Christmas in NYC with Scandinavian twists

Christmas in New York

Photo: Michael Vadon / Wikimedia Commons
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a large Christmas tree placed annually in Rockefeller Center, in Midtown Manhattan. This one is from 2016.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Christmas in New York is a delight. When paired with Scandinavian twists, it cannot be beat. So many elements associated with jul originated in the Nordic countries, so it seems appropriate that they would merge in this city. For instance, small sized nisser, with rough wool hair covering their eyes and protruding noses, seem to have become the norm in two small businesses in my neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

On the larger scale, we have the Rockefeller Christmas tree; once again a Norway Spruce, this year known as Trigger, stands majestically at 72 feet. It hails from State College, Penn. The Rockefeller tree has been a tradition since 1931, when in the height of the Depression, construction workers on the site put up a 20-foot balsam tree, festooned with “strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans” as recounted by Daniel Okrent in his history of Rockefeller Center.

While there, why not go inside Rockefeller Center and gander at the enormous mural that Norwegian-American artist Bernhard Berntsen had a hand in creating. Berntsen is also depicted as one of the men in the mural. His other job was as an ironworker building New York’s skyscrapers, giving him a bird’s-eye perspective of the emerging city.

Make sure to check out the world-renowned Fifth Avenue’s windows. Begin at Saks directly across the street from the tree and gaze back at an illuminated multitude of the heavenly hosts framing the tree. Saks has a light show on its facade. Itsr windows will not disappoint with the opulent title, “Theater of Dreams.” There is a lot of construction on the ground floor, which is a shame since the space usually offers an elegant display of golden deer in white snow. By this time, you may need a little rest for your feet, so why not head to the Swedish coffee shop Fika on the fifth floor?

Other windows not to be missed along Fifth Avenue include Cartier, Henry Winston, and Tiffany’s, all of which have bejeweled the exteriors of their homes. Also, make sure to see Henri Bendel’s inside and out, as this iconic store is closing at the end of January after 123 years in business. This beautiful boutique must be entered to be appreciated, and make sure to see the second floor Lalique window. Lastly, Bergdorf Goodman’s cannot fail to awe with its explosive creativity. This year’s windows have the theme “Visual Feast,” with a pink cotton candy Queen Elizabeth and a gigantic gingerbread cuckoo clock.

Don’t miss Bloomingdales on Lexington and 59th, whose display theme is “The Grinch.” Within a man-made forest, there is also an opportunity to ice skate, a very Nordic sport, believed to have begun in Finland in 3,000 BCE using animal bones strapped to one’s feet. Here the skating is the polar opposite and delves into the future, which is “created from a slippery coating painted onto white floorboards, which authentically recreates the feeling of gliding gracefully in a pair of ice skates.” There is also a sleigh ride—the virtual kind. Scattered throughout the store are life-sized snow globes and a giant gingerbread house you can go inside.

Scandinavia House is offering a myriad of Nordic holiday experiences for children, with storytellers bringing jul folktales to life.

Catch a Santa Lucia program. All are invited to be enchanted by this most beautiful of Scandinavian traditions. The Scandinavian East Coast Museum, in partnership with the Ridge Creative Center holds an annual immersion in the holiday at Redeemer St. John Church in Dyker Heights. The event will be held on Friday, Dec. 14. From 4:30 to 5:45 p.m., there will be a craft activity and cookie-making. The procession begins at 6:15 p.m. For further information, please call (347) 860-1932.

A great place to shop for unique and handcrafted items is in Vanderbilt Hall, nestled in the majestic Grand Central Station. While there, check out the train show, the permanent shops, and of course the Great Northern Food Hall (located in the other half of Vanderbilt Hall), created by Nordic Food Movement legend Claus Meyers. The latter is offering a Julefrokost, a traditional Danish holiday lunch.

For a Scandinavian meal extravaganza, Aquavit will serve julebord brunch on Saturday, Dec. 15 and 22, and on Christmas Eve will feature an “all day julebord Christmas table.” Norwegian-owned Blenheim, a farm-to-table restaurant, will also be open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for a less substantial, but not less delicious, Nordic meal.

For a lovely and quaint way to end your holiday, I would suggest the annual juletrefest at the First Free Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge (whose roots are Norwegian), on New Year’s Day at 4:30 p.m. You get to dance around the tree singing carols. Coffee and amazing homemade Scandinavian desserts follow. A great and traditional Scandinavian twist to finish the season!

This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.