It’s officially the holiday season and things are crazier than ever. There are a million options for decking the halls, and you will feel like a bad parent if you don’t do them all. Here’s your hall pass: you hereby have permission to skip 99% of activities. Here’s why: Your kids are growing up in New York, and presumably, will be here for years to come. Choose a few things to do this year, and then choose a few to do next year, and so on, forever. You don’t have to see the Christmas Spectacular every year (nightmare!) or always go see the Rockefeller tree (the crowds!). This year just schedule a few memorable plans and choose quality over quantity. Spend the rest of the time with your family, preferably in front of a fireplace or a decorated tree, sipping eggnog, addressing holiday cards or baking cookies. Or if you really must do it all, you’ll survive. It’s only one month of insanity, and you will have the rest of winter to recover. YOLO. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year, especially in New York.
Be amazed by the lights
Is it even the holidays without over the top gauche decorations? No matter what your denomination, a trip to Dyker Heights will disturb and delight. Think of how much kids like bright lights and then times that by ten billion, and you get the gist. If you can, drive ( the area is about a 15-minute-walk from the closest subway) and park on a side street during the week, and spend an evening walking around and soak up the bright atmosphere. Some light displays cost upwards of $20,000 and the houses compete with each other on bigger and brighter displays. Your children will never forget this free and offbeat experience. Dyker Heights, between 11th Avenue and 13th Avenue and 83rd to 86th streets.
Visit the Victorian era
The Morgan Library and Museum is one of the most beautiful places in New York. Its old world charm speaks of a bygone era, but on Sunday, December 9th, from 2pm- 4:30pm, watch it all come alive at the Winter Family Fair. Families will be able to see the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Dickens, Scrooge, Cratchit, and the Ghosts will be on hand. Also, magicians, strolling magicians, street performers, crafts, and a theatrical reading. There will be a photo opportunity with handmade costumes that is pretty much guaranteed to be next year’s Christmas card. Also, make the most of your visit and also swing by the fabulous It’s Alive: Frankenstein at 200. We loved the show (which runs through January 27th), and there are special screenings of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie also playing throughout the day. Winter Family Fair, The Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Ave., Manhattan. Adults: $20, Seniors: $13, Kids over 12: $13, Kids under 12: free. Recommended for kids ages 3-14.
Choose a Nutcracker in Brooklyn
Sure, you could spring for tickets to the Lincoln Center’s Nutcracker. Why not? But you can also take your pick of performances without leaving the borough. For a classic rendition, see the show danced by the National Ballet Theater of Odessa from Ukraine. This full-scale performance will include stunning costumes and over the top fantasy. (December 14th, On Stage at Kingsborough, Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center, 2001 Oriental Boulevard. Tickets start at $34.) Mark Morris Dance Company is known for ultra-modern dance moves, and every year, they bring their talent to The Hard Nut, a swinging ‘70s interpretation of the story with parties, dancing GI Joes and a Waltz of the Snowflakes. (December 14- December 23rd, BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette, Fort Greene. Tickets start at $25. Recommended for kids 4 and up.) For years I’ve been wanting to see The Hip Hop Nutcracker, a re-imagining of Tchaikovsky’s classic score through hip-hop choreography, which will have one performance on December 23rd at Kings Theatre. (Tickets: $30, 1027 Flatbush Ave. Flatbush.)
Watch a Holiday Classic on the Big Screen
Have you seen the holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life with your family yet? Little known fact: the script was based on a short story written as a Christmas card and mailed out to friends. Did you also know that the film was apparently a flop in the theaters when it came out? And then when it became public domain in the ‘70s, TV stations started airing it around the holidays because it was free? (Now the rights have been re-purchased.) If your kids are scared off of black and white flicks, trap them in a movie theater with Jimmy Stewart at a special 4k restored Film Forum, Jr. screening. Give this strange movie about angels a chance. If you have to, bribe them with the promise of also taking them to see Mary Poppins Returns in theaters on December 19th. A spoonful of sugar makes the film classics go down. Showing on Saturday, December 14th and Sunday, December 15th at 11 am. Film Forum, 209 West Houston St., Manhattan. Tickets: $9.
Attend a Winter Wonderland
***UPDATE: According to CBS Local, “people say WinterFest at the Brooklyn Museum was falsely advertised and a waste of money”, with customers asking for refunds and considering the event a scam.*** Although I’ve heard that it is crowded and disorganized, the Winterfest at Brooklyn Museum sounds worth checking out even with long lines and potential ticketing snafus. An over the top winter wonderland, it includes things like a Christmas tree maze, an outdoor display about Santa, a slide called Snowzilla, a giant snow globe, and something called “The Candy Dome.” Then there is also the live music and entertainment line up which includes singers, brass bands, dancers, acapella groups, and more. Also, you can shop at a makers market, eat and drink (including in a beer garden and at a wine tasting experience!). Attempt to go during the week to avoid the masses. Weekday packages start at $12. Brooklyn Muse4um, 200 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights. Through December 31st.
Light up the holidays
Staten Island is not easy to get to, but a trip on the ferry will definitely be memorable for your family. Once you make your way to Snug Harbor Botanical Garden, you’ll be greeted to the NYC Winter Lantern Festival: 40 LED Light Installations that are up to 30-feet-tall, on view through January 6. The lanterns will be accompanied by live performances of Chinese dances and art. Also, there will be food truck options so you can extend your stay through meal time. The photos look pretty impressive, with animals, light tunnels, and of course, a holiday section. Photo opportunities will be innumerable, but kids will be mesmerized by the lights and performances. Through January 6th. NYC Winter Lantern Festival, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday: 5pm-10pm; Friday and Saturday: 5pm- 11pm. Adults: $23, Kids: $15.
Dream of the Polar Express
I’m not sure why trains have become synonymous with the holidays, and if anyone knows, please fill me in. But if you have a child who is into modes of transportation, they will probably enjoy a train show. My suggestion is the NY Transit Museum Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Station. It’s a FREE way to dip your child’s toe into the holiday train pool, without committing to travel far and wide or pay a price for tickets just to have the kids rather go home. Here, a miniature electric railroad runs underneath some of New York’s most recognizable landmarks and part of the fun is pointing these out. Know before you go that strollers are not allowed, and unattended strollers are not able to be watched. Also, while you’re there, you can do some holiday shopping at the NY Transit Museum store, and stock up on L-train stocking stuffers. Through February 24th.
Enjoy fireworks for New Years
If you’ve made it to December 31st, please give yourself a hand. Celebrate this feat with a grand extravaganza to end the year. Bundle up your family and get outside to Prospect Park for the annual Fireworks Celebration at Grand Army Plaza. There is live entertainment, fireworks at midnight, and tens of thousands of revelers. Even if you just stop by for a little while, it’s a great way to catch the New Year’s spirit with your fellow Brooklyners. Celebrate a new year in the borough. Who knows, 2019 could be the year that rents decrease and subways run on time. (Fireworks Celebration, Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, Prospect Heights.)
Treat the kids or the kid in you to something other than The Nutcracker this holiday season. Cirque Dreams Holidaze brings 20 worldwide cirque artists to Kings Theatre from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 for a stage spectacular that The New York Daily News deemed a “delicious confection of charm, sparkle and talent by the sleighload and so full of energy it could end our dependence on oil.” Featuring elaborately costumed characters from snowmen to penguins, candles to reindeer, they’ll be flying, balancing and stretching imaginations in this groundbreaking holiday celebration. Get tickets!