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Things to do in New York: 15 can’t-miss fests in December 2013

Watch tree lightings, say hi to Santa and sip hot cocoa! Find the best family-friendly events and more festive things to do in New York City this winter.

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Things to do in New York: Winter's Eve

  • Things to do in New York: Winter Garden Holiday Fest

  • Photograph: Filip Wolak

    Things to do in New York: Winter Family Day

  • Things to do in New York: St. Nicholas Day



  • Photograph: Meredith Zinner

    Things to do in New York: Hip Tot Music Fest



  • Things to do in New York: Winter Solstice Celebration and Holiday Marketplace



  • Things to do in New York: New York City Fire Museum's Annual Santa Rescue


  • Photograph: Brian Friedman

    Things to do in New York: Frolic's Rockin' Holiday Show



  • Courtesy the New York Historical Society


    Things to do in New York: Historical Train Weekend

  • Photograph: Melissa Sinclair

    Things to do in New York: Holiday Fest at Twinkle Playspace

  • Things to do in New York: Make Music New York Winter

  • Things to do in New York: HOWL! Christmas Carnival

  • Julie Larsen Maher

    Things to do in New York: Ice Carving Week

  • Photographer: Andrew Kelly

    Things to do in New York: Remake the Holidays

  • Things to do in New York: Kwanzaa at AMNH


Photograph: Filip Wolak

Things to do in New York: Winter's Eve

As temperatures tiptoe towards freezing, grab your warmest coat and head to one of the holiday season’s most fun festivals, including neighborhood tree lighting ceremonies, Christmas concerts, major museum events and more things to do in New York.

RECOMMENDED: Christmas in New York for families


Winter's Eve

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Ring in the holidays in classic New York City style at this annual festival. The block party kicks off with a neighborhood tree lighting and performances by Broadway vets Brian Stokes Mitchell and Bebe Neuwirth in Dante Park at Broadway and 63rd Street, and continues along Broadway from Columbus Circle to West 68th Street. Catch more music by kindie band the Pop Ups at the Kids' Central zone (Broadway at 61st St), where there'll be face painting, temporary tattoos, a holiday card workshop, a Voice Painter station and Magnolia Cupcakes. Stop into the Film Society of Lincoln Center for three free screenings of Miracle on 34th St (3:30pm, 5:30pm and 7:30pm). As your family ambles along the route, you'll find yummy grub from area restaurants like Boulud Sud and The Smith and sidewalks full of street musicians, jugglers, stilt walkers, ice sculptures, Santa Claus and tons more cold-weather fun. All ages.

  1. Manhattan
  2. Mon Nov 30
More info

Winter Garden Holiday Fest

  • Free

After taking a spin around the new Brookfield Place ice rink, head to this (totally free) fest for crafts, performances, a concert and treats a-plenty. Join DIY organization ScrapKins, who'll lead a workshop where tots can build their own sleigh ships and sail them down an ice flume. Then, take in a 15-minute rendition of A Christmas Carol by the New York Classical Theatre, plus a high-energy show with Metropolitan Klezmer. Once they've had a romp inside the igloo playhouse, little ones can warm up with hot chocolate from Mud and One Girl Cookies. All ages.

  1. Brookfield Place Winter Garden 220 Vesey St, at West St, 10281
  2. Until Tue Dec 3
More info

Winter Family Day 2013

  • Price band: 1/4

Celebrate winter with the Morgan’s annual Winter Family Day! This year, the festivities are dedicated to the exhibition "Edgar Allan Poe," and will feature the writer’s penchant for ghosts and mysteries, from puppet shows and art workshops to strolling characters and costume photo shoots. Additionally, the Morgan is not skipping its traditional display of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, for those in need of some serious holiday spirit. Ages 3 to 12.

  1. The Morgan Library & Museum 225 Madison Ave, at 36th St
  2. Sun Dec 6
More info

St. Nicholas Day

  • Price band: 1/4

Head to Flatbush to learn about St. Nicholas, the man who inspired North America's Santa Claus. The man in red will arrive on horseback at 2pm. Until then, tots can paint a Dutch clog, play colonial games, sip on hot cider and listen as balladeer Linda Russell performs 18th-century tunes. All ages.

  1. Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum 5816 Clarendon Rd, at Ralph Ave
  2. Until Sat Dec 6
More info

Winter Solstice Celebration & Holiday Marketplace

  • Free

Enjoy nature, music, food and shopping at the Queens Botanical Garden’s celebration of the Winter Solstice. Children can take a garden tour, get to work on botanical crafts, take in musical performances and nibble on a seasonal treat. The festival will close with a tree-lighting ceremony at 4:30pm. All ages.

  1. Queens Botanical Garden 43-50 Main St, at Dahlia Ave
  2. Sun Dec 6
More info

New York City Fire Museum's Annual Santa Rescue

  • Price band: 1/4

Kris Kringle makes an early appearance—and gets stranded on the roof when his reindeer fly off without him. Happily, New York's Bravest come to the rescue. Viewing the rooftop exploits is free to all, but for the cost of museum admission families can head inside to enjoy quality time and a photo op with Saint Nick, plus hot chocolate, live Christmas carols and…hot dogs? All ages.

