulous location for enjoying the holiday season, it should be pointed out that “New York is stressful at the best of times.” [The stress is] “even more so during the Christmas period,” says Jess, head clinician at The Brain Resource Center, which administers brain therapy to improve mental sharpness and emotional well-being. Jess continues by saying, “and that it's about focusing on how people cope with stress during this time. You know the financial stress, the emotional stress, the family stress…the binge eating stress.” Jess knows firsthand how such stresses affect patients who are interested in relieving themselves of those feelings. She sees individuals who wish to temper the panic that their brains are delivering during this celebratory, albeit traumatic, time of year. Despite the stresses that exist in his life the financial professional whom I talked to also made note of the fact that everyone in the city appears to be in higher spirits as soon as holiday season rolls around. He said, “I feel like NYC residents get nicer [during the holidays] and everyone is upbeat.”

         The lights, decorations, and grandeur of New York City, as well as the general mood improvement of its inhabitants during the holidays are temporary distractions from the brutal realities and anxieties of life that occur during the rest of the year.

         Such is the magic of the season…