Merry Mayhem


Jaded New Yorkers tend to find the holidays downright depressing or, worse yet, just plain schmaltzy. Sure, the Christmas Spectacular can be a goof, but attending it more than once in a lifetime should be made a violation of city code. And since plenty of others feel the same, there’s a growing movement to make the season a time of subver-sive, sincere fun. Check it out.

The days turn depressingly dark. Christmas lights offer paltry help. Times Square remains lit but no less an eyesore. Do not despair, victim of SAD (seasonal affective disorder)! Look to the east. The western Queens waterfront competes with Manhattan’s skyline as Socrates Sculpture Park sheds its Winter Lights upon early winter nights. Leo Villareal inaugurates this annual series with Star, a pinwheel-like sculpture that’s 18 feet in diameter with 24 illuminated spokes pulsing in patterns to resemble fireworks, swirling flowers, or whatever your inner child fancies. Shake away the blues with the light therapy in this bright idea. JANET KIM

December 1 through February 29, Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, at Broadway, Long Island City, Queens, 718.956.1819,

Everyone’s favorite lesbian loudmouth, Lea DeLaria, has been garnering as much attention these days for her jazz vocals as for her thundering wisecracks. No surprise that she can belt with the best of them—but she’s also a canny interpreter of lyrics, wringing unexpected (and often hilarious) emotion out of throwaway lines. If anyone can find something surprising in Christmas carols, she certainly can. Featuring songs from her aptly named new album, Double Standards, her holiday cabaret act, Virgin Mary, Make Mine a Double, promises to make this the gayest Noel of all. CHARLES MCNULTY

We all know Christmas is as much about presents, Santa, and eggnog as it is about music and adorable outfits, so what better way to celebrate than with this combination of Mexican wrestling-masked surf band Los Straightjackets and burlesque cuties the World Famous Pontani Sisters in their latest pageant? Armed with huge smiles and infinite enthusiasm, they’ll get you in the holiday spirit as they high-step in Christmas tree headdresses or fan dance to “Marshmallow World” and other classics. With their sexy retro ensembles, kitschy attitude, and dazzling choreography, these bubbly babes can give the Rockettes a run for their money any day. RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL

December 5, Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, 212.219.3006

Former band geeks, unite: The 30th anniversary of Tubachristmas is fast approaching—so dust off that old piece of brass and haul it to Rockefeller Center for a holiday gathering where hundreds of tubas (and a euphonium or two) form a huge, on-the-spot brass band. Organized in 1974, Tubachristmas first brought tubists together in memory of music teacher and tuba player William J. Bell, and it has since spread across the globe. Tuba enthusiasts who might not be as musically apt can catch the free late-afternoon show on the ice rink—because isn’t being able to say “I celebrated the holidays listening to hundreds of tubas” worth it on its own? MAURA JOHNSTON

December 7, rehearsal at 11 a.m., Rockefeller Center Loading/Delivery Area, 50th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues; concert at 3:30, Rockefeller Center Ice Rink, 50th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, 212.632.3975.

In time for the holidays and Times Square’s 100th birthday, the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus unleashes its latest geek offspring, High Heels & Red Noses, at the Free Museum of Times Square. Kinko the Clown discovers a mysterious high-heeled shoe in a trash heap, and in his search for its owner, he finds femmes fatales, clown cronies, miraculous variety performers, and everything else a clown could want under the Christmas tree. Admission to the museum is free, but to get your bindle stiff, you’ll need $20 for High Heels. RYAN HENRIQUEZ

Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, beginning December 12, Free Museum of Time Square, 125 West 42nd Street, 877.BINDLES

Rude displays of bah humbug aren’t just witnessed at Macy’s on Christmas Eve, they’re also what you’ll find if you attend Jackie Beat’s drag show Blew Christmas (December 17 through 21, Fez). If you too get nauseous with all the be-nice-to-your-fellow-man crap, rejoice in the dazzling Ms. Beat’s annual way of flippin’ the seasonal bird with her renditions of “How the Bitch Stole Christmas” and “Oops . . . It’s Christmas Again.” The ’60s maven Brini Maxwell (Martha Stewart’s drag queen alter ego, who has a regular self-titled show on cable) is starring in a one-night show called A Very Brini Christmas (December 14, Fez). Get holiday planning tips through her clever advising and bring a gift for the Toys for Tots drive while you’re there. ‘Tis the season for giving, so just think to yourself, “What would Brini do?” The freakier side of holiday cheer, drag-style, comes compliments of cracked-out showgirls Chris Tanner and Brandon Olsen in their Hard Candy Christmas: Crashing Through the Snow (December 7 through 21, Fez). Other outrageous phenoms to join their ranks are Lance Cruce, Robert Appleton, Flawless Sabrina, and Armin Ra. Maybe there’s reason to be chipper after all! KEISHA FRANKLIN

