While LA is certainly home sweet home to this self-professed California girl, this time of year brings a certain fondness for my early years in New York City. There really is no place else like it during the holidays – at least in my growing-up memories.
Back then, New York City in December had a certain magic that I’ve not seen elsewhere since. I grew up about 30 miles outside its sparkling skyline, and the holiday season meant trips into The City to take it all in. To wit:
Legendary Fifth Avenue seemed dressed up in its holiday best, its store windows filled with magical, moving figures set in holiday scenes, with crowds at each one, transfixed by the show. From B. Altman at 34th Street and Fifth, to Lord & Taylor on 38th, to Saks Fifth Avenue on 51st, the street was one amazing holiday card brought to life. My mother and I would walk block after block, pausing at some point for lunch in one of the then-elegant department-store restaurants. No matter how cold it got (and it felt really cold back then), the promise of a hot pretzel from a street cart (something that has never tasted as good anywhere else) was all I needed to keep warm.
We would meet my father after his work day ended and then explore even more, the city now brilliantly aglow. There was the Rockefeller Plaza tree with its zillions of lights. A gigantic, invisibly suspended snowflake at 57th Street. Cartier, wrapped in a huge red ribbon; Tiffany, its windows overflowing with jewels (bigger and brighter in my young mind, I’m sure, than in reality); FAO Schwarz, its irresistible musical clock luring us in and its gigantic teddy bears and overflowing abundance of toys making it hard to leave.
New York offered far too much for one holiday excursion, though. I remember a Sunday afternoon visit each year to see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. While I had always dreamed of being a ballerina as a little girl, my shyness kept me from taking ballet lessons. But The Nutcracker gave my heart and my imagination fearless freedom, and I loved those performances dearly. Tutus, dancing candy canes, the luminescent Sugar Plum Fairy – and the soaring music. Thinking about it now gives me the same shiver of joy.
And then, of course, a trip to the magnificent Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes and a holiday movie. It didn’t matter much to me what the movie was. Seeing those dancers kick in absolute, perfect unison never failed to delight me. Santa arriving on stage afterward always seemed far less exciting than that amazing line of women.
Chrismastime in New York City back then was like the stars being aligned in a way long gone today. There was the cold weather, of course, meaning rosy cheeks, mittens, and the promise of snow flurries. There were the classic department stores. There was the idea of getting dressed up to go into The City. And there was, above all, a sense of innocence. The innocence of a little girl whose eyes got wider each time a new bit of holiday magic came into view. The innocence of a city that believed in the miracles of the season. And the innocence of feeling safe in a snowglobed world.
May we all find a few moments this holiday to feel that kind of innocent joy again. To laugh with family or friends or both. To welcome a bit of comfort into our days and magic into our nights. To remember our childhood dreams and to dream of good things to come. Happy holidays, one and all.
Visions of sugar plums, indeed.
©2022 Claudia Grossman