‘Tis the season for sweet treats, sweet surprises and clicking those ruby red slippers and going home sweet home. For Long Islanders like me who moved away, the whole slippers thing likely means taking a flight to LaGuardia Airport, which tends to come with a few headaches and delays. But the hassle becomes oh-so-worth-it the moment we get that first glimpse of CitiField and Arthur Ashe Stadium. Finally, we’re back in the land of bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, legit shopping and easy access to a rural wine country and the greatest city in the world. This season, join me in a toast to everything that makes Long Island a special place to call home—no matter what your driver’s license lists as your permanent address.
Christmastime in the City
All eyes are on New York City during the holidays—but those eyes are likely watching on television. Long Islanders can simply hop on the expressway or LIRR and be in “the city” for world-famous attractions like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in a New York minute. After taking an obligatory selfie by the tree, a quick stroll over to Sixth Avenue brings revelers to Radio City Music Hall, where they can catch the Rockettes in the Christmas Spectacular. After Christmas and Hanukkah end, it’s time for the grand finale: The New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, just a short subway ride from Penn Station. For those not interested in braving the cold but willing to spend a small fortune, nearby restaurants offer a chance to enjoy the ball drop up close but indoors.
Local Bar Crawl
There’s nothing quite like that Long Island holiday bar crawl magic, be it in Huntington, Port Jefferson, Babylon or anywhere else. It’s like Cheers! but with a Long Island accent. No matter how old everyone gets or how many kids they have, there’s always that watering hole everyone visited decades ago that’s still full of friendly faces ready to welcome a displaced Islander home. Of course, no bar crawl is complete without a visit to the local diner—the same one that’s been open for at least 25 years and is still cranking out breakfast 24 hours a day. Partiers need something to soak up those drinks so they’re ready for family festivities the next day, after all. (Sidenote: When did two cocktails result in a headache and midnight pancakes lead to a three-pound weight gain?)
The beauty of being so close to the East End is access to its world-class wineries and restaurants during the tranquil off-season. After the city folks pick their pumpkins, the traffic dies down, making it the perfect time for someone who moved off-Island to sneak in and enjoy some hassle-free vino. Many of the wineries are open specifically around holiday weekends and usually get dolled up for the occasion with seasonally-appropriate décor. There’s also greater access to private winery tours, seats, spots at the bar and a chance to enjoy a glass of wine in the shadow of trimmed vines with the orange blaze of Long Island’s fall foliage on the horizon. Home sweet home, indeed.
Huntington & Patchogue Boat Parades
Once the weather turns cooler, things actually heat up in Long Island’s coastal towns thanks to boat parades. Two of the best-known and attended are in Huntington and Patchogue, where power and sailboats parade around the harbors and inlets. The annual events treat those who brave the low temperatures on seacraft and those watching more warmly from shore to an exciting and different kind of holiday light show.
Unique Historical Attractions
Long Island, having been one of the original colonial settlements, is filled to the brim with history. Whether touring the newly reopened Teddy Roosevelt home at Sagamore Hill, catching a show at the Vanderbilt Planetarium, smelling the roses at the Old Westbury Gardens, visiting the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, learning the United States’ aviation history at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City or taking a nature walk around Caumsett Park and its bluffs, there is no shortage of options to get reacquainted with your hometown’s rich heritage. Get an extra dose of holiday cheer at the Stony Brook Village Center, which offers a preserved colonial setting to shop, eat and tour historical buildings.
For those of us who left Long Island, it didn’t take us long to realize how good we had it when it came to shopping. Some of the best options include Roosevelt Field, the newly renovated Walt Whitman Shops and the ultra-luxury offerings of Americana Manhasset. People who prefer a more boutique experience can stroll the quaint Main Streets and side streets of Huntington, Babylon, Roslyn, Cold Spring Harbor and Southampton, where shops are stocked with unique holiday gifts.