Jul in “The city that never sleeps”

Photo: Bryan Bedder / Nordstrom
Santa arrives by escalator at the NYC Nordstrom store.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

I love Christmas, especially in New York, where the lights seem bigger and brighter, ubiquitously strung throughout every neighborhood.

Window displays and decorations are taken very seriously whether you are the designer for Saks Fifth Avenue or are adorning your fire escape. There are surprises around every corner and new delights to experience.

And it’s not to be forgotten that many of our Christmas customs originated in the far North of Europe. Mistletoe and New York are a winning combination so why not enjoy!

O, Christmas tree!

What would Christmas in NYC be without the tree at Rockefeller Center? Flanked by trumpeting angels looking west or the Saks light show and epic windows looking east, it is a must.

This year’s tree, a 77-foot 4-ton Norwegian spruce, was grown in Florida, N.Y., by Carol Schultz. This particular breed of tree dominates at the “Rock.”

Schultz shared with New York’s News Four that when she originally planted the tree in 1959, it was only 4 feet tall and stood on her coffee table. She didn’t think it would take, but she was able to later plant it outside and grew into the magnificent tree it is today.

The Rockefeller tree has been a tradition since 1931, when, during 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. I recommend that you go as late as possible to avoid the crowds.

I also suggest you go inside the building to admire the murals that Norwegian-American artist Bernhard Berntsen had a hand in creating. He was the model for one of the workers depicted in the mural. Besides being an artist, Berntsen was an ironworker, giving him a bird’s eye perspective of the emerging city.

An inside view of Frozen 2

Don’t miss Saks Fifth Avenue’s windows featuring the characters from Frozen 2. There is also a wonderful light show projected on the facade of the store, inspired by the film.

Inside the store is “Disney’s Frozen 2 Enchanted Forest Experience,” where you get to meet the Frozen characters. Currently, the exhibit is sold out, but you can put yourself on a waiting list.

Why not pair this experience by hitting a local cinema to watch the Frozen 2 film with your little ones or on your own?

Wonderful windows

Definitely head along Fifth Avenue to see Cartier’s, Bergdorf’s, Tiffany’s, and all the other high-end purveyors of wares for Christmas displays that go all out in decking the halls. Madison Avenue is also a must, and Lexington Avenue is recommended for its small charming shops.

As polar bears are found in the Norwegian Far North on the island of Svalbard, don’t miss the polar bear windows at David Yurman’s at 712 Madison Avenue.

Photo: Peter Cruise / Flickr
The tree at at Rockefeller Center is a hub of activity in NYC each year.

According to the store’s website, “It is like entering an ice cave.” Shintaro Okamoto of Okamoto Studio is an ice sculptor, who assisted in creating the windows. One scene even includes an icy spider web. It certainly is the year of all things “Frozen.”

And David Yurman is supporting a great cause, with part of the proceeds for select purchases, both in the shop and online, going to Polar Bears International.

Julemat and more

Food is an essential part of Scandinavian holidays, and you have several options to enjoy in NYC.

Indulge in a Julefrokost (Danish Christmas brunch) at Claus Meyer’s (a founder of the New Nordic Cuisine movement) in Grand Central’s lovely Vanderbilt Hall on Dec.16.

While you are there, why not check out the popular “Holiday Fair” across the hall to pick up gifts and perhaps something for yourself from one of the 40 participating artisans.

A short walk from the hall within this magnificent structure is a branch of the Transit Museum that has its annual Holiday Train Show. This year’s exhibit is set against a mural designed by cartoonist Julia Wert.

The museum’s collection of Lionel trains includes Metro-North, Polar Express, and vintage subway train sets that make their way past New York landmarks and on to the North Pole! The exhibit runs through December.

A stop at Scandinavia House

Scandinavia House is located just a few blocks from Grand Central and is also a must. This calm space offers a reprieve from the hustle and bustle just a few blocks away, and it is a perfect place to purchase traditional Nordic Christmas ornaments, baubles, and one-of-a-kind gifts created by artists.

The entrance offers many items for sale, but don’t skip the shop in the back of the main floor: it is surprisingly chockablock with unique items.

You can also grab a piece of delicious marzipan “Princess Cake” with a robust cup of coffee or an entire meal at the popular Smörgås Chef café.

Christmas Eve

As for many Scandinavians, attending the 11 p.m. service on Christmas Eve after sharing an amazing meal is part of my family’s rituals

Many Norwegian Americans attend service at the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Manhattan at 317 East 52nd Street. In this case, the service is held first at 4 p.m., followed by the feast. Registration beforehand is required.

Happy New Year!

Bring in the New Year with fellowship and cheer on Jan. 1, 2020, at 4:30 p.m. at the First Free Evangelical Church, aka 66th Street Church in Brooklyn.

Founded by Norwegians, the church organizes a New Year’s Day tradition that is truly Scandinavian: a Juletrefest. All join hands and circle around the Christmas tree singing carols; a warm and wonderful camaraderie envelops.

The event ends with the best homemade desserts this side of the Atlantic—and coffee, of course.

This article originally appeared in the December 13, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Victoria Hofmo

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.

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