December is finally here. The days of breathtaking performances, dazzling snowfalls, and holiday cheer fill the month with magic. Here are 12 ways to enjoy the winter wonderland of NYC with your family, before the deep freeze of January forces you to hibernate in your home with just the TV remote to warm you. From free events to expensive new holiday traditions, there’s holiday cheer for everyone on this kids calendar.
1. Learn: Enjoy the gift of a free class. Many children in the audience of the Nutcracker or Miracle on 34th Street wish they were the ones onstage. Capitalizing on that allure are theater classes, ballet tutors and singing sessions. But if your child is 8 or older, they can attend Youthworks at BAX, a FREE program for kids interested in developing their own play, dance or original song or poetry performance. A mandatory orientation is taking place Saturday, Dec. 3 from 3-4:30pm at BAX. Then there is a six week Sunday rehearsal schedule resulting in a fully staged production with lighting, sound design, costumes and props at the end of January. BAX | Brooklyn Arts Exchange 421 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope. For children 8 + up. FREE.
2. Go: Start a new holiday tradition. There are so many holiday events in NYC that come with a cost: Long lines to visit Santa, crowds at Rockefeller Center, and sold out Lincoln Center matinees. Luckily, there are experiences that are every bit as special that don’t come with as many tourists. Starting Dec. 3, bring the kids to see Peter & The Wolf with Isaac Mizrahi at The Guggenheim. Although you can check back for our longer review on Dec. 5, it’s a safe bet to buy the tickets now. The schedule is as follows: Dec. 3, 4, 10, and 11 at 2:30pm and 4pm, and Dec. 9 at 5pm and 6:30pm. Peter B. Lewis Theater, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York For ages 5 and up. $40, $35 Guggenheim members. For the littler ones who may not be able to sit through a long performance, The Swedish Marionette Theater in Central Park has the perfect solution. The Three Bears Holiday Bash is a wonderful experience without the headache of a high-priced ticket. We’ve reviewed their shows before, but this holiday-themed fairy tale performance incorporates stories of Hanukkah, The Night Before Christmas, and Kwanzaa, making it a perfect for all your festivities. Swedish Marionette Theater, Central Park, W. 79th and West Drive. Through Dec. 30. Tickets are $7/children and $10/adults.
3. Go: Why are trains a holiday staple? Although I have no idea why trains feature so prominently in the holiday season, I don’t question it because kids love them. If you’ve got a tiny conductor on your hands, then you probably already know about the mesmerizing NY Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, which every family should visit at least once. Although it’s kind of a pain to get to, model trains whoosh past over 150 miniature landmarks of NYC in a magical yet crowded viewing experience. If this is the year to attend, make sure to go during the week to cut down on crowds and for cheaper tickets. NY Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Blvd. Bronx. Weekdays: Adults: $20/ Children: $8 (children under 2 are free). Weekdays: Adults: $30/ Children: $18 (children under 2 are free). If your family would rather just sit in a train, the restaurant Le Train Bleu hidden away on the 6th floor of Bloomingdales will be a dream come true. Set up to look like an old dining car, this French restaurant isn’t exactly cheap but crepes, quiche and creme brulee are all kid friendly. Plus, it makes an unforgettable holiday experience for any train lover. Le Train Bleu, 1000 Third Avenue at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue. Open Daily: 11:30am – 5pm, Thursday: 11:30am – 8pm. And for those train lovers who would rather not even leave the house, this Wes Anderson Holiday themed H&M short film should make your twee heart sing.
4. Go: Make a real movie. The Whitney Museum is a wonderful way to spend any weekend, at any time, but at this month’s family day on Dec. 10, the museum will open one hour early just for families. You’ll get to explore the exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016 and take part in “a collaborative handmade 16mm filmmaking project.” Families will work with the artist group Unravel, and get to see the finished product on the big screen. To spend a longer day at the museum, pre-register for the Sketching Tours, Whitney Wees, or Family Fun, or just drop in at Open Studio for more family friendly activities. Saturday, Dec. 10, 9:30am- 3pm. Whitney Museum of Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan. Free with museum admission.
5. Volunteer: Give your family’s time to make a difference. Get in the giving mood, by joining in the 10th Annual Mom’s Christmas Stocking Campaign where volunteers of all ages are needed to purchase stocking stuffers, spend time filling them, and delivering them to shelters in NYC through Women In Need. Sunday Dec. 11, 1pm-3pm. Grassroots Fitness Project, 519 W. 80th St NYC, 1st floor. FREE. All ages. And if you need some inspiration to get motivated, check out these badass volunteers: This All-Female Biker Gang Delivers Breast Milk Where It’s Needed.
