Christmas in New York 2020 – One We’ll Never Forget

The world's most energetic city takes a pause to recharge for the new year.

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If you’ve ever been to New York City during the holidays you know that it is a town which thrives on bustling crowds, over packed stores, honking traffic, gaudy light displays and Broadway musicals. If you’ve never been to New York City during the holidays, you’re one of the few. According to The Mayor’s Office, a typical year will see more than 62 million people visiting the Big Apple, with the U.K., China, Brazil, Canada and France being the countries most represented.

Xmas, 2019
Xmas, 2019

Of course, 2020 is anything but a typical year and as the entire world shuts down in response to a global pandemic perhaps no city will show the effects as much as Manhattan. A ban on indoor dining has shut down a large percentage of those restaurants who were already struggling to make ends meet due to Covid restrictions. There are no lines to get into Radio City Music Hall to view the Rockettes; no lines for The Empire State Building, no lines for TKTS (the ticketing booths which provide half price seats for Broadway shows). Madison Square Garden, billed as “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, home to the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and Big Apple Circus….is dark. There are no huge crowds in Little Italy or Chinatown or Central Park. Welcome to the age of Corona.

For the most part, New Yorkers have been almost fanatically compliant with the rules set forth by its governor, Andrew Cuomo. New York was hit first and hit hardest by the virus this spring, which made sense as international tourists combined with eight million locals on a daily basis. No city was a more popular travel destination for out of towners, whether it was flying in for some business meetings, attending the U.S. Open or wanting desperately to get a ticket for “Hamilton”. The desire to see New York helped make it a success. That success made it a prime target for the virus.

Central Park, 2019

Walking through Times Square on the night before Christmas Eve 2020 one can’t help but be struck by how few people there are in the streets compared to most years but there is also an acknowledgement that there are far more people out than one expected. True, there are no lines for Radio City, but there is a surprisingly long line outside Krispy Kreme’s Flagship Store in Times Square, one of the few eateries open. Vendors are still selling souvenirs with NYC logos on them and people are still buying them. Restaurant Row, the string of restaurants on 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues which features upscale places like Joe Allen’s and Becco, would ordinarily have massive waiting lists for customers looking to get in but this year most of them have closed. Still, there are a few intrepid souls putting up accommodations for outdoor dining and finding folk who are willing to face the cold in a show of support.

Restaurant Row

Going to see the giant Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center was always on the must-do list for this time of year. To keep the crowds from congregating those in charge made sure that anyone going to view the tree had to be six feet away from strangers (you could walk next to someone you knew, obviously) and there would be a five minute window in which you could take your pictures and then move on. We figured we would go at about 8pm, reasoning that most of the people who wanted to see the tree would want to see it during the day and perhaps there wouldn’t be any line. How wrong we were. A veritable army of folk were in front of us when we arrived at 49th Street and 6th Avenue. There were security guards everywhere, making sure that people followed the correct protocol.

And for those not wanting to face the 45 minute or so wait, there were always (smaller) alternatives.

There is no doubt that Covid has taken its toll on New York and the rest of the world. Here in Manhattan businesses have shut down, people have moved away, restaurants are bordered up for good. If and when the Stimulus Package (still being debated at this time), arrives it will come too late for parents to buy Christmas gifts for their kids, which no doubt would have aided toy stores, clothing chains and so forth. It is, in many ways, the bleakest holiday this city has seen in many a day.

But there is room for hope. If the new vaccine does what it is supposed to do and we reach a time when people feel safe again you will start to see the city open up. Broadway will come back and people will buy tickets. Museums and parks will re-open. Fans will flood Yankee Stadium, Citi Field and The U.S. Open. Some restaurants have been lost for good but others will take their place. And not to wish ill on anyone but did we really need THAT many Thai restaurants? THAILAND doesn’t have as many Thai restaurants as we do! The city will emerge again, bigger and stronger than ever. Just as it did after 9/11. Just as it did after the Wall Street crash. If you build it, they will come. Selfishly, however, I will admit to not wanting them to come back all that soon. I may finally get to see “Hamilton”.

All photos by T. Sportiello

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