Fez, 380 Lafayette Street, 212.533.2680

You’re broke (again!), you’re single (again!), you have coal in your stocking (again!) . . . If your sense of humor is wearing thin this season, Beth Lapides’s Secret Santas can help. The Emmy Award-winning writing team of Sex and the City along with writers from The Onion, The Daily Show, and SNL will read personal horror stories about family, dating, and other embarrassing topics for a two-night holiday edition of Lapides’s un-cabaret “Say the Word” comedy series. After all, there’s nothing merrier than laughing at other people’s pain. ANGELA ASHMAN

December 12 and 13, Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, 212.219.3006

Not many have made it into the Christmas carol canon since the flurry of postwar secular Santa songs. Composer Phil Kline might have, though, at least for the downtown set. His Unsilent Night, a tape collage for an unlimited number of boomboxes, offers New Yorkers tradition and a chance for benign provocation in the name of holiday spirit. To join, meet at 6:45 on December 13 at the Washington Square Park Arch, where Kline will load your B-box with a tape. At “Go!,” your box joins hundreds to make a shimmering cloud of sound. Then, you drift to Tompkins Square, charming or at least bemusing passersby. How could Burl Ives beat that? DAPHNE CARR

December 13, Washington Square Park Arch, Fifth Avenue and Waverly Street

Peace on earth, good will toward all—and by “all” we mean, of course, individuals of every race, creed, feather type, scale texture, and shade of fur. The Bronx Zoo extends its hours into the evening for the holidays and gussies up its grounds with over 140 brightly colored, animal-shaped light sculptures and 10-plus miles of decorated trees and buildings. There will also be nighttime sea lion feedings, holiday storytelling, and featured meet ‘n’ greets with resident reindeer and camels—though, alas, if you’re looking for three wise men, you’ll have to find them on you own. PAMELA GROSSMAN

Weekend nights from December 14, then nightly through January 4, Bronx Zoo, 2300 Southern Boulevard, the Bronx, 718.220.5100

Revel in the pagan origins of Christmas at Paul Winter’s 24th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration, whose grandiose seasonal theatrics involve rolling a giant replica of the earth along the length of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and levitating the world’s largest “sun” gong to the cathedral’s vaults, accompanist and all. Down at the altar, a “tree” of reflective metal, adorned with percussive instruments, spins on a turntable, and the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, in complete Russian folk garb, belts out African choral numbers. With its ambulatory performers, floating enormous gongs, and medieval Russian fanfare, the event is said to have a “Pink Floyd quality” to it. At one point the 2,800 audience members are even encouraged to howl like wolves—a guaranteed antidote to seasonal stress. LORI COLE

December 18, 19, and 20, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, 212.581.1212

The organizers of Santacon are a shadowy bunch, preferring to lie in wait until after their annual event has blizzarded through town. What is known is this: That troop of Santas you saw, heard, and experienced traipsing around New York City last December was not an illusion, and it had little to do with the Salvation Army. It was, instead, the New York edition of this “not-for-profit, nonpolitical, non-religious demented Santa Claus convention”—part pub crawl, part extended wassailing jaunt, part absurdist way to bring joy to this cold, hard world. The head Kringles aren’t offering much in terms of specifics about this year’s revelry, but know this: It might not be such a bad idea to have your Santa costume—and a pair of comfortable shoes—handy during the second weekend of December. You know, just in case. MAURA JOHNSTON

December, various venues,

As if being one of the founding fathers of folk weren’t enough naches, good old Woody Guthrie had a hidden haimish streak. Luckily, the Klezmatics and Woody’s boychick Arlo plan to bring Woody’s long lost Jewish holiday songs to life. The whole megillah: Martha Graham dancer Marjorie Mazia married Woody in 1945. Her mother, Aliza Greenblatt, the Yiddish poet, lived across the street in Coney Island. Aliza, like any good machatunim, schooled Woody on the ways of Jewish culture and history. The two traded verses, and voilà: Hanukkah songs for parties at the local JCC—just like the simcha to celebrate this match. JENNIFER SNOW

December 20, Makor, 1395 Lexington Avenue, 212.601.1000

You love the holiday season; it’s the “holiday” part you can’t get behind. If religious sentiment of any type makes you queasy, perhaps the NYC Atheists Society Winter Solstice Dinner is your kind of celebration. The group is gathering in midtown for a hearty Chinese dinner (no grace before, during, or afterward, thanks very much), some God-free camaraderie, and a performance by Leonid Hambro, WQXR radio personality and former principal pianist with the New York Philharmonic. After the meal, a visit is planned to the top of the Empire State Building—to gaze upon perhaps not the heavens but certainly the beautiful sky. All are welcome. PAMELA GROSSMAN

December 22, Hunan, 323 Fifth Avenue, RSVP to 212.330.6794,

Manhattan might have the windows, but the boroughs rule for Christmas kitsch. Witness the gas station at the corner of Lorimer and Maujer streets,in Williamsburg, which in the post-Thanksgiving frenzy hosts a throng of underlit plastic forms, human and otherwise. A life-size manger, corps of tin soldiers, and a slew of straggling secular favorites glow beneath the harsh lights of near $2 petrol while carols blare from the station speakers. The automaton entourage is large enough to fill several of the surrounding pre-gentrification apartments, prompting cynics to wonder if there isn’t a December sublet to be had from this spectacle. DAPHNE CARR

