The tree has become quite a "must-see" for tourists and New Yorkers alike. If your Christmas spirit is a little flat, walking among the excited throng surrounding the tree, watching the skaters, maybe a visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral across the street, and of course window shopping in the unrivaled strip of luxury stores along Fifth Avenue will give you a much needed shot of holiday magic. The crowds have become so large that it's getting harder and harder to see it all, but it's still well worth the effort.
The quintessential holiday image, known around the world, is the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. As you stand on the east side looking west, with the golden statue of Prometheus shining in the sun, and the happy skaters gliding around the ice rink, the brightly lit tree will make you feel ten years old again. The effect on the crowd is transforming. After a hectic trip to get there, and being jostled and pushed along the streets packed with people, visitors certainly have the right to feel a little grumpy. But when they turn that corner and look down the parallel lines of Angels leading to the tree, the annoyed looks are replaced by ones of wonder and joy.
Another special holiday experience, whether or not you are Catholic, is to spend a few minutes in St. Patrick's Cathedral. I've never seen Notre Dame, St. Marks, or any of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe, but I can't imagine them being any more awe-inspiring than St. Pat's. Don't content yourself with a quick peek down the aisle, but walk past the side altars and behind the main altar. Try to ignore the rude tourists and take in the stunning architecture and sense of calm that greets you at every turn. Say a prayer in front of the creche, a wondrous display which in and of itself makes the visit worth while. The spirit of God will fill you up, and whether you're a religious person or not, I promise you'll feel better when you walk out.
And speaking of creches, the king of all creches may be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The custom of displaying creches at Christmas began in Naples. There, local families vied to outdo each other in presenting elaborate and theatrical creche displays, often assisted by professional stage directors. The museum figures include not only the ones typically found, but more than 200 18th-century Neapolitan creche figures donated by Loretta Hines Howard starting in 1964. They have been displayed each holiday season for more than 35 years. It is a magnificent sight to see and another way to feel the Christmas spirit take hold of you.
No holiday trip to Rock Center would be complete without looking in on some of the stores that make up the miracle mile on Fifth Avenue. Saks, Bergdoff-Goodman, Gucci, F.A.O. Schwartz, Cartier...the playgrounds of the rich. I think my favorite is Tiffany's. Besides being a beautiful store, there is an aura about the place. I've made a few modest purchases over the years just to give my wife those nice little blue boxes that women love, but what impressed me most is the caliber of their staff. They are unfailingly polite, knowledgeable, and never, ever talk down to people, no matter what you look like. Most of the other chi-chi stores on the strip, if you don't look like you fit in, give you that withering look that clerks in snooty stores have mastered; not Tiffany's.
They say we are in for a couple of hard years thanks to the Masters of Greed on Wall Street. It's going to be rough spell for all of us, but there are things we can do to make life a little easier. Here's the prescription for 2009 that I'm going to try hard to follow. First, ease up on the "type A" behavior and rediscover the simple things that used to give you pleasure, and still can if you give them a chance. Second, be kinder and more patient with your family and friends. Stress levels will be high and we have to help each other through these tough times. Third, be a little nicer to strangers too...a smile or friendly gesture can make someone's day. Finally, when it comes time to measure your life against those around you, don't always look enviously at those who are better off, look instead at those who are worse off, count your blessings, and do what you can to help.
I hope 2009 is filled with joy and peace, and that you and your families have a happy, healthy New Year.
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