- In Pictures
- Meat Market
- Union Square
Your guide to Downtown December essentials
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Macy’s windows on the weekends and that lit-beyond-recognition Norway spruce clogging pedestrian traffic around Rockefeller Center, the good people of New York City know what overblown seasonal trappings to avoid. They know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. But do they recall the most famous Downtown holiday events of all? Yeah, probably…but just in case, here are some choice Yuletide activities as fit for a starry-eyed tourist as a grizzled native New Yorker.
FOR THE KIDS! Inspired by a precision model of the Brooklyn-built USS Monitor currently on display at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center’s BLDG 92, this Gingerbread Shipbuilding event challenges kids to construct a gingerbread version (which will be “commissioned,” then displayed throughout the holiday season). Along with bakers from Clinton Hill’s Le Petit Bakery, renowned model shipwright Dan Pariser will oversee the proceedings.
In addition to building supplies, kids will be given ship-shaped gingerbread cookies to munch. Families are encouraged to bring a new unwrapped toy or game, which will be donated to families affected by Hurricane Sandy. At 1pm on Sat., Dec. 15, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center’s BLDG 92 (63 Flushing Ave., corner of Carlton Ave. Take the F to York St. or A/C to High St.). Free for adults, $15 for kids. For info, visit bldg92.org/events.
Having presented acclaimed reimaginings of “Sleeping Beauty,” “Peter and the Wolf” and “Cinderella,” Dance Theatre in Westchester puts their stamp on Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet by placing the action in wintry colonial Yorktown during the Revolutionary War. “The Colonial Nutcracker” features the Sugar Plum Fairy dance and the Waltz of the Snowflakes everyone knows and loves, plus a red-coated mouse army and narration designed to enhance the experience of kids ages five and up. Sun., Dec. 16, at 2pm. Tickets: $10. At the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts.
Also at BCPA: Traditional Russian songs, dances and elaborate costumes are used to tell the story of why Grandfather Frost transforms a worthy young girl into “The Snow Maiden.” It’s performed in Russian with English subtitles, and recommended for ages six and up. Sat., Dec. 22, at 6pm. Tickets are $35-$50. To get more info and purchase tickets to both shows, visit brooklyncenteronline.org or call 718-951-4500. BCPA is located at the Walt Whitman Theatre at Brooklyn College (2900 Campus Road; 2/5 trains to Flatbush Ave.; on-site paid parking available).
SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT Holiday music transports us back to a simpler time — when people could sing in public without being judged by a three-person panel, then slowly eliminated through a series of mean-spirited call-in votes by the fickle American public. These events give voice to the most pitch-challenged among us, through singing with a large group or simply watching in silence as trained pros show how it’s done.
Founded in 1971 as a nonsectarian chorus, The West Village Chorale began its Greenwich Village Caroling Walk three years later — and they’ve never stopped strolling their historic, Dickens-like namesake neighborhoods while crooning seasonal carols and songs (except for those yearly breaks from January through November, which is totally understandable). The 2012 installment begins at 4pm, on Sat., Dec. 22, in the Meeting Room of Judson Memorial Church. Songbooks are passed out and the crowd goes on their merry way — then reconvenes at Judson for refreshments, conviviality and more singing. This is a free event (donations accepted).
Second only to Village caroling in the Chorale’s cannon of seasonal traditions is the Audience Open Sing of Handel’s Messiah. A general admission price of $15 ($10 for students) gets you a copy of the score, piano accompaniment, intermission refreshments and the chance to fill the atmospheric sanctuary of an 1890 Village landmark with your booming voice. At 3pm on Sun., Dec. 9.
The Chorale will hold its first holiday concert in several years on Sun., Dec. 16, with “A Village Noël.” The selections range from Gregorian chants to music of Medieval and Renaissance Spain to traditional and modern classics. Audience members can join the Chorale for a few familiar carols. MAYA, an acclaimed flute, harp and percussion trio, will also perform. At 5pm. Admission is $25, $10 for students.
All West Village Chorale events take place at Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South, at Thompson St.). For info, call 212-517-1776 or visit westvillagechorale.org.
