Traditionally, the holidays are a time to pull your loved ones close, and commune and mingle with the broad community at large. The past few years have made some of the most joyful and innocent moments—public caroling, visits with Santa, convivial glasses of eggnog at the local pub—seem fraught with danger.
And while the rise and continued presence of COVID-19 has certainly presented its share of challenges, it’s possible to still have an incredible, fun and safe holiday season with that same spirit of community.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says it is safe to spend the holidays with family and friends, as long as you and your family are vaccinated.
“When you go to indoor congregate settings, go the extra mile, be safe, wear a mask,” he added. “But when you are with your family at home, goodness, enjoy it with your parents, your children, your grandparents. There’s no reason not to do that.”
It is also possible to venture forth and take part in some of the more traditional holiday extravaganzas put on across the Empire State as well. New York State, businesses are—with support and help from local officials—putting together communal events that are safe, with social distancing and hygiene prioritized.
When you do venture out, please only do so if you’re feeling well, and with a full stockpile of masks, sanitizers and snacks to prevent unnecessary stops. Please read on for our top picks for safe holiday fun.
BRONX ZOO, Queens
The Bronx Zoo in Queens has been transformed into a fantasyland of animals and light. This year, visitors will find an immersive light display, custom-designed animal lanterns, an animated light show sparkling across the zoo. The outdoor fun is complimented with live entertainers, seasonal treats and classic holiday music. Select dates now through January 9; tickets are $34.95.
JUNGLE BELLS, Harpursville
Further Upstate, wild adventures are also on tap at Harpursville’s Animal Adventure, and in 2021, they’re going bigger than ever. The extravaganza is one of the state’s largest holiday lights displays, with more than 1 million lights casting a merry glow. Visitors can stroll the grounds of Animal Adventure, take part in the seasonal holiday display and visit cold-tolerant animals. Look out for Oliver & Johari in the heated giraffe barn, say “hi” to Santa and the Snow Sister Princesses, and enjoy hot cocoa. There is also a three-night drive-through only event for those who want to stay safe in their cars. Prices vary, and reservations are recommended.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, Binghamton
Every year, the Roberson Museum and Science Center puts on an incredible holiday display, and this year, they pulled out all the stops. Home for the Holidays will feature hundreds of decorated trees, Holiday-themed displays and an International Forest. The collection of adorned trees and displays showcases holiday traditions from cultures across the globe. Mansion tours, craft workshops for kids and live entertainment will be available every weekend as well—plus seasonally themed Planetarium shows. Prices vary, dates running now through January 7.
MEET SANTA, virtually
Santa is ready to see the littles! 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. This year, Santaland is once again going virtual. Last year, the event was a huge success, and little ones may have enjoyed following Santa’s Elves on a trip through the North Pole virtually than shlepping all the way to Herald’s Square anyway. Santaland online also offers fun and engaging activities for kids of all ages, plus a chance to visit Santa’s Toy Shop and help the elves. The visit culminates in a selfie with the Cheermaker in Chief. Free!
SEE THE TREE, virtually or Rockefeller Center in Manhattan
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 79-foot Norway spruce—arrived from Maryland with a police escort. The 46-foot-wide, 12-ton tree will be lit with 50,000 LED bulbs, more than 5 miles of wire and topped with a 900-pound Swarovski star. It is lit from 6 am to midnight every day. The traditional tree lighting happened December 1, 2021, but access was limited. It’s always safe to see the tree online.
DYKER HEIGHTS HOLIDAY SHOW, Brooklyn
Dyker Heights lights itself up every year, and 2021 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. Best of all: bus tours are back from A Slice of Brooklyn, Dyker Heights Christmas Lights and other vendors. Free, plus ticket for tour if you don’t want to do a self-guided one.
A little drive-through LED light display feels 2021 in the best possible way. At the Fairgrounds in Hamburg, visitors will find two-mile long North Pole with illuminated streets and buildings, a Santa Workshop, fireworks. Organizers stress that people should remain in their cars at all time, and encourage participants to bring hot chocolate, popcorn and other treats. $15 per car, through December 31.
FROSTY FESTIVITIES, Ulster Park
The 2021 Season at Ulster Park’s Frosty Fest is on! There will be 12 attractions, including a drive-through experience, a choreographed light show on Santa’s Magical Mansion. Visitors can take part in meet and greets with Dasher the Reindeer, visit Blizzard the Polar Bear, take photos with Santa, 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.
VISIT THE NORTH POLE, the ADK
The North Pole is nestled in the foothills of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. This year, the fun returns with special evenings of activities and entertainment planned, including a Trim the Tree party with Santa and his helpers. You can also order personalized letters from Santa Dates, and schedule a one-on-one Zoom with the big man. vary, now through December 19. Reservations for all are recommended, and prices vary.
PEACE LOVE AND LIGHTS, Bethel Woods
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 Holidays Around the World, Snowflake Alley, the Groovy Way, Candy Cane Lane and the Enchanted Forest. After the drive, head to the Market Sheds to warm up with seasonal refreshments (including wine, hot toddies, hot cider, brisket melts and grilled cheese) and be dazzled by the Musial Mega Trees lights display.
If anything, it seems events planners are responding to the challenges of recent years by giving more, instead of less. Go forth and celebrate!