ARMCHAIR TRAVELS – THE HOLIDAY SEASON IN NYC

Welcome to Armchair Travels, an invitation to travel around the world through the reportage illustration of Studio 1482We have gathered art from our travels to share with you in the hopes that, while you can’t get out and see these places (yet), our experiences may bring some happiness and light to your day. Please check back often as we will be posting new adventures weekly. Enjoy the holidays in New York City…by Veronica Lawlor.

As a life-long resident of New York City, it is hard for me to separate the idea of the holiday season from the city that does it up right every year. This year, due to Covid19, many of these revered NYC holiday traditions will be cancelled, or presented in digital form. So I thought it might be nice to time-travel for this edition of Armchair Travels, and visit the ghost of NYC holidays past…

For me, the holiday season kicks off with Halloween, and if you’ve never attended (or marched in!) the Greenwich Village Halloween parade, I definitely recommend you check it out. These drawings were made one year when fellow Studio 1482 illustrator Margaret Hurst and I decided that it was just balmy enough to head down to 6th Avenue and capture the goings-on. (That’s her at right in the drawing below, sporting that snazzy headgear.)

The scene above pretty much sums up the energy of the parade – frenetic!

Really it’s a fun time, and the spectators are usually in costume as well as those walking in the parade.

It’s kind of like going to a Halloween party that just happens to be in the middle of NYC, with about 1,000 of your closest friends. :)

Oh and a parade happens too.

After Halloween, the holiday season in New York starts to pick up steam. Every year since 1924, Macy’s hosts a Thanksgiving Day parade which starts in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and ends at their flagship store on 34th St. and Broadway. According to the Museum of the City of New York, that first parade in 1924 featured three balloons, four bands, and animals from the Central Park Zoo (which scared the kiddies.) The first helium balloons debuted in 1927, and the rest, as they say, is history. The scene above is on 79th St. outside the Museum of Natural History, the staging area for the parade.

For years it has been a personal tradition to visit the streets surrounding the Museum of Natural History on the night before the parade to see the balloons being inflated. It’s quite the “Gulliver’s Travels” moment to see these giant denizens of pop culture laying on 79th St, tethered by the many ropes that will be used by the handlers to control them as they fly down Broadway the following day. Kids come looking for their favorites to squeal at –

“SPIDERMAN!”

“MICKEY MOUSE!”

“SPONGE BOB!”

“PAPA SMURF!”

I always liked the Snoopy balloon the best, and Felix the Cat was pretty cool too. Growing up as a kid in New York, we felt like the parade was ours, and we each had our favorite balloons. My Mom loved Bullwinkle, and when we were watching the parade on television we would call her out of the kitchen to come watch him float down the street with his big floppy antlers.

When I first started going to see the balloon inflation the night before Thanksgiving, it was more like a neighborhood block party, with mainly New York locals and kids who lived nearby selling hot chocolate off of card tables for 10¢ a cup. Now it’s become a major tourist event, complete with police barricades and throngs of visitors from countries as near as Nassau County and as far away as China. The guy in the drawing above was just one of many tourists taking a selfie with the Ronald McDonald balloon.

The last time that I went, the crowds were so large that it took us an hour just to get around the corner. Wow. I guess the locals will have their streets to themselves this year, wonder what kind of pre-parade event there will be, if any.

And then of course, there is the parade itself. These two illustrations were made years ago when I lived on the Upper East side of  Manhattan, near Central Park.  I had plans for later that day, but just could not resist running over to sit behind the park wall and make a few drawings of my favorite parade, on my favorite holiday, in my favorite city. I remember how warm the day was, and the brilliantly colored the leaves on the Central Park trees were. Plus there was a Kermit balloon that year – what could be bad?

Of course, if Halloween is the kick-off to the Thanksgiving holiday, then Thanksgiving is the official kick off to the holiday season of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa in NYC. The yearly Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is a beacon for all New Yorkers, as well as a reminder to the locals that it is again, time to stay out of midtown. Ha ha. The tourists are usually so thick this time of year that you have to swim upstream on 6th Avenue, and you can only cross 5th on certain corners at certain times.

Seriously, it’s serious.

But even though it can be difficult to move through the crowds, I find that it isn’t the holidays for me without a few trips to Rock Center to see the tree and all the beautiful decorations around the skating rink. I think I did skate there one year as a child, but I’m not sure if it really happened or if it’s just a dream.

And of course, it would not be the holiday season without the holiday shopping in the city! I really hate shopping, but once a year at Christmas-time I actually enjoy it. There’s hot chocolate at the holiday market in Union Square or Grand Central, the shops on 5th Avenue decked out in ribbons and tinsel, a huge crystal snowflake hanging at 59th St., it’s cold but not super February-frigid, and there are white lights and beautiful decorations on every building and in every lobby. Including the Penn Plaza lobby that I drew, below, for an AMC holiday card one year. It’s such a special time in the city, I do understand why the tourists like to be here – I like being here too!

The Thanksgiving Parade will be virtual this year, I don’t know if there will be a tree at Rockefeller Center, and the holiday markets will probably not go up. But no matter, the holidays are always a special time in New York City.

It may be quieter this year, but my city always shines brightly. NY Strong! And happy holidays!

To see more Armchair Travels from the reportage artists of Studio 1482, please click HERE.

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