“Christmas in Ireland: An Nollaig In Éirinn” features virtuosic musicians from the ensemble Danú performing a mix of authentic Irish music and contemporary works (using traditional instruments such as the tin whistle, fiddle and button accordion). Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh provides the vocals — and yes, there will be some lively Irish step-dancing! Free. Tues., Dec. 11, at 1pm.
Also at WFCWG (and also free), the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene performs “My Yiddishe Chanukah” at noon on Sun., Dec. 16. Combining traditional holiday melodies with hot klezmer tunes, musical director Zalmen Mlotek presents a lineup that includes Joanne Borts, Rachel Arielle Yucht, Dmitri “Zisl” Slepovitch, Avi Fox Rosen, Brian Glassman and Matt Temkin.
At World Financial Center Winter Garden (220 Vesey St.). For info on both events, visit worldfinancialcenter.com or call 212-417-7000.
On December 24, at 5pm, it’s a holiday card snapshot or Facebook posting in the making — as you gather beneath the picturesque Washington Square Arch and join the Rob Susman Brass Quartet in the singing of beloved holiday carols. Can’t remember all the words — or any of them, for that matter? No pressure: The Washington Square Association is providing songbooks. Free. At the foot of Fifth Ave., one block south of Eighth St. Visit washingtonsquarenyc.org or call 212-252-3621.
If the Dream Team were known for carrying a tune instead of dribbling a basketball, their starting players would be Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch. That’s actually two players short of a proper lineup…so in that respect, our sports metaphor crumbles — yet it’s still worth noting that during last year’s “A Swinging Birdland Christmas,” this sweet and cheeky trio with world-class pipes brought their A game and knocked it out of the park.
Poised to claim “Christmas Tradition” status, the third annual installment of thisshowbiz smorgasbord features music that harkens back to beloved seasonal variety specials (think Kay Thompson’s “Holiday Season” and “Sleigh Ride”), as played the Birdland Jazz Quartet (conceived by the immaculate Stritch on piano, with John Hart on guitar, Paul Gil on bass and Carmen Intorre on drums).
Just as formidable is the between-song patter, which manages to skate on a layer of ice thick with wit and thin on sarcasm (with a dusting of sincere niceties and naughty innuendo). Bonus Dream Team player: jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein will bring his sharp wit, droll delivery and nimble digits to the proceedings. If you can’t make these holiday gigs, the Stritch/Caruso charisma is on display throughout the year, at Birdland’s weekly Monday night “Cast Party.”
At Birdland Jazz Club (315 West 44 St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). For info, visit birdlandjazz.com or call 212-581-3080 Six performances only: Fri., Dec. 21 through Tues., Dec. 25. All shows are at 6pm, except for the Mon. & Tues., with 7pm & 10pm shows. The cover is $30, with a $10 food or beverage minimum.
OUTDOOR ACTION Our 3-D greeting card beats their big tree: The Flatiron Public Plaza’s oversized centerpiece is this season’s upstart alternative to Rockefeller,Center.
As we went to press, The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership was well into their “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” — whose press release came to us with a sassy diss of the Rockefeller Center tree and the confident assertion that “A New Month-Long FREE Holiday Tradition” would be anchored by the presence of a ginormous 3-D holiday greeting card strategically located in photo-op-friendly distance of the iconic Flatiron building.
The calendar of remaining events — curated with equal allegiance to hipsters, youngsters, foodies and pennywise culture vultures — include a children’s book reading (Dec. 9) an “Ugliest Sweater in New York Competition” (Dec.11), the distribution of pre-stamped holiday cards (Dec. 14), holiday-themed improve theater (Dec. 13) and jazz music (Dec. 19), face painting (Dec. 15), classic holiday caroling led by the Tada! Youth Theater (Dec. 16), a meet & greet with holiday characters (Dec. 18), candy cane eco-tote and holiday cookie distribution (Dec. 20, 21 and 23, respectively) and complimentary gift wrapping (Dec. 22). Kind of makes the ambitious agenda set forth in “Twelve Days of Christmas” seem a little thin in comparison, huh?
Most events take place on the Flatiron Public Plazas, at 23rd Street and Broadway. For a full schedule of events, visit discoverflatiron.org/holiday. Manyof the activities will benefit City Harvest, Food Bank for New York City, and First Book.
