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Black Friday is a national symbol for two things: major sales (they were weak this year but that’s besides the point) and the official start of the Christmas season.

New Yorkers do Christmas like no other. Whether it be ice skating in Rockefeller Center, going to Fifth avenue to soak up the new winter fashion or seeing the Rockettes perform, every East Coaster has to visit NYC this holiday season. 

First, after you take the Amtrak or Metro North, you take the E or the 6 train to Rockefeller Center. This is arguably the most touristy activity you can do but you must see the tree. Go, take a picture with your friends, admire the lights, sip some cocoa — then you can leave. It’s pretty overwhelming but you must see the Rockefeller Tree at least once this season. Fun fact: the tree this year is a 80-foot tall, 43-foot wide Norway Spruce from Vestal, New York.

After that, you have some options. If you can, try to go ice skating in Rockefeller Center. However, you need a reservation and tickets usually sell out weeks in advance; But, maybe you’ll get a Christmas miracle! If not, hop on the B — or embrace your new-found New Yorker-ness and brave the 0.6 miles  — to Bryant Park to indulge in equally great ice skating at the Bryant Park rink. Regardless of where you go, you have to go ice skating this season in NYC. It’s a rite of passage for you to fall at least once, cause a traffic jam on the ice, be the reason a child falls and endure judging looks from disapproving native NYC skaters: embrace it.

After ice skating, minimal movement is a must. It’s the perfect time to observe many of the light shows NYC offers. First is the New York Botanical Garden GLOW. This outdoor light exhibit is in the Bronx and offers food, beverages and a 1.5 mile walk through the lights if you’re up to it. If you are willing to cross the river — which you should because NYC is more than Manhattan — Brooklyn has two outdoor light experiences you should see. The most notable is the Dyker Heights Holiday Lights. Although the neighborhood of Dyker Heights is not typically a tourist attraction, you must go see the light up life-size Santa, snowmen and realistic reindeer this exhibit offers.  This is the perfect photo-op if you want to be different from everyone with the Rockefeller tree. Next is the Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The lightscape is an illuminated trail filled with art from local and international artists all set to a myriad of colors and music to match the tone. 

On the way home, you should hit two holiday attractions in Grand Central Station. The Holiday Train Show at Grand Central is the most popular; It is making its first appearance since 2020 this year! The exhibit features trains rolling along a 34-foot-long, two-level track that passes through NYC’s iconic landmarks, including a mini Grand Central. Conveniently located in the New York Transit Museum Gallery & Store in Grand Central Terminal, Shuttle Passage, it’s a must-see before you catch your train home. Next is the Grand Central Holiday Fair: 75 local food vendors, merchants and small businesses congregate in Vanderbilt Hall until December 24. Be sure to check it out and buy some gifts for your loved ones. 

As you board your train home, you may have conflicting feelings. Did you just have the best Christmas in a place that isn’t your hometown? Did you succumb to the bandwagoning that is loving NYC during the holiday season? The answer to both is probably yes and it’s okay — it’s a rite of passage for all new East Coasters.