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English Language Institute Blog

How to Celebrate the Holidays in New York

It is the holidays in New York City right now and it is one of the busiest and craziest times of the year! Did you notice that I am using the plural form, “the holidays”, and not the singular form, "the holiday”? This is because from Thanksgiving in November to New Year’s Day in January, there are many different holidays celebrated by different people. This means that there are a lot of events happening in New York  at this time of year, but there is a lot of chaos as well! 

Winter and Christmas NYC

Traditionally, “the holidays” started and ended with two secular holidays, Thanksgiving  and New Year’s Day. In between these two festivals, there were two religious holidays, Hanukkah (a Jewish holiday) and Christmas (a Christian holiday), although Christmas can also be considered a secular holiday today.

However, over the years, as the demographics and cultural composition of the U.S.A. has developed, we have added more holidays to the list. Today, it is not uncommon for an American to also celebrate Kwanza (an African American holiday)  or Bodhi Day (a Buddhist holiday) during the holidays.

And with more and more Americans celebrating their Asian ancestry or the Asian roots of their friends, Chinese New Year has extended the holidays’ time span for some people from a month and a half to almost three months!  

However, even with all of this diversity, it is interesting that there are some unifying features to many of these holidays at this time of year: expressing love to family, friends and even strangers, gift giving and LIGHTS!


hannuak menorah

In the weeks before Christmas, Christians light candles on an Advent wreath.

During Kwanzaa, people light candles on a kinara. Hanukkah is also known as “The Festival of Lights” and practitioners light candles on a menorah

Hindu Americans and Indian Americans, also have their own “Festival of Lights” called Diwali, although this usually happens in late October or early November.

Buddhists in America sometimes prepare for Bodhi Day by hanging different colored lights to symbolize the different paths to enlightenment.

And famously, the secular version of Christmas is celebrated by decorating the inside and outside of homes in Christmas lights.  


dyker heights nyc christmas decorations

There is even a neighborhood called Dyker Heights in New York City whose lights attract thousands of viewers. If you are in New York over the holidays, you should visit!


nyc winter lantern festival

There is even a Winter Lantern Festival with incredible Chinese lantern displays.  


Clearly the holidays are a busy, chaotic time for people in the United States. They can even get crazy and meltdowns are common. However, one American innovator named Daniel O’Keefe has created a new holiday to deal with the stress of this time of year. It’s called Festivus!


Now, wouldn’t you like your own chance to experience the plethora of holidays that New York City offers? I know we, at the ELI at Pace University, would love to have you come study with us and learn more about all these cultural events! Please visit the ELI website, contact the ELI or apply here.


Word List:

  • the holidays (n): the time from November to January when many holidays are celebrated
  • chaos (n): complete disorder and confusion
  • traditionally (adv): part of a long-time custom, belief or practice
  • secular (adj): things with no religious or spiritual meaning
  • demographics (n): statistical data relating to a population of people and the groups within that population
  • diversity (n): a range of different things
  • enlightenment (n): the act or state of attaining a high level of spiritual knowledge or insight
  • (a) meltdown (n): an outburst of emotional distress
  • (a) plethora (n): a very large amount of something

WRITTEN BY PATRICK RUSSELL