Click here to see the amazing 2014 Department Store Holiday Windows.
Taking a leisurely stroll from Macy's to Barneys to look at all of the magical holiday windows is a long-standing tradition for my family. In our pre-parenting days, my husband and I took this walk during the wee hours of Christmas Eve. Once our son was born, we moved it to Thanksgiving weekend at a much earlier hour. It's a wonderful and totally free way to kick off the holiday season, and creates lasting memories that our son will cherish long after he's outgrown the toys under the tree.
For the third year in a row, my son and I were joined by fellow Mommy Poppins blogger Raven and her daughter. Unlike 2012's Disney windows at Barneys, there was no obvious favorite display this year. As you can see from our photos, 2013's department store holiday windows are particularly spectacular and run the gamut from comic (Saks Fifth Avenue's adorable yeti adventure) to classic (Lord & Taylor's Ladies' Mile-inspired displays) to cutting-edge (Jay-Z's avant-garde collaboration with Barneys, which includes a virtual sleigh ride).
One holiday window trend that seems to get bigger every year: interactive displays. Many department stores had at least one interactive element in their windows, including Macy's, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys. Read on for the details and click through our slide show for a peek at what you'll see on your NYC department store holiday windows walk. You can find lots of other seasonal activities in our Holiday Fun Guide.
Macy’s Herald Square
151 West 34th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
As usual, Macy's has two different displays on view this year. On the 34th Street side is a revival of the store's Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus windows from years past. The brand-new windows are on Sixth Avenue and depict the holiday dreams of a young boy as he imagines a magical winter wonderland complete with animated snowfall, icy woodland creatures, fairies, glittery baubles and other fantastical elements. Our kids especially loved the interactive window, where they could control the falling snowflakes by jumping around and waving their arms. If you long to see the Miracle on 34th Street windows Macy's has featured in the past, you can check out parts of the display inside the store in the Santaland waiting area.
Lord & Taylor
424 Fifth Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets
Lord & Taylor's windows are all about old-fashioned, early 20th-century glamor this year. The displays combine black-and-white graphics of period cars, menus and advertisements with animated holiday scenes featuring Santa Claus, Christmas trees, shopping and sumptuous feasts. There are also two photo booth windows (one on Fifth Avenue, the other on 39th Street) where you can pose for a full-length picture and text it to yourself.
Saks Fifth Avenue
611 Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets
Saks' Yeti Snow Workshop is sure to delight all ages. A mix of old-fashioned animatronics and state-of-the-art technology, the windows follow the adventures of a young yeti who leaves his family in Siberia to make it big as an artist in NYC. He moves to Queens and commutes to Manhattan on the 7 train (keep an eye out for a hilarious parody of the ubiquitous Dr. Zizmor ad) and eventually winds up as the exclusive snowflake maker for Saks. You can add to the display, too, by choosing a virtual snowflake on your smartphone and watching it drift through the store window a minute later. If you spend $150 or more at Saks (yes the store sells plush yeti dolls, in case your child must own one), you can get a 3D printed version of your flake to take home. As in years past, the store's entire facade comes alive with a snowflake light display after dark. It's best seen from across the street, where you'll also find the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
712 Fifth Avenue at 56th Street
Bendel's windows pay tribute to late caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Check out his signature take on famous folk like Woody Allen, Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Liza Minnelli, Marilyn Monroe and others. Our kids had a blast looking for his daughter's name "Nina" hidden throughout his sketches. Many of Hirschfeld's original drawings are on display inside the store and you can see even more of his work at The Line King's Library: Al Hirschfeld exhibit, which is on view at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts through Saturday, January 4, 2014.
Tiffany & Co
727 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street
The iconic jewelry store's holiday windows feature white dollhouse-size buildings decked out with dazzling gems and mini versions of Tiffany's signature blue boxes. They're cute but after a while they all start to look the same. Be sure to look up: UNICEF's stunning sparkly snowflake is suspended right above this intersection.
754 Fifth Avenue at 58th Street
As usual, Bergdorf's opulent holiday displays are a knockout. While they're not traditional (not a Santa nor tree in sight), kids and adults alike will ooh and aah at the windows, which celebrate non-December holidays like April Fools' Day, Valentine's Day, Halloween and Arbor Day in unexpected ways.
660 Madison Avenue at 61st Street
Barneys collaborated with rapper Jay Z and visual artist Joanie Lemercier for these stunning, offbeat windows. The four futuristic set pieces are inspired by the spirit of NYC and incorporate dazzling light shows, real-time digital mapping and a mini-theater. Visitors can actually become part of the display by climbing inside the last window to take a virtual ride on Santa's tricked-out sleigh over midtown. While "flying," your model-like guide snaps pics of your party, which can be sent via email or text. You can also get one free printout per group on the 9th floor. Incredibly, there was no wait for the ride when we visited but staff told us there is often a long line so try to go early in the day before it gets busy. Note: The sleigh ride and the mini-theater are only open during the store's normal business hours.
59th Street and Lexington Avenue
Bloomies celebrates the holidays around the world. Each window features a colorful, over-size gift box that rotates to reveal a different seasonal scene. Look for famous landmarks from France, Italy, Great Britain, China and, of course, NYC!
While we did all of the department store windows in one shot, it may be a bit much for younger children. You can either skip the out-of-the-way windows like Macy's, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's, and concentrate on the others, which are all within 10 blocks of each other. Or you can catch one of the many MTA buses that go down Fifth Avenue (M1, M2, M3, M4 and the M5). If you do decide to hit all of the displays in one go, consider taking a play break at Bryant Park, where you'll find a carousel, an ice-skating rink, a fabulous holiday market and, most important of all, public restrooms. Need to warm up? You're right by the main branch of the New York Public Library, which has a great Children's Center.
Got visitors coming in from out of town? You could also splurge on a Holiday Lights & Movie Sights bus tour. This festive two-hour adventure stops at all of the major holiday windows and Lincoln Center, and also drives by the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and locales featured in famous holiday movies like Elf and Miracle on 34th Street.
If you'd like to relive the windows of yesteryear, check out our holiday windows posts from 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. You can find even more seasonal fun in our Holiday Guide and great gift ideas in our NYC Shopping Local Gift Guide.