Life Stories USA

Trying to Find the Christmas Spirit in New York City

If you’ve watched any Christmas movie ever released, you’ve probably seen yellow cabs in the backdrop and people wearing fluffy earmuffs bundled up in warm coats, all shuffling through busy crosswalks while holding cups of coffee. The setting of these jolly holiday flicks is 99.9% of the time based in New York City.

And while there is a certain magic that New York oozes during the holidays, there’s also tons of spending, stressing, and shopping that leaves you feeling like Scrooge. But in an attempt to get out of my reverse culture shock, I figured it’s worth a shot to look for the Christmas spirit in New York anyways.

Luckily, I grew up two hours away from NYC by train, and after committing to staying in my tiny town for an entire month after Thailand, I caved and ran away to “the big apple,” (no one calls it that but tourists) a little over a week later. I had to escape to the city to not only regain my sanity, and my independence, but to feel like I could actually use my legs again. That’s the curse of developing this traveling habit, if you can’t move around to explore, you feel pieces of your spirit crumbling with each passing day.

My good friend Paige (funny story: we became best friends when she told me I could crash on her couch after only meeting for coffee twice before) and I decided to rent an Airbnb the week before Christmas. Sure, we could’ve crashed on friends couches for the week, but we decided to get out of the Connecticut funk and feel like independent bada$$ women who used to run the NYC streets.

And we would be chasing down the Christmas spirit we were promised from all the movies.

Let me tell you something, despite our efforts, getting Christmassy was not as easy as you’d think.

 

We started our day with a typical breakfast in one of my favorite New York City diners; a holiday tradition started with friends years ago when the line for iHOP was straight up disrespectful. After waiting in line to be served alongside the other hungover New Yorkers on New Years Day, a walk around the corner uncovered this hidden gem of a diner that accepts cash only and serves up the most classic American diner experience.

Armando, the server who never has a day off, greeted us the same charismatic way he did years ago when I started going to the diner; Joe Jr. It helped that my name was in the name of the restaurant; I had to be a loyal customer.

Despite their over the top festive decorations, friendly customer service, and food that rarely disappoints, the pre-christmas breakfast still didn’t get me jazzed up about the holiday. I did, however, pay less than $10 for a bangin’ plate of eggs florentine, orange juice, and coffee that somehow ended up all over the plate instead of inside the mug.

After breakfast, we decided that maybe going to the Union Square holiday market would get us in the holly jolly mood we were look for.

Six years ago was my first time walking through the overly hyped holiday market. I felt like I was on the set of a Christmas movie; it’s so over the top with price tags that are even more ridiculous. Each stand has a unique angle; truffle oil with a Rick Ross T-shirt for sale that reads, “Everyday I’m Trufflin,'” or my personal favorite stand that sells chocolate truffles with a strict rule: “No Chewing Allowed.” You get yelled at by staff for chewing the sample pieces and somehow still end up spending $20 for a box of delicious chocolate. So many truffles.

My holiday spirit was slightly increasing with the traditional taste of truffles in my mouth. And despite having bought two boxes of chocolate, I still felt no inspiration to buy anyone anything, with only five days until Christmas. It wasn’t because of what you’re thinking, “Jo, you’re so cheap and just don’t want to spend money.”  Which is very true, but not the reason for my present buying hesitation. Something inside me is now against buying things that aren’t meaningful enough, or things that can easily be replaced or ignored. Gifting someone with crap just for the sake of giving a gift doesn’t seem genuine anymore.

The week goes by in New York, and I just gave up on searching for the Christmas spirit. I stopped trying to force this cookie cutter picture of what being festive looks like; the wrapping of presents, the bows, expensive gifts.

And I ended up having one of the most genuinely amazing weeks of my life in New York. It wasn’t the Christmas spirit, it was the time spent and the people with whom I interacted with. I had dinners with friends, heard live Jazz music and drank great wine, developed business plans with Paige, and got back into working out. I hadn’t laughed that hard in so long, and the amount of happiness couldn’t be contained in our two bedroom Airbnb; it was just too damn good.

Later in the week I caved and bought everyone gifts I thought they would like, but would never think to buy for themselves. My favorites though, were books I had to fill in with memories from the past to my mom and sister. Leave it to me, the memory hogger, to find some way to remind everyone of the hilarious and precious times.

To top off my obsession with collecting and saving memories, I got a pack of two disposable cameras, and considered each snap of my family together a gift – cheesy moment.

What I was surprised to notice when I finally took the train back home to Connecticut on the 23rd, was that most of my family was on the same minimalist kick. My mom, the shopping queen, somehow look passed her need to swipe credit cards for gifts we’d appreciate but probably never use. Instead, she decided to buy a ridiculous game called Lolz that we all played together and really did end up LOLing, wheezing from so much laughter.

No one got a value pack of lotions and perfumes that would live in the back of the bathroom closet for years – great success.

So while I didn’t find the movie-like holiday spirit that I was initially looking for, I grew a newfound respect for ditching traditional Christmas, and being open to less presents, and more presence.

Had the same anti-climactic holiday feeling? Comment below!

jo

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  • Julia Bruns

    I loved this post so much! I’ve been so in love with your Youtube channel lately, you’ve really inspired me to commit to learning German. I was also wondering if I could have a piece of advice. I’m going on my first international trip this year, a ten day trip to Germany, Italy, and Switzerland through my German club at school. I’m a photographer and though I hadn’t planned it out yet, I was hoping to travel with only my backpack this trip as practice for my future (hopefully following in your footsteps!)

    For Christmas, though, my parents got me this absolutely beautiful luggage set. There’s a huge one and a smaller one, rolling, and hard cased, and I love them. But the idea of lugging it around Germany for ten days just sounds kind of bad. It’s my first international trip so I’m trying to be optimistic, so I thought maybe Damon or Jo would have some advice for me?

    Thank you though – and thanks so much for the amazing blog posts and youtube videos. You guys inspire me every day!

  • Guinevere Wightman

    I’ve felt the same way this year! Especially about the minimalistic gifts. I tried to give “experiences” rather than things that will soon be forgotten, like a rock climbing pass for my sister (because she’s always wanting to go!)! I love that picture of you, your sister (I think!) And your little cousin (?)!! You and your sister look so alike that I can barely tell who’s who! 💞💞💞

  • I’ve certainly been sold some New York Christmas ideal over the years by movies, glad you gave up trying to find the Christmas spirit and managed to have one of the best weeks of your life in NYC catching up with friends.

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