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Astoria Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremonies

Almost every park and square in New York City has a Christmas tree this time of year, and it seems like most of them also have a special Christmas tree lighting ceremony. I’d never been to a tree lighting ceremony, but it was on my NYC Christmas bucket list so I had to make it happen. In this post, I’ll share my experience at two different Christmas tree lighting ceremonies in Astoria, Queens. Read on to learn more about what the ceremonies were like and which one was better.

Tree lighting ceremonies in New York City

A tree lighting ceremony is exactly what it sounds like. People gather around a Christmas tree in a park or square and watch as it is lit for the first time for the season. The event often includes carolers (professionals and/or children), speakers (often city officials) and sometimes warm beverages or treats (typically for purchase).

These events take place only once a year for each tree, and usually in late November/early December. Unless you planned your New York City trip around a specific tree lighting schedule, it’s more likely something that will conveniently work out for you during a trip you’ve already planned. Outside of the famous and popular tree lighting ceremonies, like Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park, most local tree lightings are attended primarily by residents of that neighborhood.

You can find a list of some of the best Christmas tree lighting ceremonies around New York City with dates and times here. We live in Astoria, Queens, so we prioritized two tree lighting ceremonies near by.

Athens Square Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Astoria, Queens

Athens Square is a small but popular neighborhood park located just off the 30th Avenue subway station in Astoria, Queens. The park has two playgrounds, a basketball court, and an open square. The square hosts live music performances in the summer and is a popular space for children to play and locals to sit and chat all year. We love Athens Square and spend a ton of time there, because we live just a few blocks away.

Athens Square has only had a Christmas tree since 2020. The first tree was installed in Athens Square that year to spark some joy during an otherwise dark time amid the COVID pandemic. In 2022, the Athens Square Christmas tree stands at an impressive 43 feet tall. That makes it the tallest Christmas tree in Queens and the second tallest Christmas tree in all of New York City.

Athens Square Christmas tree lighting festivities — 2022

In 2022, the Athens Square tree lighting ceremony included a parade of horse-drawn carriages, local performers, children carolers and Santa Clause himself. The event shut down a mile of streets in the heart of Astoria to vehicle traffic and drew a large crowd that filled the square and overflowed onto nearby sidewalks.

The tree lighting ceremony at Athens Square began with a parade at 6 PM. The parade kicked off at 49th Street and made its way down 30th Ave for almost a mile before ending at Athens Square. The parade included horse drawn carriages, wagons of local children, and a few local celebrities, including Santa.

Meanwhile, school children sang carols for the crowd gathering at Athens square. The parade vehicles arrived right around 7 PM.

The ceremony kicked off with a few short words by the tree’s founder Gus Lambropoulos and his wife Maria. After a countdown and a slight technical snafu, the tree was officially lit around 7:15 PM. After the tree was lit, there were a few other performances in the square.

Athens Square Christmas tree lighting schedule

The Athens Square Christmas tree lighting ceremony is scheduled for November 30, 2023. The official timeline has not been announced, but it will likely follow a similar schedule as previous years. It’s likely the parade will start at 6, the ceremony in Athens Square will begin around 7, and the tree will be lit around 7:15.

Historically, the event has taken place in early December. There has not been consistency on the day of the week nor the day of the month. For reference, the event has previously been held on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, December 2, 2020
  • Friday, December 3, 2021
  • Thursday, December 1, 2022

Athens Square Christmas tree lighting review

Despite our child having a meltdown and having to leave just minutes before the tree was actually lit, we had a lovely time at the Athens Square tree lighting. It is popular enough to feel festive, but not so popular that you can’t see/move/breathe.

Even though Athens Square has only had a Christmas tree for the past three years, the tree lighting ceremony has quickly become beloved by locals who consider it a kick-off to the holiday season. I would absolutely recommend the Athens Square Christmas tree lighting ceremony to anyone local to Astoria or Queens.