  1. New York City Fire Museum 278 Spring St, between Hudson and Varick Sts
  2. Until Sun Dec 7
More info

Frolic's Rockin' Holiday Show

  • Price band: 2/4

Listen to seasonal tunes from the Little Rock-Its by Frolic, the Pop Ups, Tim Kubart and the Screaming Keys, made up of 4-to-6-year-olds in the Little Rock-its music class. Folks from Baby DJ School will also be spinning tunes. Meanwhile, revelers can experiment with glitter tattoos and snap pictures in a holiday photo booth with Santa Claus. Ages 1 to 6.

  1. Brooklyn Bowl 61 Wythe Ave, at North 11th St, 11211
  2. Sun Dec 8
More info

Historical Train Weekend

  • Price band: 1/4

At this celebration of all things railroad, kids listen to train-themed stories, meet conductor Bob and make their own engine car or caboose. They can also check out eye-popping toys from the NYHS collection. Ages 3 to 6.

  1. New-York Historical Society 170 Central Park West, between 76th and 77th Sts
  2. Sat Dec 12 - Sun Dec 13
More info

Holiday Fest at Twinkle Playspace

  • Price band: 2/4

Celebrate the eight-month-old Twinkle Playspace's first year in Williamsburg with a treat-filled party. There'll also be performances by the Preschool of Rock and Mario the Magician, as well as a photobooth, wintertime crafts and goodie bags for all children. Ages 1 to 6.

  1. Twinkle Playspace 144 Frost Street, between Graham and Manhattan Aves
  2. Until Thu Dec 19
More info

Make Music New York Winter

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Make Music New York, which inundates public spaces with live music every June 21, has decided to bring its magic to the winter solstice, as well. Look out for participatory musical parades on Sat 21 everywhere from G train stations and the High Line to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and Columbus Circle. At the BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building, folks will line up at 4pm for a 45-minute holiday boombox parade around Fort Greene (electronics will only be distributed to the first 50 people there, so bring your own if you've got one!) Check out makemusicny.org/winter-2013 to find out how you can play along elsewhere around the city. Ages 7 and up.

  1. Various locations
  2. Until Sun Dec 21
More info

Howl! Arts Christmas Carnival

  • Free

Howl!'s annual summer festival gets a Christmassy counterpart for the first time ever—at this two-day extravaganza, expect performers from Rosie's Theater Kids, shadow puppeteers and local dance troupes, as well as activites like caroling, carnival games with a holiday twist, a visit with Santa and even a 40-horse carousel. All ages.

  1. Tompkins Square Park Ave A, between 7th and 10th Sts
  2. Sat Dec 21 - Sun Dec 22
More info

Ice Carving Week

Visiting the Bronx Zoo over the winter-holiday break may not have crossed your mind, but it turns out you could hardly pick a better time for making the trip. Families will embrace winter head on, taking in ice-sculpting demonstrations, frolicking in a marine-themed play space with a 25-foot-long ice slide and having their photo taken on a walrus-themed ice throne. Those at the zoo on Sat Dec 28 will be treated to the Wildlife Ice Carving Competition and get to vote for their favorite animal sculpture. While there, kids can also sing along with a trio of holiday carolers, catch a 4-D screening of Ice Age and explore an igloo. All ages.

  1. Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Society 2300 Southern Blvd, at Fordham Rd, 10460
  2. Thu Dec 26 - Tue Dec 31
More info

ReMake the Holidays

  • Price band: 1/4

Budding scientists make their mark on the holiday season through hands-on workshops, demos and installations at NYSCI's four-day-long festival. The DIY celebration kicks off on Thursday with light-themed projects like LED grow light terrariums and a collaborative lite brite board that NYSCI will use to ring in the new year. Parents, you may want to bring your earplugs on Friday for sound-related activities including futuristic noisemaker creations and jam sessions with a percussion sculpture. Heading into the weekend, little ones can keep their creative juices flowing with paper (think origami and greeting cards) on Saturday, before dabbling in H2O-themed crafts like upcycled boats and tie-dyed bandannas on Sunday. Plus, throughout the festival children ages 8 and up can sign up as short-term apprentices with ice sculptor Bill Bywater! All ages.

  1. New York Hall of Science 47-01 111th St, at 47th Ave, 11368
  2. Fri Dec 27 - Mon Dec 30
More info

Kwanzaa 2013: 35th Anniversary Celebration

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

For the 35th year in a row, families can take in the sights and sounds of African and African-American arts and culture at this afternoon fest honoring the holiday's seven principles. Make sure to catch performances by the Restoration Dance Theater Company and Impact Repertory Theatre, a youth group from Harlem, then visit the international marketplace filled with vendors. All ages.

  1. American Museum of Natural History Central Park West, at 79th St, 10024
  2. Sun Dec 27
More info

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