Long gift list or short, light wallet or big spender, window shopping is something that can be enjoyed by almost everyone. Manhattan's most famous Midtown retailers are known for splashy displays that have become as much a holiday tradition here as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree or sidewalk Santas.
Store executives say they see the windows as their seasonal gifts to the city.
"New York being what New York is -- it's the window capital of the world -- it sees people from all over the world come to New York to experience the holiday," says Paul Olszewski, Macy's director of windows.
Some stores have added high-tech twists in recent years. At Bloomingdale's, cameras have been incorporated into displays, and photos will beam from the windows as well as from the retailer's Facebook page. At Macy's there are touch screens to design a 3-D ornament that can be sent back to your cellphone. "It's all the kids who totally get how to do this," Olszewski says.
Still, it's largely left to the reindeer, snowmen and jolly St. Nick to spread the cheer.
Some highlights this year:
*Tiffany & Co.: Using the familiar (and nearby) Central Park as its reference, Tiffany fashioned a miniature wonderland anchored with a carousel.
The carousel animals, including zebras, lions and giraffes, take off in the Christmas Eve sky to deliver holiday gems to presumably good girls and boys.
*Saks Fifth Avenue: Snowflakes and bubbles are the stars here, elaborating on two previously popular themes for the retailer. The windows tell the story "Who Makes the Snow" (the picture book is being sold exclusively at Saks), about a girl searching for the source of these magical, visual treats. A light show projects against the facade of the building to make it appear as if it is snowing.
One-of-a-kind dresses by Alexander McQueen, Rag & Bone, Nina Ricci and Olivier Theyskens, among others, add a little fashion to the fantasy.
*Bloomingdale's: The flagship store on 59th Street uses as its centerpiece some of its vintage shopping bags -- made bigger and better with movement that allow passers-by to peer inside.
Some of the bags have been reproduced, and a different one will go home with shoppers each week through Christmas.
*Lord & Taylor: Inspired by a 1941 illustration by Carl S. Wilson called "What Is Christmas Made Of?," the store asked local children to draw what they think constitutes the holiday.
The favorites: picking out a tree, trimming it with all the bells and whistles, ice skating in Central Park, building a snowman and waiting for Santa. They're among the themes incorporated into windows.
*Macy's: Designers used many shades of white as both the backdrop and decoration for each scene, encouraging each passer-by to imagine their own magical holiday moment.
The story that moves from window to window starts with a mysterious ship headed to the North Pole, then takes a few detours by the Tree of Wishes and a wish factory before reaching its destination.
*Bergdorf Goodman: Bergdorf always weaves high fashion into its holiday story, but this year it shares the coveted Fifth Avenue space with wild animals visiting the urban jungle.
The theme "Carnival of the Animals" puts a black-and-white lace gown by Marchesa within striking distance of a life-sized paper zebra, ostrich, panda bear, aardvark and peacock.
A tropical forest made of metals and mirrors is home to a giant brass birdcage and a dress by Naeem Khan, and a mannequin modeling J. Mendel's gown surrounds herself with polar bears, a moose, wolves, a seal and a mountain goat.
*Barneys New York: To support Gaga's Workshop, a special Lady Gaga-themed, in-store shop, the windows depict four themes: Gaga Constellation, Gaga Machine, Gaga's Boudoir and Gaga's Crystal Cave. The boudoir is built entirely with hair, referencing the superstar singer's own hairstyles; the cave uses lights to sculpt a mermaid Gaga; the time machine transforms her into nonhuman form; and the constellation features a short film.
*Henri Bendel: Bendel's windows give New York its due, including the skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, tiny apartments and Times Square-style neon signs. And the Statue of Liberty shares the stage with the Radio City Rockettes.