Web: Book a last minute sitter and enjoy that holiday party. Think of Chime by Sitter City as the Uber of babysitting. Last month when my sitter fell through, I missed out on going to a friend’s opening. Usually sitter services cost an arm and a leg for last minute bookings, so I was skeptical when I first heard of Chime. But for only $17/ hour, Chime will present you with up to three available sitters who match your time and neighborhood needs. At the time of writing, for a 7:30pm same day booking, I had my choice of a dance major from NYU, a five-star craft enthusiast, and a well reviewed med student. Plus, you can save your favorites and use them again for future sittings. Now, there’s really no excuse to miss the company Ugly Sweater party.
7. Go: Visit a storytime in a different land. If the holidays are about bringing people together, what better way to cross cultural divides than with a story? Families can spend a mellow afternoon with a special reading in Arabic and English, of the children’s book Fables Across Time, written and illustrated by Sabiha Al Khemir. Afterwards, there will be a Q & A with the author, a chance to tour the museum’s collection, and a hands-on art workshop. Dec. 17 from 11am to 1pm. American Folk Museum, Collections and Education Center, 47-29 32nd Place, Long Island City, Queens FREE, RSVP required to firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Download: Know when Santa is sleeping and know when he’s a three-hour wait. If part of your holiday tradition means a visit to Santa Claus at Macy’s, then you are probably a masochist who likes crowds and waiting in long lines with screaming children. A pro tip to save time and win Christmas is the Macy’s Express Pass. Fill out your information within 30 minutes to 48 hours before the time you hope to visit, and make an appointment. Cut the long lines and be in and out within 15 minutes flat. You’ll still get to see the animatronics, take a family photo in front of the trees and have the best Santa experience–without all the frustration and tears. Macy’s Santaland, 34th Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue, 8th Floor. FREE. If you want to visit Santa without leaving the house, create a FREE personalized video message for your kids from Santa at the Portable North Pole. Upload photos and information about your kids and get an email video sent where Santa chats with your child about what they want they did during the year, and what they want for Christmas. It’s magical, FREE, and so much simpler than an Elf on the Shelf.
9. Go: Learn what puppets and poetry have in common. Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens is a great first introduction to classical music. Pair this with incredible puppets and the poetry of Ogden Nash, and the music really comes to life as “a musical salute to feathers, fur and fins.” The show Carnival of The Animals only runs about an hour in length, so it is perfect for a first time theater goer. Dec. 17 showings at 2pm and 5pm. Carnival of the Animals- Miller Theater at Columbia University, 2960 Broadway at 116th Street. Tickets: $15-$40 for adults, $9-$24 for children. Recommended for ages 6 and up.
10. Go: Somewhere to bring the whole family, and all the out of town guests. By this point in the month, your couch could probably charge rent with all the visitors you’ve had. Instead of scouring Yelp pages for a restaurant that is “good for groups,” make everyone happy by stopping by Family Funhouse any Sunday in December at the Brooklyn Bazaar. The new Greenpoint location hosts three floors of fun with karaoke rooms, mini golf, ping pong, arcade games and family friendly vendors. Brooklyn Star restaurant is serving up brunch, and afterward you can get your groove on at the upstairs dance party. Sundays 11am -5pm, 150 Greenpoint Ave, Greenpoint. The main entrance is always FREE for everyone. The Concert Hall is ticketed at $15 per child, FREE for adults.
11. Download: Home for the holidays with the baby? No worries. Traveling with kids can mean strollers, pop up cribs, clip on high chairs, diaper bags, bottles, not to mention toys. It’s enough to make you just stay home. This holiday season, if you are traveling or if you have guests with babies visiting, check out the Go Baby app where you can rent all the stuff your families will need on vacation. Basically, you can search for items and then submit a booking request and pick it up or get it delivered. Then once you use the item, return it and GoBaby will charge you once the transaction is complete. (Prices are around $7/ day for stroller rental.) Or better yet, make some extra holiday cash by renting your own gear to tourists.
12. Buy: Dress up for the holidays with literature inspired looks. Mini Boden x Roald Dahl has created a limited edition line of Roald Dahl clothes. Many of these are out of stock at this point, but out of the ones still available are some “splendifico” looks! A purple Velvet Wonka Dress ($67.05) or heavily sequined Rainbow Drops Dress ($89.55) would be perfect for a holiday dinner. Is your daughter feeling chilly? Cover up with a Veruca Faux Fur Coat lined with a candy pattern ($76.05). Boys will love the Golden Ticket sweater ($43.65) with two-way sequins, the Wonka Hat sweater ($58.05), or Fantastic Friends sweater complete with little fox embroidery ($51.60). Complete the celebration with a screening of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a cup of hot cocoa.