PEACE, LOVE AND LIGHTS, Bethel Woods (the actual site of Woodstock). Photo: New York Makers
Not even Frank Capra could spin 2020. While the holiday season is traditionally a time of bringing together as many loved ones as possible to toast the ending of one year and the dawn of another, to gather closely and sing holiday songs, to crowd onto couches under blankets to watch classics like Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, all of those wholesome G-rated activities suddenly feel illicit and loaded with danger.
While you may not be able to see your clan this season — except on Zoom, of course — you can still have fun celebrating the holidays solo or with your pod in surprisingly traditional fashion. And although the resurgence is absolutely happening in New York State, businesses are — with support and help from local officials — putting together communal events with social distancing and hygiene prioritized.
When you do venture out, plan ahead and please only do so if you’re feeling well and are armed with masks, sanitizers, and snacks to prevent unnecessary stops. Please read on for our top picks for safe holiday fun.
Please let us know if there are more must see places not already on this list.
BRONX ZOO, Bronx, NYC
The Bronx Zoo in NYC has been transformed into a fantasy land of ice and light. There will be ice carving competitions, five different glittering lantern safaris with glowing gorillas and sharks (these happen when the real animals are snoozing), holiday treats, stilt walkers, and more. Select dates now through January 10; tickets are $34.95.
JUNGLE BELLS, Harpursville
Wild adventures are also on tap at Harpursville’s Animal Adventure, located near Binghamton. On Thursdays, a drive-through experience delivers the Jungle Bells safely to families in the comfort of their own cars, featuring a mile drive through half million lights shining bright, including a 200-foot lit-up tunnel and a vast Winter Wonderland. Fridays through Sundays, visitors can walk through Animal Adventure and visit hundreds of animals. Prices vary, and reservations are recommended.
Photos: Jungle Bells
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, Binghamton
And while you are in the area, every year, the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton puts on an incredible holiday display, and this year is no different. The COVID-inspired changes include reservations being required so that time tickets can be issued, ensuring a limited number of visitors and time and space to stay safe and keep everything disinfected. This year, the display will include an array of elaborately decorated trees in the International Forest, which shows holiday traditions from around the world. There will also be mansion tours and entertainment on offer, and the beloved gift shop — brimming with art, jewelry, and unique toys — will be open.
SEE THE TREE, Manhattan, NYC
You know the one. Every year, from near or afar, everyone waits to see what the tree in Rockefeller Center looks like. This year, the tree — a 75-foot Norway spruce — will be lit with 50,000 LED bulbs from 6 am to midnight every day. The plague-dampened lighting was closed to the public, and visiting the tree is strictly limited, with dedicated viewing zones, mask rules, social distancing enforced, and a five-minute tree viewing limit. Maybe just check it out online?
Photo: New York Makers
FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS, Hamburg
A drive-through LED light display feels 2020 in the best possible way. At the Fairgrounds in Hamburg, visitors will find a two-mile long North Pole with illuminated streets and buildings, Santa Workshop, and fireworks. Organizers stress that people should remain in their cars at all times, and encourage participants to bring hot chocolate, popcorn, and other treats. $15 per car.
FROSTY FESTIVITIES, Ulster Park
While the hayride and some of the cozier interactive activities have been shelved, Frosty Fest, held in Ulster Park, in 2020 is doubling down on winter fun. Visitors can take part in meet and greets with Dasher the Reindeer, check out Frosty’s musical light show, stroll down Candy Cane Lane, and drive through the Enchanted Forest. There are a lot of other displays to explore, both from the car and in person. Prices vary, reservations are required.
Photo: A Frost Fest
DYKER HEIGHTS’ AGLOW, Brooklyn, NYC
Dyker Heights lights itself up every year, and 2020 is no exception. Almost every house gets in on the action, with some festooning every inch of visible home and property with lights of various hues and brightness, and others going the inflatable holiday accoutrement route. Either way, it’s delightfully gaudy, an all-American embrace of over-the-top, and worth a visit. Walk the streets (Dyker Heights Boulevard from 83rd to 86th street), or drive them, and be ready to be tickled red and green. Free.
Photo: Dyker Heights
VISIT THE NORTH POLE, yes, North Pole
The North Pole is nestled in the foothills of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks (guessing many of you did not know that!). While Santa’s workshop won’t be open for visitors this year, and blowout Yuletide Weekends have been shut down, special family weekends are on offer for families looking for some safe, in-person contact with the Big Man and his crew. There will also be a very limited opportunity for Breakfast with Santa this year. Reservations for all are recommended, and prices vary.
Photo: Santa's Workshop, North Pole
PEACE, LOVE AND LIGHTS, Bethel Woods (the actual site of Woodstock)
Experience the groovy Peace, Love and Lights show in Bethel Woods, the actual site of Woodstock, from the contact-free comfort of your car. Turn off your headlights and “follow the magical glow” through over a mile of illuminated lights! Displays include a 120-foot Twinkle Tunnel, Enchanted Forest, Santa’s Workshop, and more! After your drive, you can stop at the Market Sheds to shop, eat, and drink (outdoor seating only) for the holidays next to a warm fire. It is also possible to have Dinner with Santa and/or enjoy live caroling from the Sullivan County Dramatic Workshop on certain Saturday evenings. Family Fridays in the Holiday Hub are scheduled through January 1 from 5 - 9 pm, with scavenger hunts, live music, storytelling, and more. Purchase tickets online in advance.
Photo: New York Makers
Even if you can’t travel anywhere this year, MEET SANTA right from your home!
Kris Kringle will be taking visitors online this year. Since 1977, Santa has been sleighing down to Herald Square to hold court in Macy’s famed Santaland, featuring holiday trains, festive décor, pictures with Santa, and stressed-out and over-stimulated parents and children. This year, in what may seem like another curse, but may be a blessing in disguise, Santaland at Macy’s is going virtual. Visitors from all over the country can visit the 13,000-foot display and go on an interactive journey, which culminates in a selfie with the Cheermaker in Chief. Free!The holidays won’t be the same this year. But it can still be a Wonderful Life.