A dolphin, turtle, and sea faun lanterns glow against a black backdrop at the Bronx Zoo's unique holiday decorations display
Julie Larsen Maher © Bronx Zoo

Twinkling lights, giant pine garland wreaths, and sparkling angels are all pretty standard holiday fare, but what about lobster traps, origami, and hot dog stands? Believe it or not, all three of those things can be found in the unique holiday decorations on this list. From parking garages to the tunnels of the subway, we found the most offbeat holiday decor to include in this list. Look out for these unique holiday decorations on your next stroll through the city:

1. Lobster Trap Christmas Tree

Red Hook Lobster Pound

Red Hook Lobster Pound in Brooklyn puts a nautical twist on their annual Christmas tree display. It’s made out of lobster traps! Stacks of traps are assembled into a Christmas tree shape and decorated with lights and a garland of pine and red buoys.

The first lobster trap tree was created in 2017. Since then, the restaurant has hosted an annual tree lighting with complimentary drinks and snacks, and lots of cheer every year.

2. Barkitecture on Madison Ave

  • A doghouse made out of a hot dog cart
  • Barkitecture doghouse made out of mop heads
  • Barkitecture holiday decorations
  • Doghouse made out of tennis balls
  • Barkitecture holiday decorations
  • Barkitecture holiday decorations

Forget gingerbread houses, students at the School of Visual Arts have created dog houses to decorate Madison Avenue. The students used a variety of materials and found objects from mop heads to a hot dog cart to construct the canine abodes. Each of the 14 doghouses is protected from the elements by an illuminated 8′ lucite case which also features the name and photo of the adorable dog in residence. Walking along the display, you’ll meet Bubble Gum, a fluffy white poodle in a hot pink house created by Yuanjun Chen, Catch-up, the dog that shares his hot dog cart home with a pigeon (by Jennifer Santos), Mop Top by Kaori Sakai and many others.

You can find these cases running along Madison Avenue on the blocks between East 61st and East 77 Streets through January 3. The installation is created in partnership with Madison Avenue B.I.D. and under the direction of artist, 3D designer, and Program Chair of the SVA’s BFA Design: 3D Design program, Kevin T. O’Callaghan.

3. Secret Pet Remembrance Tree in Central Park

  • Secret pet memorial tree in Central Park
  • Secret pet memorial tree in Central Park

We first heard whispers of a secret pet memorial tree back in 2013 and set out to find it in Central Park. The makeshift memorial is hidden deep in the woods of the Ramble south of Belvedere Castle. The little-known tradition has kept up quietly over the past decade.

On the tree, you’ll find mostly handmade ornaments, all dedicated to lost furry loved ones. There are laminated photos of pooches and notes to lost felines and other pets among ribbons and bows. While this part of the park is usually quiet, especially during the winter, you might run into another person or two taking a moment to reflect on fond memories of their long-lost companion.

4. Parking Garage Diorama

  • Parking garage holiday decorations
  • Parking garage holiday decorations
  • Parking garage holiday decorations
  • Parking garage holiday decorations
  • Parking garage holiday decorations

This parking garage at Continental Towers on the Upper East Side of Manhattan isn’t like other parking garages. During the holidays, the entrance to the garage turns into a winter wonderland. Employees at the garage have been hand-crafting detailed dioramas for the display every year over the past decade.’=

Down in the garage, you’ll see a fireplace scene complete with Santa and presents, a New York City street scene with dreidels and a menorah, and a massive winter village that garage employee Javier Sanchez told NBC News contains figures of himself and other employees as well as their family members. You can (carefully!) walk in and enjoy the displays on foot, or by car if you need a spot to park!

5. Wreath Interpretations at Central Park Arsenal

  • A wreath made of  yellow smiley faces
  • A wreath made out of origami lantern flies, part of the Wreath Interpretations exhibit, a unique holiday decorations display
  • A qreath made of rulers
  • A wreath made of origami birds
  • A sparkly wreath
  • A wreath made out of notebooks
  • A wreath made out of Mardi-Gras beads

The Wreath Interpretations exhibition at Central Park’s Arsenal Gallery features dozens of handcrafted wreaths made of “inventive and unexpected” materials. Artists use everything from caution tape, traffic light reflectors, and safety pins, to bath sponges, rulers, Mardi Gras beads, and sugar meringue!

