New York is 400 years old, yet constantly evolving. Its distinct neighborhoods have become world-famous, and even to New Yorkers, these neighborhoods often seem to be from another time, another place, although just a few subway stops away.
If you want to discover—or just see again—one of the more noted environs of the Big Apple, this is your chance: the Harlem Lights Celebration.
This year it takes place in all its brilliance on Tuesday, Nov. 14, thanks to the 125th Street Business Improvement District. Starting at 6 P.M. on two almost-mythical streets—125th and Broadway—the parade will brighten up 125th all the way to the East River.
Along the way be overwhelmed by the 15 magical illuminated floats. This year’s theme is Celebrating Our Youth. The parade has been a fixture for 30 years, integrating Harlem’s businesses with its historic connection to music and art (the rain date is Nov. 21).
Harlem has a population of almost 200,000 people, and it is the music that has defined it over the decades. Thus, on this night you will see dozens of “singing trees,” music emanating from them on the sidewalks. You want jazz? You’ll hear it. Hip-Hop? Yes, of course. Old and new.
This year’s theme celebrating Harlem’s youth will feature two Grand Marshals—Stephanie Pacheco, the state’s Poet Laureate, and Dr. Lena Green. She is executive director of HOPE Center Harlem, the area’s mental health clinic. Dr. Green recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed by President Biden.
But there’s more than the parade. The entire neighborhood will be involved: catch music, dance, food, and special promotions that local businesses have drummed up.
The president of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, Barbara Askins, is naturally proud of what is going on.
“For more than 30 years, Harlem Holiday Lights has evolved into a community-wide holiday celebration that represents the historical and cultural flavors of our neighborhood,” she says.
That “neighborhood” includes the Apollo Theater, Columbia University, and Settepani Restaurant. They have helped grow Harlem’s arts, culture and entertainment into a destination for foreigners and New Yorkers alike.
The Apollo, of course, is a world-famous landmark. It helped launch the careers of such prominent Black entertainers as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin.
The streets of Harlem are known for its jazz clubs, its soul-food restaurants, its African-American heritage. A diverse crowd of locals and visitors fill its streets. After all, it boasts not only traditional food and music, but also trendy eateries, quite stylish clubs and energetic bars going deep into the night. The architecture of Harlem is a mix of 19th-Century brownstones and 21st Century high-rises. And shoppers won’t be disappointed, either—chain stores abound.
No wonder the two Grand Marshals are so happy with the honor.
“It is a beautiful community tradition that shines a spotlight on a neighborhood so rich in arts and culture, and one that I hold dear in my heart,” said Ms. Pacheco. “I dedicate my platform to inspiring and uplifting the next generation with the message that every story matters.”
And dr. Green adds, “To serve as the grand marshal of Harlem Holiday Lights is a wonderful honor and gift that I will forever treasure. We have so much to be proud of and this is an opportunity to celebrate the rich heritage and diversity of our community as we kick off the holiday season with the residents, businesses, visitors, and partners in the village of Harlem.”
It figures to be one of the most interesting moments you’ll catch in New York this year—or any year.