Field Trip: The Metropolitan Christmas tree

Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

You all know how to get to the Metropolitan.
The tree is in the Medieval wing, gallery 305, on the first floor, straight back from the Great Hall behind the stairs.

The Met is closed these days on Wednesdays as well as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Hours are 10a to 5p, Sunday, Monday and Thursday; 10a to 9p Friday and Saturday. The place was PACKED when we went on Friday around 1p.

If you haven’t been up to the Metropolitan at Christmas in a while, and if you, like us, have friends visiting, this is worth the trip. The 20-foot lighted blue spruce has been presented in the Medieval wing on the first floor since 1964, when 140 Neapolitan crèche figures, dating from the second half of the 18th Century, were gifted to the museum by Loretta Hines Howard.

The figures are credited to Giuseppe Sanmartino, an Italian sculptor best known for monumental sculptures in marble and stucco, who created three traditional vignettes: the Nativity, with angels, shepherds and sheep; the procession of the three Magis and attendants; and town people going about their business at the inn of Bethlehem mentioned by St. Luke, where on the Holy Night there was no place for Mary and Joseph.

The figures average between 12 and 15 inches in height — so the ones near the back get smaller to create more depth of perception on the “set.” And they are pliable (still?!) so curators can give them poses. Their bodies are made of wire, their arms and legs are carved wood, and their heads and shoulders are modeled terracotta.

The angels are hung in the tree, and the whole thing is set in front of the Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid.

I loved the Fauvism show, “Vertigo in Color,” and the Cecily Brown show. I could take or leave Manet/Degas, but I am probably the only one who feels that way…

We just had tea at the American Wing Cafe, which is right under the windows facing the park. Great spot, no real line, the sandwiches are about $16. There are three other casual cafes (The Eatery has more family-friendly hot food and the Petrie Court and Great Hall Balcony have snacks and sandwiches), as well as the Bill Telepan more upscale, white tablecloth spot, The Met Dining Room, which requires reservations.



  1. I thought Manet/Degas was well done, but the issue I had was with the crowding. I know the show was imported from the Musée d’Orsay, but it was very cramped in the gallery, and it was hard to navigate comfortably. After a while I just resorted to seeing the highlights and skipping some of the smaller pieces. And I went on a Monday at 11am! The nearby European galleries were pretty empty at the time, so I enjoyed those after. Sometimes you forget how incredible the Met’s collection is.

    I think the best exhibition going right now at the major museums is Ed Ruscha at MoMA. While there you can pop into Picasso in Fontainebleau which is pretty nice and unique.

  2. On your way to or from the tree (which is definitely worth the trek uptown), make sure to visit the Patio from the Castle of Vélez Blanco in Gallery 534. It’s on your left just past the little escalator if you take the corridor on the left side of the stairs from the Great Hall. It’s usually pretty quiet and a fantastic reminder that great art isn’t only painting and sculpture.