The selection of wreaths explores a wide range of themes, such as family history, volunteerism, endangered animals, and chemistry. Each wreath is accompanied by a short artist statement that describes its meaning. The exhibit is free and open to the public at the Arsenal Gallery on the third floor of NYC Parks’ Headquarters in Central Park, at Fifth Avenue at 64th Street.

6. Origami Tree at the American Museum of Natural History

  • Origami Christmas tree at the American Museum of Natural History
  • Origami Christmas tree at the American Museum of Natural History

You usually don’t want any bugs and critters on your Christmas tree, but the tree at the American Museum of Natural History is covered in them! The 13-foot Christmas tree is decorated with origami versions of specimens that you’ll find throughout the museum’s collections. There are over 1,000 pieces of origami!

In the 1970s, Museum entomologist Alice Gray began creating paper models of insects based on the Museum’s collections. Those models made their way onto a small holiday tree in one of the scientific offices, and a new tradition was born. You can spot iconic museum attractions like the Blue Whale, Tyrannosaurus rex, and Titanosaur hanging on the tree.

7. World’s Largest Gingerbread Village

Gingerbread lane holiday decorations
Dustin Niles/Essex Market

This year, Essex Street Market is hosting the world’s largest gingerbread village! The village is made of 700 gingerbread houses, 4,000 pounds of candy, and 1,000 pounds of gingerbread. This sugary display was crafted by chef Jon Lovitch, who has been making GingerBread Lane installations for over 25 years.

Previous iterations of the largest gingerbread village have popped up all over the country in landmark sites like the Smithsonian Museum and Rockefeller Center. The Essex Street Market display will be up through-January 15th, 2023. You can also take part in a gingerbread decorating workshop.

8. Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights

A dolphin, turtle, and sea faun lanterns glow against a black backdrop at the Bronx Zoo's unique holiday decorations display
Julie Larsen Maher © Bronx Zoo

The holiday lights at the Bronx Zoo are wild! Instead of holiday figures like Frosty, Santa, and Rudolph, at the Bronx Zoo holiday lantern festival you’ll find glowing depictions of elephants, turtles, gorillas, and other wildlife. as you embark on a lantern safari, you’ll see more than 360 lanterns representing almost 90 animal and plant species. Of those total numbers, 70 lanterns are new in 2022 and 30 new animal species have been introduced. The wildlife displays are separated into geographical categories of Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America, and the ocean.

The lantern safaris are accompanied by live ice-carving demonstrations, holiday treats, costumed characters, wildlife theater, stilt walkers, and more fun activities. After you’ve trekked through the illuminated wildlife habitats, you can sit down and enjoy a warm cup of hot cocoa. See more details and purchase tickets here.

9. Train of Many Colors

nostalgia train
Image courtesy of the New York Transit Museum, Nostalgia train from 2018

Only in New York can a vintage subway train double for a festive holiday display! This year, the New York Transit Museum’s Holiday Nostalgia Rides are made extra festive by the curation of the “Train of Many Colors.” This train is made up of a selection of cars manufactured in the 1960s. There are “redbirds,” “Green Machines”, blue-and-silver “Platinum Mist” cars, and a striking two-tone robin’s egg blue and cream “Bluebird” car. The vibrant cars all represent different eras of subway history.

You can see the rainbow of cars pass by, or hop on for a ride, on December 11th and 18th along the 1 line from 10am to 5:30pm. All you’ll need is regular subway fare. Be sure to check the museum’s website for exact stops and times.

10. Colored Christmas Trees of New Jersey

Over in Belvidere, New Jersey the employees at Wyckoff’s Christmas Tree Farm have come up with specially formulated paint to turn Christmas trees different colors. The trees come in many colors including purple, blue, white, black, magenta, and more. The rainbow-colored trees are sold on a first-come-first-served basis and often sell out!

The arm itself dates back to 1839 when the first owner, Simon Wyckoff, purchased 172 acres of land. It was converted into a Christmas tree farm in 1958 by John W. Wyckoff Sr., a fifth-generation Wyckoff. The first eight trees were harvested nearly ten years later.

Next, check out 5 Quirky Rockefeller Center Traditions and 10 Alternative Christmas Trees