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September 22, 2008 11:48 AM   Subscribe

It looks like I'll be in NYC over Christmas and New Year's, and I don't really know anyone in town. Any suggestions for how to salvage some joy from the holiday season regardless? Budget is reasonably flexible.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by grumblebee at 12:00 PM on September 22, 2008

I ask because there's tons of stuff to do here. Are you looking for activities you can do on your own? Or are you looking for ways to hang out with other people? If I was in NYC by myself, I'd fill my time with museums, movies and shows. But you may not be into such things.
posted by grumblebee at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2008

Something liturgical, perhaps, for Christmas day? And for New Year's, is the whole Times Square thing as hellish as it looks? I'd prefer something lower-key, but at the same time I don't want to spend the evening in my hotel room bitterly refreshing Metafilter and eating a microwaved dinner. A happy medium, you know?
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 12:12 PM on September 22, 2008

Do you celebrate Christmas? If so, you might want to go the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. There is a lottery for seating tickets, which are free but limited, and you have missed the annual deadline for applying - but there is also a standby line, which begins to form by 8 PM. You have to stand through the service. But it is probably the most exquisite service I've ever been too - a full "bells and smells" service, joyous, with incredible organ music and vocal and choral music, a great sermon, readings in many languages, and people there from all over the world. It's very convivial. You don't have to be Catholic (but as in all Catholic churches they request that if you're not that you not take communion). Highly recommended.
posted by Miko at 12:16 PM on September 22, 2008

is the whole Times Square thing as hellish as it looks?

Yes. The main difficulty is that once a street-block is filled, if you leave the block, you can't get back in. So if you go to the trouble to get there early and get close to the ball-drop, and then you eventually have to go to the bathroom, it gets miserable. If you wait until late, then you are in Outer Distantia. Still, it's fun if you're willing to put up with the difficulty; people are really friendly. A lot of stranger-kissing takes place. I did it when I was in my early 20s and had the stamina for that kind of thing; I'd skip it at the age I am now.
posted by Miko at 12:19 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lapsed Catholic, Miko, and my favourite thing about church was the fellowship and theatre, so that sounds fantastic, thanks.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 12:24 PM on September 22, 2008

If you think that Times Square looks "hellish" on TV rather than "fun", I'd skip it. Fortunately there are copious other activities -- one thing I know for sure will happen is that the Road Runners' club usually has a 15K fun run in Central Park that starts at midnight, and people are encouraged to run in costumes. The year I went to watch, I saw runners dressed as walruses, various presidents, genii and shieks, and a group of people who together collectively went as The Brooklyn Bridge. And there was a guy who ran the whole race in a tuxedo with a cigar in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other. There are also fireworks displays in Central Park and in Prospect Park.

And don't forget that a large portion of the city does not celebrate Christmas as such, so there will be a lot of things open for business.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:25 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't feel as if you have to go to the "location" church. I go to church on Christmas Eve at a lovely Episcopalian church on lower 5th Avenue. Beautiful organ and choral music, beautiful setting. Bells, smells, the whole deal.

Christmas morning and New Year's morning are both amazing times to be outside, walking in the city, as it's as quiet as you'll ever see it. It's my favorite time to be out and about, whether on my bike or walking.

However, there are as many things as you can imagine. Pick up a copy of Time Out New York when you get into town, and comb through it.

Avoid Times Square like the plague.

Mefi mail me if you have more questions.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2008

Times Square on NYE is the 9th circle of hell. Honestly.

If you like theatre, book tickets to some shows FAR in advance for the popular ones (South Pacific, Gypsy), as you'll be here the busiest week of the year.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:32 PM on September 22, 2008

Maybe you could suggest a New York meet-up?
posted by Evangeline at 12:33 PM on September 22, 2008

Keep an eye out for Metafilter meetups - there is usually one in New York around that time of year, often more than one. Lots of bars with live music - something you don't find elsewhere, and people meet and talk. New Yorkers are actually quite friendly and open, and walking around the city will find you conversing with all kinds of people. There are also a lot of special interest meeting places - ballrom dancing at community centers, book talks, blogger events - that make meeting interesting groups of people easy. A typical New York pastime is walking around the city's always changing ethnic neighborhoods. And always eat in east Chinatown for great chinese food... and take the subway out to Flushing in Queens for great Asian eating.
posted by zaelic at 12:36 PM on September 22, 2008

I went to a concert in Manhatttan on New Year's Eve last year and had a blast. (Note that going cross-town in midtown gets virtually impossible at some point.)
posted by smackfu at 12:48 PM on September 22, 2008

I disagree with previous posters.

