I don’t remember when going to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular became part of our family’s Christmas tradition. And by Christmas tradition I don’t mean that it was a tradition of ours during the holiday season. I mean it was our tradition to go on Christmas Day.
This tradition at least partly came about as did another of our holiday traditions—going to movies on Christmas Eve Day—for the same reason. Before becoming parents ourselves, the spouse and I only had parents, sibling, cousins, and the like hundreds and thousands of miles away from our Brooklyn home. There are pluses and minuses to not having a nearby extended family to spend time with during the holidays. Whether it is a plus or minus, there is holiday time to fill up.
Christmas Eve Day was empty of activity, and the spouse and I had found going to a slew of movies during that time to be fun. The NBP (if you would only go to this blog more regularly you would know that the NBP refers to the child, aka the nonbinary progeny) joined this activity after entering the family. We would each pick one movie and then plot when and where to see them.
This was a good time to go to movies because the theaters were seldom crowded on Christmas Eve. Most of the good Christians were spending time in church or with their families. Sometimes the spouse and I would look around the theater and say to each other, “We are the only goyim here.” (Many Jewish people have a tradition of going to Chinese restaurants on Christmas; many seem also to go to movies the day before.)
Nowadays, the NBP and I often see a movie on Christmas night, but it is hard to get into a theater. Apparently, many good Christians are sick of other family members by then, want to get out of the house, and head to the movies.
On Christmas, as we have done for years, we open presents in the morning to the sounds of Christmas choral music. Stockings are taken down from the mantle in the dining room and plundered while we eat breakfast. That completed, we head to the tree and open the presents under it. When the NBP was a child, Christmas night we would go to dinner at a friend’s house. That left an afternoon hiatus from stuffing the shredded wrapping paper into a black bag until dinner departure time.
I don’t remember the inspiration, but one year we decided to go to the Radio City Hall Music Christmas Spectacular, which has been presented annually since 1933. Even though we had been in New York approaching two decades, the spouse and I had only been to Radio City Music Hall a few times, and then it was for a movie. So off we went to experience this New York City extravaganza. And yes, it was spectacular. Of course, the Christmas show always teeters back and forth on the kitsch line, but we loved it. The incredible rising, descending, and gliding stage; the Mighty Wurlitzer; the singers; the Living Nativity; the ice skaters; the blissfully truncated Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol. But most captivating of all were the Rockettes—ah, that kick line; ahhh, the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers . We all loved it. A Christmas tradition began.
The next year we got tickets early, and our seats improved. The Radio City auditorium is vast, with over 6,000 seats. It has three “mezzanines”—no balconies in this place. We never sat upstairs, but you can sit in the orchestra and still be a long, long way from the stage, which was true for our first trip to the Spectacular. The second time we were a lot closer to the action, but still a long way from it.
During the third year I started looking for the initial ads for the show in the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times and noting when the ticket sales started. As soon as the sale began, I went to the theater’s box office. Our seats dramatically improved. We were now sitting very close; one year we were in the first row. The Spectacular was even more spectacular. Sometimes we were so close I could see the lines in some of the Rockettes faces and their makeup, which spoiled the effect a bit. But still, to be sitting just a few feet from this stage was exciting. And the NBP was enthralled.
After the fourth or fifth viewing, however, the excitement for the spouse and me began to wane. I don’t remember what the tickets cost, but with our limited income, they weren’t cheap although still possible as a holiday splurge. The spouse and I decided to cut expenses, save sanity, and have only one of us go each year. We swapped off for the next three or four years bringing the NBP. And then we stopped going.
There were a number of reasons, but one of them was that even with an early attack on the ticket booth, we were getting seats further and further back from the stage. Part of the reason we had gotten those choice places is that not many of those who might be attracted to the show went to it on Christmas Day. Those good Christians were at home, or in church, or at Grandma’s, or at Uncle Bill’s. They weren’t coming into midtown New York City after the presents were open and before the ham was served.
But then the appeal of the Christmas Spectacular on Christmas Day broadened from its domestic base to tourists, primarily Asian visitors. Somebody convinced the Japanese and Chinese that a traditional way to celebrate Christmas in New York was to go to Radio City on Christmas Day. Ticket prices increased, and alas, alas, even paying more, we could no longer get our seats. Soon we could only get tickets for the twentieth, then the fiftieth row. We had been spoiled. We stopped going.
Until now. This year the spouse, the NBP, and I went again. It was not on Christmas Day but two weeks before for a 5 P.M. curtain. I am glad we went. We loved it .
(continued December 20)