Six Thanksgiving Activities That Don’t Involve Eating or Shopping


As previously determined (by me), Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year: the food, the family, the food, the gratitude and giving back, the food, the friends, the food… you get the idea. But even if you and yours partake in the longest, most relaxing Thanksgiving meal in history, that still leaves plenty of time that day–and even more plenty of time all of the glorious four-day weekend–to get out and about and enjoy the start of the city's most festive season. Plus: kids and grownups alike might need to blow off some steam after (or before) a day indoors eating stuffing and pie. Here, then, are a few of the many holiday-kick-off activities going on around town. 


Holiday Train Show at Grand Central

If you can't make it up to the Bronx over the weekend for the big Botanical Garden Train Show (and, note, the Garden is closed on Thanksgiving day itself), the next best thing is to hit up the smaller but still delightful Grand Central Terminal version. Now in its thirteenth year and set up in the NY Transit Museum Gallery near the entrance to the Times Square Shuttle, the 2014 Grand Central Holiday Train Show features two levels of tracks, vintage Lionel trains from the museum's collection (including rare New York Central models), a 34-foot-long miniature NYC with landmarks galore, and, of course, the train's "destination", the North Pole. One word of caution: Grand Central on Thanksgiving Day, especially in the early afternoon, is as crowded as you will ever see it. Photo by Becca.


Radio City Christmas Spectacular

If you want to go full tourist (or if you are hosting out-of-town guests who insist on doing the same), it doesn't get more NOT-locals-only than the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Although, as the New York Times points out in its semi-rave (really!) of the 2014 edition of the holiday classic, these days the Christmas Spectacular is "almost as much a celebration of New York as it is of the holidays. The message: You are so lucky to be here at this time of year." Truth. And although there are some hoary numbers–the show's been going on since 1933, after all–they apparently do their best to update things, with "giant GPS-guided snowflake bubbles" and 3-D sleigh rides. The highlight, however, remains the Rockettes, and their iconic March of Wooden Soldiers number, which I can tell you from personal experience is far more impressive (and fun) live than on TV. There are three performances of The Christmas Spectacular on Thanksgiving, at 2:00, 4:30, and 8:30, and then pretty much non-stop through the New Year.          


South Street Seaport Tree Lighting

In what seems to be the first of the city's many (many) tree lighting ceremonies–the granddaddy of them all, the Rockefeller Center tree, gets the live-TV star-studded treatment on Wednesday evening, December 3–the South Street Seaport will illuminate its fairly modest but appropriately festive tree on Tuesday, December 2nd, at 6:00. There will be live bands, food trucks, a light show, hot chocolate, and, if you live down here, all of your friends and neighbors. But BEFORE then, starting now and all through Thanksgiving weekend and beyond, the tiny but fun Seaport ice skating rink is an easy family adventure, not nearly as jammed as Rock Center (or Bryant Park, see below), and a good excuse to get the troops out of the house for a while. Photo by Michael Dunne. 


The Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center  

Although not Thanksgiving- (or "holiday"-) themed per se, the annual Big Apple Circus has set up its tent in Damrosch Park at the back of Lincoln Center, and will be wowing folks with their intimate staging ("no one seats more than 50 feet from ringside!"), aerial wizardry, and signature silliness through the New Year. The show this year–their 37th!–is called Metamorphosis and features the world-class contortionists Odbayasakh Dorjoo and Tatevik Seyranyan, the insane juggling and balancing skills of Rolla Bolla, Nadine and her Bubbles, and the Quick Change hijinks of the Smirnov Duo. There are still tickets available for the 1:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Day show, but if that's right in the middle of your turkey-basting duties, you should definitely try to make room at some point this season for these guys. From what I hear, the Big Apple Circus is a guaranteed winner for the whole crew.    .    

New York City's Bryant Park skating rink is open on Thanksgiving

The Winter Village at Bryant Park 

Speaking of ice skating, the spacious and rightly-popular rink at Bryant Park Rink is now open for the season, as is all of the surrounding pop-up shops and food booths (more on NYC's booming holiday market business next week…). As always, the trick to enjoying the Bryant Park rink is NOT coming here at prime time, which means nights and weekends (Thanksgiving Day, when it's open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., could go either way, crowd-wise). And make sure you bring your own lock and no bags that you'll be forced to expensively check, otherwise the cost of your fun will quickly escalate. But if you time it correctly, there is no prettier spot to skate in the city. Plus, the area now has that new Blue Bottle Coffee and, if you're playing hooky and are there on a weekday afternoon, the peerless Alidoro sandwich shop. 

Penguins at the Central Park Zoo

Hang out with animals you are NOT eating, at NYC Zoos 

Somewhat surprisingly, all of NYC's zoos are open on Thanksgiving, including the most conveniently located for Glenwood residents, the Central Park Zoo. Admittedly, I haven't been here since my kids were little (and when I was a kid I might have set the record for "Most Times In a Row Down the Peter Rabbit Log Slide", much to the I'm sure severe boredom of my grandmother), but all signs indicate that it's in good shape, and an easy way to entertain the kids for a couple of hours. The Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, the Bronx Zoo in the Bronx, the Queens Zoo in, uh, Queens, all also open. But if you're feeling especially ambitious, the smart move might be to check out the NY Aquarium, located right on the boardwalk in Coney Island, which has to be far less crowded now that it is during the summer.     

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