I went to Times Square alone one New Year's Eve about 10 years ago. Admittedly there were some extra curriculars involved, but I ended up meeting the nicest families and individuals and really enjoyed the fourl hours I spent. It was crowded, but organized and respectful. If I was younger, I would do it again. In fact the guy I hung out with the longest was some guy from out of town I met on the cross town bus over there. I met families from Harlem, couples from Nebraska and a cop from Queens responsible for our penned in area. Lastly, I am not normally a crowd guy other than at Dead shows.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:16 PM on September 22, 2008

Also fun is to just take a regular city bus down 5th Avenue from Central Park thru Herald Square to see all of the holiday decorations in the shop windows. On Xmas Eve itself I've often gone to a smorgasbord at the restaurant Good World (what could be better than a Swedish dinner in Chinatown in New York on Xmas Eve?). There are usually blockbuster movies released that week, so if you enjoy escapist fare, you can entertain yourself at the theater. Millions of New Yorkers spend Xmas day at the movies; you will be in good company.

Every bar, club and restaurant in the city will have an event for New Year's, some free and some with a cover charge. There will be listings when it gets closer, so check Time Out magazine. Lots of people walk over the Brooklyn Bridge (there are fireworks to see), so that's easy fun if you want to avoid Times Square. There will be concerts and special midnight yoga and all sorts of things to do.
posted by xo at 2:11 PM on September 22, 2008

What about ice skating at Rockefeller Center?
It's classic a NYC Christmas activity!

Also, go to NY City Music Hall and see the Rockettes.

Don't miss the Macy's Christmas windows, either.

Bundle up and take a carriage ride through Central Park.
Then have a hot toddy at the Plaza Hotel.
posted by SallyHitMeOntheHead at 2:22 PM on September 22, 2008

If you want to dabble a bit beyond the Catholic service, definitely consider one of Redeemer's Christmas services. Self-plug for my own church here but the Christmas service music is out of this world (classical, fyi).

Also I'd rather pluck out my own eyeballs with a grapefruit spoon than be in TS on NYE. We'll probably be throwing a semi-low-key party at our place, you have only to mefi mail me for an invite (assuming it happens).
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2008

go to NY City Music Hall and see the Rockettes.

I think you mean Radio City Music Hall? Around Christmastime/New Year's is one of the busiest tourist times of the year. I used to work in Times Square, and the crowds on the sidewalks would get thicker and thicker as New Year's Eve approached, and then everybody would disappear by January 2nd. This means you should book hotels, buy tickets for Broadway shows (and the Rockettes), and make reservations for tours and restaurants well in advance. The best restaurants in NYC book up a month or so in advance. Taxi cabs may also be more difficult to hail, so adjust travel plans accordingly.

Most of the classic things to do have already been mentioned, but I could encourage you to see more holiday displays than just the ones at Macy's, go look at the origami Christmas treet at the American Museum of Natural History, stop in the holiday shops at Grand Central or Bryant Park, drink lots of fancy hot chocolate, and also stop by the (private) Gramercy Park for Christmas Eve caroling, as it is the only time of year they open the gates to the public.

As for Christmas Day itself, there's typically plenty to see, do, eat, and drink. I might even take Christmas Day as an excuse to trek out to the thriving Brooklyn or Queens Chinatowns, as the Manhattan Chinatown is sure to be slammed.

Late December is also one of the best times to visit NYC; there's just something magical in the air. Don't be afraid to chat up your neighbors at a restaurant or bar, you're going to have a wonderful trip!
posted by kathryn at 3:14 PM on September 22, 2008

Oh, the mention of Chinatown reminded me of the classic modern Jewish observance of Christmas Day in New York: see a movie and go out for Chinese. All the new movies open on Christmas Day! Even growing up in metro NJ, I've seen a couple Christmas Day movies.
posted by Miko at 4:04 PM on September 22, 2008

Skip the Rockettes unless you enjoy looking at 20-yr-old felt costumes and listening to 50-yr-old jokes. Ask yourself if watching midgets skate is your idea of entertainment, and make the call.

Go to Grand Central Station and shop at the Christmas fair there. Go to the Morgan Library and see the Babar exhibit. Visit Saks 5th Avenue for the decorations. Stare at the Chrysler building. Shop at the Pearl River Market in Soho. Take one of the great tours at the Tenement Museum in the Lower East side. Eat lunch in the Village, and have a Korean dinner in the Garment district. Go to the Strand Bookstore. Walk in Central Park.
posted by acrasis at 4:53 PM on September 22, 2008

Arrange a Mefi Meetup!
posted by nax at 5:15 PM on September 22, 2008

Skip the Rockettes unless you enjoy looking at 20-yr-old felt costumes and listening to 50-yr-old jokes.