Eight can become one, according to new math as practiced by The New Shul. Downtown’s progressive synagogue has crunched the numbers, and come up with an elegant “Chanukiah Flashmob” equation. The purpose-driven, caffeine-fueled fun begins, appropriately enough, in front of your choice of eight Starbucks locations (from Broadway & Bond St., all the way to Union Square East). “Led by musicians bearing a branch of the light sculpture that will form our Chanukiah,” so saith the Shul, “each group will sing and dance its way to Washington Square Park, where the light sculpture will be assembled. The celebration continues at Grace,Church School with more music, dancing and holiday treats.”
Free. On Sat., Dec. 15 at 4:30pm, meet in front of the Starbucks at the 8 Points of Light location of your choice (groups leave at 4:45pm sharp). For the meeting locations and more info, visit newshul.org.
DICKENS OF A GOOD TIME Like Shakespeare plays and chocolate chip cookies, “A Christmas Carol” lends itself to endless interpretations without ever sacrificing the enduring appeal of its core components. In the case of that good old Dickens tale, it’s the notion of finding redemption through compassion — even if it has to be dragged out of you by three menacing spirits. No matter. When it comes to second chances, saved souls and scoring the fattest goose in town for your Christmas feast, the end clearly justifies the means. These four interpretations of “A Christmas Carol” all end with Scrooge seeing the light — but offer different takes on the path to his December 25 wake-up call.
For the third year running, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe has charged dozens of writers and performers with the task of bringing Dickens’ words from the page to the stage. “What The Dickens?” begins at noon, with Christmas caroling led by the New York City Master Chorale. Then, at 1pm, it’s every blessed word, beginning with “Marley was dead: to begin with” and ending with “God Bless Us, Every One!” Those scheduled to read include Kurt Andersen, Jami Attenberg, Jack Davenport, Lev Grossman, Aryn Kyle, Ann Leary, Patrick McGrath, Eileen Myles, Elissa Schappell, Rob Spillman, Lorin Stein, Emma Straub, Peter Straub, Justin Taylor, Baratunde Thurston, Lynne Tillman, Amor Towles, Simon Van Booy and Lee Woodruff. Throughout the event, all books are 10 percent off.
Free. Sat., Dec. 15, 1-4:30pm. At Housing Works Bookstore Café (126 Crosby St., btw. E. Houston & Prince Sts.). Visit housingworks.org or call 212-334-3324.
Trinity Church’s Theater at Trinity presents “Scrooge & Marley: A Reading” — its annual multi-generational, highly-participatory staged reading of Israel Horovitz’s adaptation of the Dickens classic.
Sun., Dec. 9, 1pm. At the Trinity Church offices administrative building (74 Trinity Place, btw. Thames & Rector Sts.). Suggested donation: $5. For info on this and other events, visit trinitywallstreet.org.
At Abrons Arts Center, “Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol” features Downtown theater legend Everett Quinton and four other performers who slip in and out of the story’s dozens of characters. Farrington, a former video designer for Wooster Group, mashes 35 different cinematic versions of “A Christmas Carol” with his live actors — blurring the distinction between performance and projection.
Along the way, Quinton’s onstage Ebenezer shares miser duties with everyone from Mr. Magoo to George C. Scott to Bill Murray — all of whom have their own takes on Scrooge. God bless them, every one!
At Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand St., at Pitt St.). Through Dec. 23. Tickets are $25, $15 for students/seniors. To purchase tickets and for a full schedule of performances, visit abronsartscenter.org or call 212-352-3101.
Music in Chelsea’s public reading of “A Christmas Carol” puts the action in a chamber music setting, and features actors from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania — all gathering to raise funds for the Saint Peter’s Food Pantry. Robert Frankenberry performs the role of Scrooge. Taking a page from the author’s premise that judgmental ghosts monitor our every move, the organizers vow that, “Mr. Dickens will oversee the proceedings from afar.” The audience is encouraged to join in singing newly minted carols and help with the sound effects (disconsolate spirits, sea and wind, etc,). Prior to the event, a PDF of the score, “Christmas Carol Choral Bits,” will available for download in the “Scores” section of rogerzahab.net.
