Best NYC Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremonies

Great photo courtesy of

It’s getting to be holiday-season ritual time again here in New York City, starting this weekend with whatever you usually do on Thanksgiving. Eat at home? Eat in a restaurant? Shop? Pointedly NOT shop? Whatever your plans, we hope they come off without a hitch. Anyway, immediately after Thanksgiving all of the city’s Christmas traditions kick in, including countless tree-lighting ceremonies of varying degrees of fanfare and ancillary entertainment. And though you can certainly go see all of the trees during much, much less crowded times (aka ANY time other than during the ceremony), there is always something exciting and warm about these communal activities. Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of when the city’s best tree-lightning ceremonies take place this year…


The Met Christmas Tree and Neopolitan Baroque Creche

Wednesday – November 25th

Jumping the gun a bit, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveils its always-delightful candle-lit spruce on the day before Thanksgiving. High culture breaking the rules! The tree itself is pretty, covered in more than 50 silk-robed angels, but the real fun for kids is exploring (visually) the elaborate creche scene below: finding the shepherds and their flocks, all of the usual Nativity figures, and, perhaps most interesting, the 18th-century Neopolitan peasants and townspeople going about their day.


Winter’s Eve at Lincoln Square

Monday – November 30th

The Upper West Side’s Winter’s Eve is about much more than just a tree lighting, of course. Billed as New York City’s largest holiday festival, the five-block-long party features performances of all kinds (from jazz, classical, and mariachi bands to an 80s dance party to LED hula hoopers); tastings from more than 30 local restaurants (including Bar Boulud, Masa (really!), Breads Bakery, and A Voce); and lots of kid-specific activities as well. But, yes, there is also an extravagant tree-lighting ceremony, in Dante Park, with the Chapin Family and Laura Benanti presiding.


The South Street Seaport Tree

Tuesday – December 1st

As the area gets ever-more residential, the South Street Seaport’s tree-lighting ceremony–now in its 32nd year–get ever festive and family-friendly. The Christmas tree this year is a gigantic 60-footer, there will be lots of live music (the Mariners Temple Baptist Church Choir seems particularly promising), Santa will be around for photo-ops, and these days there are several solid food options in the area. On the pedestrian plaza at the eastern end of Fulton Street.


The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree:

Wednesday – December 2nd

The only way to see really the Rockafeller Center Christmas Tree being lit live (as opposed to on one of the jumbotrons they put up in the area that day) is to either get to Rock Center hours ahead of time OR know someone who’s a bigwig at NBC. If you can pull off either of these–and don’t mid hanging out with literally tens of thousands of other people–the Rock Center Tree is, of course, the biggest and most iconic of all NYC Christmas totems, and the lighting ceremony is solid bucket-list item.


Central Park’s Harlem Meer Dana Holiday Lighting

Thursday – December 3rd

Structured much like the excellent Halloween Pumpkin Flotilla, Central Park’s Dana Discovery Center Holiday Lighting festival features entertainment (communal caroling on the Plaza, ice-carving demonstrations, guest appearance by Santa), seasonal snacking on cookies and hot cocoa, and concludes with the lighting of the Tree Flotilla out on the always-lovely Harlem Meer.

Photo by Noel Y. C.


The Carl Schurz Park Holiday Tree Lighting

Sunday – December 6th

The out-of-the-way location in Carl Schurz Park ensures that this tree lighting ceremony is always pleasantly low-key and locals-only. You and your family can expect caroling, festive music from the Cantori choir and Orbit Brass quintet, candy canes and hot chocolate, and festive holiday feelings all around.


The Washington Square Tree

Lighting Date TBD

Finally, one of the city’s prettiest trees, the simple beauty framed by the Washington Square Park Arch, still doesn’t have an exact lighting date, but check back for details. You might also want to consider Washington Square Park’s Christmas Eve caroling, which is always a lovely event.        

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