Every December in New York, the famous stretch of Fifth Avenue between Grand Army Plaza and Rockefeller Center gets dressed up, made over, and festooned with sparkling lights and tinsel to kingdom come. The flagship boutiques are never not flashy, but as the holidays approach, they become a spectacle. They become prized, all-powerful sidewalk-side real estate for big, intricate, over-the-top Christmas windows.

Which is fine, of course. It's distinctly American to put goods on display in the gaudiest way possible, so who's to deny these windows? No doubt, they are beautiful. But there's an ideal way to take them in, a way to stroll southward from Central Park on that boulevard with only the best intentions.

Here's the correct way to look at the Fifth Avenue holiday windows.

You begin at The Plaza. The lobby has plenty of places to sit for a drink, and because it's closer to the doorway, go there. No need to take extra steps toward The Palm Court with the ladies who lunch when cocktails can be procured much closer to the entrance. A man will approach with the intention of offering you a menu, but soon he sees there's no need for that. You know what you want. Your martini is dry.


There's good people watching at The Plaza, especially at the time of your arrival, which is just shy of noon. Just look at the formidable guests using the stairs, all decked out in winter regalia. But, really, aren't the people watching you? You decide that the people are probably watching you. This is satisfying. Soon, you're on martini number two, and the scene at The Plaza becomes a tad familiar. You consider leaving. You continue to consider leaving all the way through the third martini. Then it's time to check out the window displays of Fifth Avenue at Christmastime.

First, there's Bergdorf Godman, which has chosen "Holidays on Ice" as its theme for this year. All the year's red letter days are represented, not just those that happen during winter months, which means the sweltering Fourth of July gets a window, too. This, you disapprove of. A nine-foot-tall recreation of the Vanderbilt mansion, though? That you can get behind.


Tiffany & Co. is next, and its windows are bedecked with the splendor of the Upper East Side, the iconic old apartment facades glowing blue with their windows hued a soft yellow. Displays of rooftops reveal diamond pendants hanging from chimneys, pendants apparently as big as a single floor, apparently. This is satisfying. Also, there are really, really adorable furry kittens in the windows. You ignore the kittens.

Henri Bendel borrowed for its display the drawings of Al Hirschfeld, the cartoonist famed for his loopy black-and-white celebrity caricatures, turning his two-dimensional sketches for The New York Times into three-dimensional figurines. Among those transformed from ink to sculpture is Charlie Chaplin, sitting in a tree with an umbrella, alongside windows featuring Marilyn Monroe, Woody Allen and Audrey Hepburn. Is that Whoopi Goldberg, too? You leave before a proper fact check.


Saks Fifth Avenue hews more closely to the season: the mascot of their windows is that wintry beast, The Yeti. Though this is far from a Yeti who can strike fear in the hearts of his hunters. He's quite cute and cuddly as seen in the Saks windows. You have no patience for the sentimental. You move on.

And move on to what? The stretch is over, leaving you with nothing but the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center that looms gloriously over the ice skating rink. Should you procure skating apparel and cut figure eights with the kids? Perhaps next year. Or, preferably, never. So you leave, and this is satisfying.


[Photo credit: Getty.]

Nate Freeman is the Editor-in-Chief of Good to be Bad. His writing has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Observer.


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