Fri., Dec. 28 at 8pm and Sun., Dec. 30 at 4pm. At Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church (346 W. 20th St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). Tickets are $10, $5 for students/seniors.
It’s as Jewish as Chinese food and a movie on Christmas…except it has neither of those two wildly popular Chosen People activities. From 10am-4pm on December 25, the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s trailblazing, tradition-busting “Hava’n a Good Time” welcomes visitors of all ages for a day of music, crafts and…film.
Okay, yes, the 3:30pm screening of “Keeping Up with the Steins” counts as a Christmas Day movie. But honestly, there’s not a spring roll or a scallion pancake in sight! On the plate for sure, though: There will be a kid-friendly craft station where children can make mosaic-themed picture frames — and a 1pm concert by Metropolitan Klezmer. Since its first gig in 1994, this ensemble (led by drummer Eve Sicular) has specialized in performing a Yiddish repertoire influenced by world music, drinking songs, swing and tango.
Tickets for the concert are $15, $12 for seniors and students, $10 for members. The day-long event itself is free, with museum admission ($12, $10 for seniors, $7 for students, free for members and children 12 and younger). For reservations to the concert and more info on all museum events, visit mjhnyc.org or call 646-437-4202. At Edmond J. Safra Plaza (36 Battery Place).
“Why does everyone go crazy at Christmastime?” That’s the elusive question posed by Mark Finley’s “Christmas Moon.” What answers he’ll provide isn’t exactly clear — but the playwright does hint it might have something to do with temporary insanity, an ancient pagan curse or the mysterious machinations of the titular spherical object. This radio play for the stage is being presented the Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Reading series, which itself is presented by TOSOS — The Other Side of Silence (a modern incarnation of the pioneering theater company founded in 1974 by Doric Wilson, and revived in 2002 by Wilson, Finley and Barry Childs).
The reading takes place at 8pm on Sun., Dec. 16 — right after the TOSOS holiday party, which begins at 7pm. You’re invited to both free events. At the TADA! Theater (15 W. 28th St., 2nd floor, btw. Broadway & Fifth Ave.). For more info, visit tosos2.org.
From fond childhood memories to old flames back in town for the holidays, this season has plenty of Ghosts of Christmas Past — but at the Merchant’s House Museum, they’ve got the real thing. After decades of documented paranormal experiences by staff and visitors, “Manhattan’s Most Haunted House” has, as of late, embraced its haunted reputation.
Unfortunately, MHM’s late October Ghost Tours (a major source of income for the nonprofit entity) were cut short by Sandy. While they’re not playing up your chances of running into a ghost at any of their December events, it’s worth noting that last year, as workers were installing “From Candlelight to Bubble Light: A 1950s Christmas in an 1850s Home,” they heard snoring coming from the other room and were taken aback when the piece of furniture it seemed to emanate from was unoccupied by any living soul. The staff wasn’t surprised — the same spectral snoozer has been heard before, in that very location.
There’s no chance you’ll fall asleep, though, when touring the house in all of its “Bubble Light” splendor. Drawn from the vintage holiday collection of conceptual stylist and East Village art scene icon Deb O’Nair, this period mashup retro-decks the 19th century Merchant’s House halls (and family rooms and bedrooms and Greek Revival parlors) with hundreds of O’Nair’s post-1950s Christmas cards, ornaments, decorations, lit-from-within plastic holiday icons, Lefton “Holly” china and vintage holiday cooking paraphernalia. Though potentially jarring, the net effect of combining these seemingly disparate eras simply makes one nostalgic for two distinct periods of the past while pondering how one hand washes the other (“The holiday innovations of the 1850s,” MHM points out, “created and inspired the traditions of the 1950s”).
“From Candlelight to Bubble Light: A 1950s Christmas in an 1850s Home” is on display through Jan. 7, noon to 5pm, Thurs. -Mon. Free with museum admission ($10, $5 for students/seniors). At the Merchant’s House Museum, 29 East Fourth St. (btw. Lafayette & Bowery). Find a full schedule of December events by visiting merchantshouse.org or calling 212-777-1089.