…insisted that on the last day of 2011 I go to Fifth Avenue to share the city’s unabashed holiday spirit. Sidewalks in Midtown were unbelievably crowded with people from all over the world: Spain, France, Germany, Asia, and South America as well as the other 49 states of the Union. This time of year, New York is a travel destination, and I hope that sales figures will bear out the influx.
Even in these difficult economic times Fifth Avenue rolled out the red carpet. Regretfully I could not start at the erstwhile B. Altman, located in one of the city’s most spectacular merchandising palaces, which fortunately metamorphosed into the Business branch of the New York Public Library. Lord and Taylor, however, fulfilled my expectations. The store asked children to draw pictures of what they thought “Christmas Was Made Of” and used the drawings as inspiration. L & T always pays homage to old New York and children frolicking in snowy Central Park was my favorite scene. The mechanical marvels included numerous Christmas trees, a mother baking cookies, Santa and his reindeer flying overhead, children unwrapping presents, and dogs eating cookies.
Inching uptown, I passed New York’s Public Library, where children sat astride its famous lions. The Rockefeller Center Promenade was so crowded that I only glimpsed its enormous Christmas tree from afar. Saks Fifth Avenue windows showcased specially designed clothes next to white architectural fantasies. Cartier, the jeweler, had wrapped up its entire small buildings as if it were a giant gift box. The crowds had thinned a bit by the time I reached the always-magical small 3 by 4 ½ foot Tiffany windows, which this holiday featured carousel animals set in a winter landscape. A tiny merry-go-round whirled in one window. In another carousel animals scampered over a bridge, illuminated by a lamppost ringed with a diamond necklace. In a third, a giant ring occupied the saddle of a lonely white unicorn, while a small bird perched on another ring.
Across Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf-Goodman’s Carnival of the Animals was worth the hike. Whereas Tiffany adheres to minimalism, B&G stresses bounty: extravagant gowns, baubles, stunningly crafted fantasy creatures, antique cameras, Judith Lieber handbags, embroidery, sequins, mosaics, silk and satin. In one window formally dressed white stags attended three bird-headed creatures dressed in dreamy white gowns; in another a zebra greeted a woman in a black lace dress; a third depicted an underwater scene in which a mermaid-like woman floated amidst sea creatures.
Time to leave, my feet hurt. Gratefully I climbed aboard on a crosstown bus that drove me to the more down-to-earth Columbus Circle. I was content. Christmas in New York is a communal affair. Where else could I have experienced such an extraordinary spectacle for free?