America · Immigrant stories

Celebrating Christmas In New York City

Christmas time, as I imagined it growing up, was all about beautiful decorations, lots of sparkly lights, church, snow and lots of presents. It was probably one of the reasons that I was most excited to move to New York City. Being in ‘the West,’ and in the cold, snowy parts were going to have their perks!

White Christmas, presents, lights and a tree- Just as I dreamed.

I landed in August and by the time December rolled around, I had forgotten how excited I was about that holiday. Stress, work, adjusting to a new country, freezing in the cold, everything made all the excitement disappear. But by mid December, things looked different.

Being a teacher, I had finished most of the reports for my students, I had completed all of the lessons and despite the days getting shorter, the anticipation of having 2 weeks off was growing. When I started getting my first presents before the school term ended, it began to feel a lot like Christmas!

One of the first things I learned about life here, is that I had to be politically correct.
Even if I was wishing somebody, for a holiday ( called, festival in India) I knew they celebrated.
Here, we do not say, ‘Merry Christmas!’ Instead we say ‘Happy Holidays’ here in the USA, to be politically correct. We include all the festivities of that time of year. We wish everyone “Happy Holidays” thereby encompassing, ‘Hannukha,’ ‘Kwanzza,’ ‘Christmas,’ and ‘New Years.’

Large Christmas Tree At Rockefeller Center
Menorah for Hanukkah.

The second thing I learned early in my life in the USA, was everyone was very happy and generous during this time of year. Most times the gifts were very extravagant. Everyone was happier in general. Food and drinks were festive, decadent and lavish.

You just eat a little more during the holiday season!
Hot Chocolate On A Cold Night
My homemade Chocolate Tiramisu Cups

The thing about this time of year is that people have holiday parties to plan, they coordinate photo shoots for their kids in holiday sweaters and are always asking the question, ” What are you doing for the holidays.” The most common answer is, ” We are going to spend time with our families.”
With my parents being back in India, my first three Christmas holidays were about hanging out, enjoying my break and exploring New York City.

When I got my 2 week ‘Holiday’ break in December, and I had time to wander about the streets of New York City, I was not disappointed with my dream of enjoying Christmas in the west. Beautiful Christmas trees decked the halls and parks, Salvation army volunteers rang bells and played Christmas tunes while collecting donations for those who do not have, lights sparkled and lit the streets that got dark by 4:30 in winter. Special Holiday markets popped up all over the city, enticing us to buy special gifts for family and friends. And in the suburbs, houses dawned themselves in lights and decorations.

One of the Pop Up holiday markets.
Pop up holiday market
At the holiday market, on a cold, snowy day.
House with Christmas lighting
Decorations inside stores

My first Christmas here was everything( besides the snow), that I had dreamed of.
At least up until the day actually dawned, that’s what I thought!
Then, when Christmas day rolled around, Ashwin and I exchanged small gifts and stepped out into New York to enjoy the festivities of the day.

To our shock, the city was empty!
There were a few stray people loitering around the streets, just as we were. Shops were closed and so were most restaurants. Things seemed eerily quiet, for Manhattan. We quickly, decided to go back home and hang out indoors, playing board games. It was such a waste of a day when I didn’t have to go into work!
The same thing happened the following year, but this time we watched a movie in the theater, which are usually open. The third year, we decided to go to a place known to celebrate Christmas- Christmas Town in Virginia, but that too was closed on Christmas Day, leaving us finding solace in an open Thai food restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Since then, we have been lucky enough to be invited to friends houses to celebrate Christmas with their families. But we have also figured out places to go to, to find things to do. Cinema houses, Jewish museums, Indian restaurants and some Chinese restaurants are some of the places that were open on the 25th of December. Having a car to get to different places, is a huge help on this holiday. Besides since parking is free, and roads are empty, going to find Asian places and other things is a lot easier!

Celebrating Christmas at a friend’s where Santa comes to visit. πŸ™‚
Making and giving personalized holiday ornaments.

This year, like the last, we decided to go up to Wentworth By The Sea, a resort near Portsmouth, NH, like many others that celebrated Christmas eve and Christmas Day. The resort has a lavish buffet spread with appetizers, entrees and dessert for families who chose to simply enjoy the festivities rather than cook a whole meal at home. The resort has families with grandparents to grandchildren all sitting together, exchanging gifts, talking and laughing together.

In my opinion, Thanks Giving Day and Christmas are particularly hard to spend, in the USA, when your family is some place else. I am happy that I now know the lay of the land and have options to enjoy the day I am off from workΒ .

This year I truly had a perfect 25th of December. I had a white Christmas, lots of lights, beautiful presents and not just my family to share it with, but several others too.

My Take–

  1. If you want to celebrate Christmas,
    Look online for places around you, that might have had family events.
    Bookmark them for next year. πŸ™‚
  2. If you just want to be part of some life and don’t care about the holiday,
    Look for Asian and Indian communities. They are usually open.
  3. If you just want to be by yourself,
    Go to the movies.
  4. Have your own tree at home and join in the festivities weather you celebrate Christmas or not.
  5. Invite an acquaintance over. Maybe they are wondering how to celebrate their day of, as well!
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4 thoughts on “Celebrating Christmas In New York City

  1. We love the holidays in the city, and you’ll laugh, but we love when the city empties out! It feels like you’ve been let in on a big secret πŸ˜‰

    But I also agree that the holiday season is tough when your family isn’t around, and making your own traditions definitely helps. So happy you were able to have a special Christmas this year. And those tiramisu cups look delightful!

    1. Trust me, Lynn, I understand.
      it’s amazing when the city is empty. Sometimes, I wonder if my favorite time of year, in Manhattan is from Jan 3 on. πŸ™‚
      However, I only feel this way, now! I know this country, I know how things work, I have friends, i have places to go, I have my traditions to look forward to.
      Which makes having quiet time valuable! πŸ˜‰

      I considered putting that part into the post, but found it better w/o that addition. πŸ™‚

      Having said that, I do like to be part of the holidays, the big meal and so on.
      Sometimes we just make our own– hence the tiramisu cups. Don’t worry, for Justin and you they will be filled with ice cream. πŸ’


  2. Hi Tara.. Beautiful penned, as always.. I love your attention to details πŸ™‚ And those tiramisu cups are just wow.. I lovee tiramisu, but have never dared to try them at home. Have a great year ahead. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Jo for reading the post. Tiramisu is not very hard to make at home. Beating the cream and sugar, can be a little painful, if you don’t have the right equipment. (Mine tasted a little different that the best one I’ve had in a restaurant!) But it’s home made and less guilt when I bing on it. πŸ˜‚
      Hope you have a great 2018 too! πŸ’•

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