Nightly, Salerno Service Station, 451 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn, 718. 384.4880

BAM’s first alternative is an avant-Christmas, with seasonal films (not all of them comic) by experimental filmmakers ranging from George Kuchar to Stan Brakhage, plus the verité bonus of D.A. Pennebaker’s Jingle Bells starring Robert Kennedy and Sammy Davis Jr. The second alternative is Christmas in July: Preston Sturges’s 1941 satire, about a guy from the neighborhood who thinks he’s won a radio contest, is a gift any time of the year. It’s paired with an MGM promo in which mogul Louis B. Mayer and various stars help little Jackie Cooper trim his tree. J. HOBERMAN

December 22 and 23, BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718.636.4100

Christmas Eve is the biggest, banging-est night of the year for Jewish singles, with as many as 15 matzo ball parties being thrown in the city. (Matzo ball parties are Jewish camps all grown up, still schmaltzy and crackling with humor but a whole lot hornier.) For the past eight years, has been the grandest one of all, packing ’em in 3,000 strong, including Jewish jet-setters from London, Toronto, and Sydney. This year, they’ll break in Chelsea’s newest venue, Avalon, the new incarnation of the famed Limelight, oddly enough in an old Episcopal church. From there, hop on a free limo shuttle service to the Park. If that ain’t your shtick, head to Serena, where Scott Eisenberg of—who’s thrown matzo ball events since ’96 at spots like Om and Roxy—hosts a more “upscale” and “catered” soiree with free drinks early on and 600 to 700 people expected throughout the night. For another option, try the Society of Young Jewish Professionals’ event at the Culture Club. Contact JESSE GOLDSTEIN

December 24, Avalon, 47 West 20th Street, 212.807.7780

The Park, 118 Tenth Avenue, 212.352.3313

Serena, 222 West 23rd Street, 212.255.4646

Culture Club, 179 Varick Street, 212.243.1999

Sure, you could celebrate the birth of history’s most famous Jew, but maybe you’re among those of us who hold another Jew closer to our hearts: Woody Allen. While others sip sickly sweet eggnog and entertain fantasies of peace on earth, nourish your soul with three generous servings of bittersweet realism, as Makor offers back-to-back-to-back screenings of the classic Allen films Love and Death, Annie Hall, and Sleeper. If you prefer lo mein and egg rolls to cheese logs and gingerbread men, fear not: Quarts of Chinese food will not be confiscated at the door. And if you can’t decide, just ask:

What would Alvy Singer do? KEN SWITZER
December 25, Makor, 35 West 67th Street, 212.601.1000

Manhattan’s shop windows are well-known for carefully branded displays of Christmas cheer, strategic product placement, and cross-media synergy. Looking to gawk at something a little less corporate? Take the N or another line down
to Bensonhurst and just stroll. On the side
streets off of Kings Highway, you’ll see light displays unrivaled in complexity and kitsch. From Santa’s sleigh vaulting over a full set of light-up choirboys, to massive nativity scenes under a netting of a thousand lights, the Christmas displays of this Brooklyn neighborhood have it all. Subtle competition between neighbors keeps Con Ed happy; if you get lost leaving the subway, just follow the eerie glow. (Take the N to the Kings Highway stop and head in any direction
you like.) NICK MAMATAS

Aiding and Abetting

Let’s face it. When it comes to volunteering, not everybody’s cut out for ladling soup to the indigent. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better things to do with your valuable free time than watch Single in the Hamptons marathons. There are plenty of worthwhile causes in desperate need of squeamish urbanites, and not one involves vegetable barley broth. Through youth programs like “Arts in the Shelters,” “Media Works,” and “The Hip-Hop Project,” Art Start sparks creativity and channels passions into professions. Expert volunteers in the fields of arts, advertising, television, film, music, fashion, and more teach workshops, do one-on-one mentoring, and donate materials and services. If your political sensibilities lean toward the radical, then ABC No Rio is for you. This artist-activist collective is hooked up with such volunteer projects as “Books Through Bars,” “Food Not Bombs,” and “The Lower East Side Biography Project.” Check out their website for details: For instance, “Books Through Bars” delivers paperbacks to prisons but doesn’t accept “mass-market fiction.” For a more mundane but no less rewarding experience, try arts organizations like Creative Time or the Public Theater. Both have ongoing needs for clerical volunteers. If you don’t have a day or two a week to spare, but rather an hour here and an hour there, then try websites like and, which feature plenty of organizations with interesting one-off needs—perfect for commitment-fearing New Yorkers. And if you’re still not convinced of the inner joy that comes only with volunteering, try donating your pooch. Fido probably isn’t nearly as weary of hospitals and nursing homes as you are. For certification details, contact the good folks at the Delta Society (,a href=””> You’ll be glad you did. CARLA SPARTOS

Art Start, 285 Broadway, suite 620, 800.224.0990,

ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington Street, 212.254.3697,

Creative Time, 307 Seventh Avenue, suite 1904, 212.206.6674,

Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, 212.539.8621,