Actually, I've seen it several times over the years, and last year's was by far the best. They have a new artistic director, new costumes, new routines, and a lot of new set pieces. I mean, it's cheesy and a crowd-pleaser; but they don't call it a "Spectacular" for nothing. It's a damn good show that will make you go "whoa!" more than once. And the interior of Radio City is worth seeing - it's a Deco palace. If you're in the mood for this, and in the right spirit, it won't disappoint.
posted by Miko at 7:47 PM on September 22, 2008

Hi nicolas léonard sadi carnot, I live a few minutes from Times Square, in Hell's Kitchen. Been to several Times Square New Year's Eves. Bitterly cold and not really fun unless one is with a friend to laugh at the absurdity.

As a person without family to get together with in NYC I've had to find a way to do national holidays in the least painful, least lonely way possible.

Wouldn't recommend St. Patrick's on Christmas Eve because of the incredibly loooooong line, in the cold, for hours.

New Year's Eve, if you haven't found anything, give me a call. You can watch the ball dropping ceremony from my rooftop with neighbors. Must arrive by 4pm because the streets are blocked off to Times Square by very stern cops by 5pm, a whole 10 block radius, completely blocked off.

If you go to Times Square, you'd be in the cold, waiting for those 10 seconds for the ball to drop, for 7 hours. No place to pee. Drunks violent, many pickpockets.

Christmas Eve suggestions, same churches Christmas Day.:

December 21 approx Winter Solstice ceremony, must buy ticket, at Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 112th Street by Columbia University. Friendly, hippie-ish. Music, friendly people.

Christmas Eve: 10:30pm Church of the Heavenly Rest (Episcopal) on Fifth Avenue and 90th Street has a really beautiful Midnight Mass. A really beautiful, big church. Get there about 10:30pm, earlier or later ok. Excellent choir, they hand out a little folder with the words to carols, always space to sit, everybody sings. Easy to get a cab afterwards.

Christmas Eve 11pm: Catholic Church, St. Malachy's - the Actors' Chapel, on 49th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. Midnight Mass on Christmas, locals, pretty full, lots of carol singing. Easy to go to a restaurant or have a drink afterward as it's in the heart of the theater district.

Christmas Eve: 11pm Church of St. Mary's the Virgin (Episcopal), known as Smoky Mary's for the amount of incense they use. On West 46th Street. Also great Christmas Eve service, carol singing).

For Christmas Day lunch, make a reservation now. Restaurants in Manhattan.
posted by nickyskye at 8:35 PM on September 22, 2008

*St. Malachy's Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
posted by nickyskye at 9:11 PM on September 22, 2008

see a movie and go out for Chinese

The problem is that everybody does this, so the Manhattan Chinatown is jam-packed, hence, my recommendation to go to an outer borough Chinatown. I like Flushing, Queens, myself.

For Christmas Day lunch, make a reservation now? What restaurants have actually opened their books this far in advance? Most only keep the next 28 to 31 day range open in their books.
posted by kathryn at 9:12 PM on September 22, 2008

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin (fondly called "Smokey Mary's") is an Episcopal Anglo-Catholic) church within the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

What restaurants have actually opened their books this far in advance?

21, where an old friend friend has been taking me the last decade on Christmas Eve. (No idea what the poster is looking for).

Some of the better Christmas lunch/dinner places are booked months in advance.

Holiday restaurants.

Shun Lee West

Christmas & Christmas Eve Dinner Options

For downtown, mostly Lower East Side, friendly bars :
The Other Room
The Spotted Pig
Bourgeous Pig
The bar at the Tribecca Grand Hotel
Merc Bar
The Sunburnt Cow (Australian Bar)
Tapeo 29
Punch and Judy's, the Basement
Delancey Bar
Mercury Lounge
Clinton Street to Orchard (east to west) and Houston to Delancey (north to south)
posted by nickyskye at 9:37 PM on September 22, 2008

Indian restaurants are MUCH less crowded than Chinese on Christmas. I live 12 blocks from the north end of Times Square and I had to show my ID to a cop in order to get home last year (I'd gone to a movie that ran past midnight near Lincoln Center). This year I want to be far away, but I have no idea yet where that will be.
posted by brujita at 10:01 PM on September 22, 2008

Thanks everyone, some great suggestions. I´ll probably go to a service Christmas eve, have a late supper afterwards, then see Will Smith punch an alien or two on the day itself. Still pondering New Year´s, but I´ve certainly got a better idea of the options now.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 10:09 PM on September 22, 2008

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