New York’s Holiday Season During a Pandemic: What’s Different?

The COVID-19 pandemic brings many changes to the NYC holiday season, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year, balloons will be operated by specially rigged cars instead of handlers like here at the 2017 parade. Image Credit: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NYC’s holiday season will look different than prior years. Some events have been outright cancelled, and some have been altered, with many opting for a virtual experience to prevent crowds to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

This year, to prevent the spread of COVID, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade will be broadcast-only. On November 26th, the parade will be broadcast on NBC from 9 AM to Noon. Similarly to the 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular, that was filmed around the city over several days to prevent crowds from forming, this year’s parade broadcast will consist of performances, balloons and floats that were recorded over the course of several days.

The parade will not go down the usual 2.5 mile parade route but will instead be a combined broadcast of balloons, floats and performances in front of the Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street. To ensure safety, staff and performers will undergo wellness checks and COVID testing, social distancing and facial coverings will be required during set up and performances, and the majority of participants are from the New York tri-state area to limit travel.  

High school and college marching bands that were previously selected to participate will be scheduled to participate in the 2021 parade. Balloons will not be flown with multiple handlers but instead by specially rigged vehicles that were approved by the NYPD and the NYC Department of Transportation.

The public inflation of the Macy’s parade balloons, another popular tradition that usually occurs the night before the parade is also cancelled this year to avoid crowds. 

Macy’s Santaland, traditionally held at the 34th Street store, will not be taking place this year. Alternatively, starting November 27th families can visit the Macy’s website for an interactive online Santaland experience.

Rockefeller Tree Christmas Lighting

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree will be lit on December 2, 2020. The tree lighting will be broadcast on NBC from 7 – 10 pm, but there will be no in-person spectators for the lighting due to the pandemic. Moving forward, the tree will be lit daily from 6 AM to Midnight for visitors to see, and will be lit for 24 hours on Christmas Day. Masks are required in all public areas at Rockefeller Center. 

While capacity is limited, ice skating at Rockefeller Center is still available. Tickets are available here, and visitors are required to wear masks and encouraged to follow other safety protocol, including social distancing and washing hands or using hand sanitizer. 

Holiday Markets

Holiday markets are another popular holiday attraction across New York City that are also experiencing changes this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The holiday market in Bryant Park will continue in 2020, with fewer vendors and larger walkways than in previous years, like the 2019 holiday market pictured here. Image Credit: CityLand.

The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park will be open through January 3, 2021. The hours are from 11 AM to 8 PM on weekdays and 10 AM to 8 PM on weekends. The market will feature fewer vendors this year to allow for a reconfigured layout with larger walkways. Market staff will wear face coverings, use contactless payments and provide hand sanitizer. Visitors are required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing and handwashing stations will be available across the park. 

Ice skating is available in Bryant Park. Ice skaters who are bringing their own skates can book a time slot here. Ice skaters who require a skate rental can book a time slot and reserve skates here. Capacity is limited on the rink so each skater can only reserve one time per day. Reservations and payments are online only. For further information, click here.

The Columbus Circle and Union Square Holiday Markets will not be open this year. 

The Grand Central Terminal holiday market is virtual this year, and runs through December 24th. 

The Brooklyn Navy Yard Holiday Market is also virtual this year, and features local vendors. The market runs through January 3, 2021.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Other Theater Performances

This year, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular has been cancelled. Shows on Broadway will also be closed through the holiday season. 

New York Botanical Garden 

The New York Botanical Garden is currently open, but the Garden’s annual Holiday Train Show is limited to members, patrons, corporate members and Bronx Community Partners. Advance tickets are required. 

A piece featured at last year’s Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. This year, the show has limited capacity and restricted access. Image Credit: CityLand

The New York Botanical Garden also has a new outdoor holiday experience, NYBG Glow, featuring holiday lights, ice sculptures, music and more. The event is on November 27-28, December 5, 12, 18, 19, 26 – 30 and January 1, 2 and 9th from 5 to 10 PM. Advanced tickets are required. For more information, click here

Masks are required for all visitors to the New York Botanical Garden. 

Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights

The Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights display will be ongoing on select dates between November 20 to January 10. Tickets are required and must be purchased in advance here. Masks are required and hand sanitizer stations will be provided. The experience has been designed to control traffic flow and maintain social distancing. 

Times Square New Year’s Eve

Due to the pandemic, New Year’s Eve in Times Square will not be open to the public, but there will be live performances that can be viewed at home. 

Please note the above information is subject to change in accordance to state and local guidelines as cases continue to spread. CityLand will continue to update this article as information changes and becomes available. For our continued coverage of the City’s ongoing response to the pandemic, 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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