The holiday season in New York isn't complete without the Rockefeller Christmas tree, ice skating rinks, and thousands of twinkly lights in retail windows.
For the uninitiated, each year around Thanksgiving, the major retail chains including Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy's, dress up their flagship store windows with lights, "snow," and every variety of holiday cheer. Each store runs with a theme: in 2012, Macy's was "The Magic of Christmas" while Barneys got Disneyfied with a tribute to Minnie Mouse.
This year the windows of Macy's flagship store in Herald Square tell the story of one boy's dream. "Dream... and Believe" chronicles his journey through a magical dreamland, in which he encounters friendly bunnies and reindeer, faeries, and magical moving trees. Each window has a sub-theme as well: Dream, Giving & Sharing, Joy, Beauty, Magic and Believe, with every panel using LED lights and mechanics to create an interactive experience for passers-by. In one of the windows, onlookers can wave their arms to manipulate digital falling snow.
Bergdorf Goodman takes a playful stab at all the holidays of the year with their windows, titled "Holidays on Ice." The windows show July 4th, Arbor Day, April Fools, Valentines and Halloween, among others, complete with an icy glow. The Valentine's window is particularly noteworthy, filled with pink and pastel goodies, a chandelier, an assortment of small cakes, jewelry and even a tiny replica poodle. Usually the most haute-couture of the flagships, 2013 is no exception: mannequins in the windows are wearing creations by Alexander McQueen, Rodarte, Thom Browne, Oscar de la Renta and Naeem Khan.
A fun fact about the Halloween window: behind the Swarovski crystal-encrusted spider web is a replica of the Renaissance-style Vanderbilt mansion that once overlooked Fifth Avenue and 58th Street. The site is now the location of the Bergdorf Goodman flagship.
Barneys, always a step ahead, has the most futuristic windows of the bunch. In a charitable collaboration with Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, the windows are lit up for "A New York Holiday," with installations conceived by Carter, visual artist Joanie Lemercier and Barneys New York creative director Dennis Freedman. The windows incorporate video mapping, LED light design and projection to create a dazzling display.
In one of the windows, a futuristic sleigh waits for passers-by to take a seat and enjoy a virtual ride. A camera snaps a photo of you during your journey, and afterward you can have the photo e-mailed to yourself or posted to the social media channel of your choice.
The most stunning of Barneys displays is "Floating City," which is inside a mini-theater structure built on the Madison Avenue sidewalk. A 3D-mapped New York City is awash in gold, black and white against a 16-foot-tall "rock" wall, and changes as a digital sunrise reveals a glimmering city.
If you can't make it to New York to see the windows in person, make a cup of hot cocoa and watch the video above to get into the holiday spirit.