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12 fun Christmassy things to do in NYC that’ll cost you nothing

Spread a lot of holiday joy this season for not a lot of money

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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It's been a long, hard year, so shelling out the big bucks to have fun this Christmas isn't in the cards for many of us. Fortunately, New York City is full of free Christmassy events, holiday lights, streamed shows and much more. More than 80 NYC parks actually have holiday lights, from menorahs to Christmas trees, and many of the city's ice rinks are free to skate on, including the one at Bryant Park. (If you bring your own skates.) The real gift this year is being able to spend Christmas in our beautiful city without having to spend a dime. Below, we've rounded up more than a dozen must-do things in NYC this Christmas.

RECOMMENDED: How to celebrate Christmas in New York

Free things to do for Christmas in NYC

  • Things to do

The Dyker Heights display has definitely earned its stripes as one of the best New York attractions. What’s not to love about all that razzle-dazzle to get you in the Christmas spirit? The Brooklyn neighborhood is home to the most over-the-top Christmas light decorations with life-sized Santas, sleighs, snowmen and some houses even bump Christmas carols from loudspeakers. Crowds of all ages flock to the Kings County neighborhood to wander down the multiple blocks and avenues and experience one of the top things to do in NYC in the winter.

 

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is hosting a Christmas Eve Service of Lessons and Carols that incorporates carols into the celebration of Christmas. Enjoy performances by the Cathedral Choir, led by Director of Music Kent Tritle, and artist in residence David Briggs. The Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche, Bishop of New York, will preside, and the Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III, Dean of the Cathedral, will offer a reflection. The service will be livestreamed at 4pm and will be available to view later in the evening across the Cathedral’s social media platforms. Its Christmas Day service will be held the next morning at 11am.

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

The Empire State Building is celebrating the holiday season with technicolor lights and the seasonal sounds. This December, the Empire State Realty Trust and iHeartMedia have teamed up to give it a little extra yuletide pizzaz. Every night leading up to Christmas day—Saturday, Dec 19 to Friday, Dec 25—New Yorkers can tune in for a special song and light display to get into the festive spirit.  This light show, designed by lighting artist Marc Brickman, will be synced with Carrie Underwood’s new song “Hallelujah” with John Legend, from her first-ever Christmas album My Gift. The tunes will be broadcasted on iHeartRadio’s Z100 and LiteFM at 8pm.

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  • Things to do
  • City Life

More than 80 parks in New York City will be lit up with menorahs and Christmas trees this holiday season, giving New Yorkers no excuse to miss out. This year, the New York City Parks Department announced dozens of parks and green spaces with lights across the boroughs. You can find your nearest lighting on the NYC Parks website.

  • Art
  • Art

There’s a different type of holiday light display on view in the Flatiron this year, and it’s a bit more reflective than your run-of-the-mill Christmas tree or department store window. “Point of Action,” the winner of the seventh annual Flatiron Plaza Holiday Design installation program, is an installation designed by Studio Cooke John along with lighting designer Jimmie Drummond that’s meant to evoke the feeling of seeing other New Yorkers from a distance—something we should all be pretty familiar with after the last year. The pandemic-inspired, socially-distanced experience invites visitors to contemplate the connections to one another and to think about how we’ll all move forward together. On view through New Year’s Day, the artwork consists of six-foot circles affixed throughout the plaza which create nine different “spotlights” surrounded by vertical metal frames.

 

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Hoff’s Public Domain Horrorfest returns to YouTube at 9pm on Wednesday, December 23rd for a horror-filled night featuring the eerie 1972 slasher flick Silent Night, Bloody Night. Enjoy new skits, bits, and screams from host Hoff Matthews (Comedy Central) and co-producers Andrei Alupului (Come Ova, UCB), Marybess Pritchett (An Inconvenient Talk Show), and George Gordon (Laugh Track Festival, Your Good Friend)!

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs

The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park returns on October 30 with its holiday festivities, shopping and food. Its 17,000-square-foot ice-skating rink that's free to use (if you bring your own skates) is the highlight, while about 60 shopping and food kiosks are there to peruse—all at one of the best NYC parks. This year will be slightly different given new health and safety protocols, but this guide contains all the information you need to know, including when the market officially opens (and closes) to the public.

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