New York’s Holiday Season 2021: What to Expect

Times Square will welcome back vaccinated guests for its New Years Eve celebration. Image Credit: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office.

After many closures last year, the holiday season welcomes back guests and spectators to New York City with some limitations. The COVID-19 pandemic greatly shaped holiday festivities citywide last year, with the cancellation of many live in-person events, restrictions to televised-only events, and closures of many beloved shows and attractions that draw thousands of visitors to New York City each year. After significant progress has been made in the fight against COVID-19, New York City is ready to welcome back holiday revelers.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will begin on Thursday, November 25th at 9 AM. Viewers at home can watch the parade live on NBC. 

Last year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade proceeded without a live audience and included some pre-taped performances, a reduced number of marchers, and handling of balloons by vehicles to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This year, the parade welcomes back live audiences. Parade spectators can find the route here with details on where public viewing will be available and where it is restricted. 

While parade participants are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, parade spectators do not need to show proof of vaccination to watch the parade. The city will be managing crowd control along the parade route.

The public inflation of the Macy’s parade balloons will be held Wednesday, November 24th from Noon to 6 PM in front of the Museum of Natural History. The entrance to the event will be at West 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue. Attendees over the age of 12 will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, and children under 12 can attend with a fully vaccinated adult. Masks will be required and social distancing will be encouraged

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be lit on December 1st . The tree lighting will be broadcast on NBC. 

The tree will be lit daily from 6 AM to 12 AM. On Christmas Day, the tree will be lit for 24 hours and on New Year’s Eve the tree will be lit from 6 AM to 9 PM. Details have not yet been released regarding public access for the tree lighting ceremony, but CityLand will update once that information is available.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Other Theater Performances

Last year, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Broadway shows were shut down for the holiday season due to the pandemic. This year, through the Key to NYC initiative, Broadway shows and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular are reopening, but require proof of vaccination for people 12 and older to attend. 

The Key to NYC requires proof of vaccination for people 12 and older for indoor entertainment, indoor dining, and indoor fitness activities. Contact theaters for more information about vaccine requirements and how to purchase tickets.

Holiday Markets

Holiday markets are popular holiday attractions across the city that are welcoming back visitors after last year’s changes and closures due to COVID-19.

The Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park is currently open from 11 AM to 8 PM daily through January 2, 2022.

Proof of vaccination is not required to visit the Bank of America Winter Village or skate at the rink, but will be required in enclosed private spaces like the Polar Lounge, the private party space inside the Skating Pavilion. As most of the dining options are outdoors, proof of vaccination would not be required to eat at the Winter Village. Individual shops will have their own requirements for mask wearing. 

The Rink at the Bank of America Winter Village is the only free admission ice skating rink in New York City. The rink requires timed entry with reserved tickets in advance, but there is no cost for admission. Skate rentals and paid bag checks are available. 

The Columbus Circle Holiday Market and Union Square Holiday Markets return this year. As the markets are outdoors proof of vaccination is not required to attend.  

The Union Square Holiday Market will be open from November 18th through December 24th. The hours are Monday to Saturday from 11 AM to 8 PM and Sundays from 11 AM to 7 PM

The Columbus Circle Holiday Market will be open from November 29th through December 24th. The hours are Monday to Saturday from 11 AM to 8 PM and Sundays from 11 AM to 7 PM. 

New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show returns November 20th through January 23rd. Tickets are now on sale. As the train show is indoors, proof of vaccination will be required for guests 12 and older. Proof of vaccination is also required to visit the Botanical Garden’s indoor exhibit and indoor dining spaces. 

Guests without proof of vaccination can still enjoy the Botanical Gardens’ outdoor exhibits, including NYBG Glow, a 1.5 mile-long outdoor light display at night. NYBG Glow will only be available on select dates: November 24, 26, 27; December 2, 3, 4, 9, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30; January 1, 6, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22. The display will be available from 5 to 10 PM on those dates. 

Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights 

The Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights are available from November 19th through January 9th. Tickets are now available.

At the Bronx Zoo, masks are required on rides and in all indoor areas for all guests over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are required of unvaccinated guests in outdoor areas where social distancing cannot be maintained. Proof of vaccination is required for all guests 12 and older to access indoor attractions and shops. 

Times Square New Year’s Eve

While the last New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square was restricted from in-person viewing due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, this year Times Square welcomes back spectators. Live spectators over the age of 5 must show proof of vaccination and a valid ID, in addition to going through the usual security checkpoints. Persons who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons must present proof of a negative COVID PCR test from within 72 hours of the event, and those attendees and unvaccinated minors must wear face masks for the duration of the event if medically able to do so. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the return of spectators to the Times Square ball drop on November 16th. He stated, “Yes, we are proud to announce the Time Square – wonderful celebration Times Square the ball drop, everything coming back full strength, the way we love it. Hundreds of thousands of people there to celebrate. We can finally get back together again. It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be a joy for this city. Now, let’s do it the right way and let’s do it the safe way. So, we’ve been working with our great partners in Times Square. We’ve been working with [the] Department of Health and NYPD to get this right. So, here’s how we’re going to do it. We want to welcome all those hundreds of thousands of folks, but everyone needs to be vaccinated. All you need to do is have that proof of vaccination and a valid photo ID, and you are in. Join the crowd. Join the joy. Join a historic moment as New York City provides further evidence to the world that we are 100 percent back.”

For those who cannot attend in person, the Times Square New Years Eve 2022 celebration can be viewed online at and on multiple television stations. Please check your local TV schedule for details. 

CityLand will update this story with further information as it becomes available. Please note the above information is subject to change in accordance with state and local guidelines. For more information about the Key to NYC requirement, click here. For more information about how to get a COVID-19 vaccine, click here.

We at CityLand hope you have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. 

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)

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