If you’re visiting New York City and happen to be in town during the tree lighting, I’d strongly encourage you to make your way to Astoria for the event. You’re welcome here!

The Athens Square tree lighting is a good one if you don’t want to battle huge crowds at a more popular event, but it’s also a good excuse to experience an authentic NYC neighborhood outside of Manhattan. Make a night out of it! Grab a coffee at Astoria Coffee or a rainbow cookie from Il Fornaio Bakery before the event. Afterwards, get dinner up the road on 30th (maybe at The Shady Lady or Sugar Freak) and then drinks at a local pub (like Sweet Afton or Judy & Punch).

How to get to Athens Square

Athens Square is only 5 stops away from Manhattan on the N or W subway train. Exit at the 30th Ave station and the park is one block west.

Astoria Park Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Astoria, Queens

Astoria Park is the largest park in Astoria, Queens. It’s located along the East River roughly between the RFK Bridge and Hell Gate Bridge. It’s home to the famous Astoria Pool, as well as a running track, tennis courts, basketball courts and playground. There’s lots of walking paths and great views. It’s all around a great park and popular outdoor oasis for Astoria locals.

Astoria Park celebrated its 10th annual Christmas tree lighting in 2022. The free event is a tradition for many local Astoria families. The Christmas tree itself at Astoria Park is a bit … anticlimactic. In 2021 the tree was around 30 feet, but in 2022 the tree appeared to barely hit 20 feet. (I could not find the official height.)

Astoria Park Christmas tree lighting festivities — 2022

Entertainment at the Astoria Park tree lighting included a few caroling groups and wandering stilt performers. There were a couple activities for kids including a craft station (with paper, markers and scratch paper), free balloon animals and a mailbox for letters for Santa. They handed out small plush snowmen to children who mailed letters. To round out the event, there was a photo arch, a small stand selling decorated sugar cookies and sweets and a cart selling light-up children’s toys.

The tree lighting event takes place at the top of the Great Lawn near the intersection of 19th Street and 23rd Avenue. The event began at 3 and the tree lighting was scheduled for “dusk.” In 2022, the Astoria Park tree was lit at 4:57 PM. Some of the activities like the letters to Santa and the craft table wrapped up before the tree lighting and were closed by about 4:30.

Astoria Park Christmas tree lighting schedule

The Astoria Park tree lighting ceremony typically takes place on the first Sunday in December and usually begins around 3 or 4 PM. In 2022, the event was held on Sunday, December 4 beginning at 4 PM with the tree lighting up at 4:57 PM.

Astoria Park Christmas tree lighting review

We love spending time at Astoria Park, and usually go there every Saturday morning. Attending the tree lighting gave us a fun excuse to visit the park in the evening. We enjoyed watching the sunset over the skyline and Hell Gate Bridge at golden hour. After some time playing on the playground, we made our way up to the tree lighting festivities.

The Astoria Park Christmas tree lighting ceremony fell a little flat for us. One major reason was the size of the tree. After seeing the impressively tall tree at Athens Square, the tree at Astoria Park felt almost comically small.

The performers were nice, but I was frustrated by the timeline. The event started at 3, but there was no scheduled time for the lighting (just “dusk”). The activities like crafts and mailing letters to Santa wrapped up well before the lighting, which left us with an award gap with little to do.

Maybe I would have been less annoyed if my toddler wasn’t constantly whining about not being able to get a light-up toy that the other kids had. (I’m sorry, but we just bought one the night before at Holiday Lights at Bronx Zoo and I was not caving for another.)

All things considered, I probably would not go out of my way for this event next year. I definitely preferred the Athens Square tree lighting event to Astoria Park.

How to get to Astoria Park

The closest subway station to Astoria Park is the Ditmars Boulevard station which serves the N and W trains. From there, it’s a 0.6 mile walk to the tree lighting festivities. There’s also a large parking lot in Astoria Park, should you be driving.