It goes without saying that New York holidays are always amazing, whatever the time of year. All the same, there is nothing quite like being in the Big Apple when there’s a huge, city-wide event going on. Anyone who’s ever seen Friends (and that’s everyone, right?) will be vaguely familiar with some of the biggest annual spectacles that are held in NYC, but have you ever thought about timing your trip so that it coincides with one?
Here, we’ll tell you more about what we think are the three most entertaining free-to-enter events that descend upon the city of New York every year, and why you need to experience at least one of them during your next holiday.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
It may be almost a full year until the next St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start stocking up on your Guinness hats and leprechaun outfits already! As well as the obvious revelry that is indulged in by the estimated two million spectators who line the streets of New York whenever the parade is held, the event is also of great historical significance and is still taken very seriously by those involved in its organisation.
Proudly describing itself as one of the oldest and largest parades not just in NYC but the whole world, the St. Patrick’s Day extravaganza was first held way back in 1762 by a group of Irish civilians and military personnel who were based in the city and wished to pay tribute to their homeland. It should come as no surprise that the parade has continued to go from strength to strength ever since, as an incredible 33 million American people today identify themselves as being from Irish stock. To put this into context, compare it to the fact that Ireland’s total current population is less than seven million in total!
The New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which follows a 1.5-mile route along the city’s famous Fifth Avenue, is enjoyed by revellers of all ages, but anyone who is planning to see it up close should be aware in advance of its traditional format. To this day, there remains a strict policy that prevents floats and other motorised vehicles from taking part in the festivities, with the event instead dominated by marching bands, members of the local police, army and firefighting units, Irish emigrant societies and others. You will also find that there is very little commercial sponsorship present in the main parade, which makes a refreshing change from most spectacles of a similar size.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
There are few things more American than Thanksgiving Day, and the annual seasonal parade that is sponsored by Macy’s department store and held in Manhattan has become synonymous with this public holiday among New York’s residents. Although nowhere near as old as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, this event is fast approaching its centenary, having first been staged in 1924, and is now bigger than ever.
Anyone who has seen any clips of the parade before will know that it is dominated by an impressive selection of huge balloons depicting many of the world’s most beloved family-friendly animated characters, ranging from Felix the Cat (who debuted in 1931) to Olaf from Frozen, who made his first appearance in 2017. The largest and most famous class of balloon is held up by a team of 90 people, which should give you a good idea of just how big they are!
Despite the incredible spectacle of all these massive balloons floating down the streets of NYC, possibly the most popular and eagerly anticipated part of every Thanksgiving Day parade is the arrival of Santa on an elaborately decorated sleigh, accompanied by his team of reindeer and elves. Perhaps so famous because of its appearance in the classic Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street, this iconic moment traditionally marks the start of the festive season in the city and is just as exciting for the onlooking adults as it is for their little ones.
Visiting New York when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is happening will be something that lives in your memory forever. The friendly atmosphere and excitement that accompanies the day can be felt wherever you go and is heightened by the amazing live performances that are always a part of the festivities. Some of the biggest names in music and theatre have graced the parade over the years, with performers including eclectic acts such as Dolly Parton, Ariana Grande, Diana Ross, Kylie Minogue and Kanye West, as well as the cast of hit Broadway shows like Mean Girls, Matilda and Elf.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square
Possibly the only annual NYC event more famous than our previous two picks is the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration which, as we all know, is always centred around Times Square, the so-called ‘Crossroads of the World’.
The idea of a New Year spectacle being held here came from the father of Times Square himself, Adolph Ochs, who, as the owner of the New York Times, had recently successfully lobbied for the name of this area to be changed to acknowledge the location of his newspaper’s headquarters. The first instalment of the event took place on New Year’s Eve 1907/8 and there can be no doubt that it has since become the world’s most famous NYE celebration.
The most iconic part of the Times Square festivities takes place during the last 10 seconds of the year, when a glittering, 12-foot wide ball made of pure crystal descends from a flagpole perched on top of the One Times Square building, coming to a rest at the exact moment the new year begins. The images of this moment are well-known around the world, but there is nothing quite like being in the square to see the ball drop yourself and the fact that hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors still make the effort to see it happen annually should tell you what an unforgettable experience it is.
Accompanied by live music from some of the world’s biggest stars, including a moving rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ being sung right before the clock strikes midnight, this is truly a New Year’s party like no other and should be witnessed in person by everyone at least once!