Away: It’s Christmastime in the City

Sophie Flax making a withdrawal in New York City.

I remember the exodus well.

It happened every year like clockwork for a day or so before Thanksgiving and then again at Christmas as pretty much every Manhattanite fled the city to enjoy the holidays somewhere else.

Back then, I was stuck in a dawn to midnight job at a substandard advertising agency that didn’t appreciate my talents. I would lament my fate as I sat like Bob Cratchit, not on a high stool, but on the 22ndfloor of some office building, watching the city empty out below me while I sent out Christmas Eve pleas asking clients to pay their bills.

As the bright red tail-lights snaked along Park Avenue South in an endless conga line, I envisioned these city folks going over the river and through the tunnel to Currier and Ives villages somewhere beyond New Jersey. Perhaps to non-specific New England where good looking L.L. Bean-wearing parents welcomed their kids and grandkids at the front door with warm affection, fresh gingerbread and perfectly proportioned gimlets.

But that was then.

Now that I live year-round on the East End, which one could argue is nothing but a series of Currier and Ives villages, I’ve had a change of heart owing to the rather non-traditional holiday lifestyle that my husband, Adam, and I adopted when we were still childless and living in Gotham. We have since imposed said tradition on our 17-year-old daughter, Sophie, whether she likes it or not.

Part of that tradition grew from the fact that when we first began cohabitating, neither of us had family living anywhere nearby, which meant multi-generational holidays were not an option due to the expense of travel and work commitments. The other part of the tradition grew organically once we realized quite early on how much fun New York City can be when you have it to yourself. Envision this: A Christmas Eve visit to the hottest exhibit at a virtually abandoned Metropolitan Museum of Art followed by dinner at our favorite dim sum place in Chinatown and a nightcap at the always packed (except for one night a year) Old Town Bar near Gramercy Park. These became our holiday traditions and usually, we could even take the car and drive to whatever destination we wanted and park right out in front. How often can you do that in New York? A gift from heaven above, indeed.

These days, with Sophie in tow, we’re often the ones leaving the East End on holiday eves, heading west when those same City-types are clogging the Long Island Expressway on their exodus to their country homes here. In Manhattan, we’ll get a hotel room, often available at surprisingly affordable rates on the night before a holiday, and then go check out the department store window displays, find a deal on a Broadway show at the TKTS line, let Sophie do some shopping at Forever 21 and make a withdrawal from the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM on Lexington Avenue.

And let’s not forget the dinners we don’t have to cook or clean up after. One of our favorites in recent memory came Thanksgiving Day at Hospoda, a now long-gone Czech eatery near the United Nations that took the turkey feast to unimaginable new heights. It wasn’t just the fabulous Bohemian twist on an old American classic that made it special, but the fact that the meal was accompanied by no fewer than seven different style Czech beers, from dark brown and mostly foam to a delectable light lager. It was the closest thing to an L.L. Bean wearing parent serving a perfectly proportioned gimlet I could ever hope to achieve in my lifetime.

I wish I could say that Sophie holds the same affection for these holiday traditions that Adam and I have so painstakingly carved out during our years together. But alas, it’s not true. Our daughter is her own being, and one who really dislikes crowds, noise, weird smells and traffic. In short, Manhattan. She’s a country girl to the core.

Which is why this year, her last at home before she heads off to college, Sophie is deciding what our holidays will be — and, as might be expected, it’s a little bit exodus and a lot Currier and Ives. In short, a Thanksgiving trip to Portland, Maine, to spend four days with Adam’s sisters followed by Christmas here at home in East Hampton surrounded by as many aunts, uncles and cousins who we can entice to make the trip and cram into the house.

That’s a first for us. And Manhattan? Nowhere in the mix, apparently.

The L.L. Bean catalog just arrived in the mail yesterday. So come Christmas Eve, you can be sure I’ll have those gimlets in hand and ready at the door. … Maybe it will even snow.