Christmas Eve with NYC Kids 2013: 12 Festive Ways for Families to Celebrate
Christmas Eve falls on a Tuesday this year. While we realize some of you may need to pick up a few last-minute gifts, we hope you and your family are able to find time to get into the spirit of the season (beyond shopping).
Whether your family has set Christmas Eve traditions or you decide to wing it, there are lots of ways to celebrate in New York City. From holiday shows to Christmas pageants, amazing holiday displays to Christmas caroling, here are a dozen festive things to do on Christmas Eve in NYC with kids, both during the day and after dark. You can find even more seasonal activities in our Holiday Fun Guide.
1. Go ice-skating Most of New York City's indoor and outdoor ice-skating rinks are open today (though many close early). The city's only no-cost rink, Winter Village at Bryant Park, is open until 10pm. It's also a great day to check out NYC's four newest rinks: Brooklyn's McCarren Rink and Prospect Park's Lakeside, and Manhattan's Rink at Brookfield Place and the rink at South Street Seaport. Or brave the biggies: Central Park's Wollman Rink and Rockefeller Center. If you opt for Bryant Park, you can also shop at the holiday market and take a spin on the carousel.
2. Buy your Christmas tree My family and I often wait until Christmas Eve to purchase our tree (as of today, we still don't have one. So we may do that again this year). You can often negotiate a better price, and decorating the tree is a wonderful way to spend time together as a family. We have posts on where to get cheap Christmas trees in NYC. We also have roundups of places to cut your own on Long Island, in New Jersey and Connecticut, but most close quite early on Christmas Eve and may not have many trees left, so call ahead.
3. See a holiday train show The beautiful annual exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens is open until 2:30pm, and the more modest display at the New York City Transit Museum in Grand Central Terminal is open until 6pm.
4. Visit with Santa The big guy in red is still holding court at many spots around town, but he'll probably leave early since he has such a big night ahead. So go in the morning if you want to see him.
5. Catch a holiday show Some seasonal spectacles have performances today including the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, the Metropolitan Opera's family-friendly version of The Magic Flute, the Vital Children's Theatre's Angelina Ballerina the Very Merry Holiday Musical and Fancy Nancy the Musical, and the Big Apple Circus: Luminocity. Although many Broadway shows are dark today, family shows The Lion King, Newsies and the soon-to-close Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark all have matinees.
6. Watch a family movie There are a bunch of family releases this season and movie theaters are open on Christmas Eve. Frozen, Saving Mr. Banks and Walking with Dinosaurs are all on my family's must-see list. If you have older kids, you can catch the latest installments of The Hobbit, The Hunger Games and Thor, all rated PG-13. Plus the IFC Film Center is running its An Animated World film fest with screenings of three Japanese animated flicks: Welcome to the Space Show, Grave of the Fireflies and Hayao Miyazaki's new classic My Neighbor Totoro. Or if you have cable, you can stay home and watch classic Christmas flicks like White Christmas, Jack Frost, A Christmas Carol, The Bishop's Wife, Christmas in Connecticut and Meet Me in St. Louis on AMC and TCM. As is tradition, A Christmas Story will air for 24 hours straight starting at 8pm on TBS and NBC will show It's a Wonderful Life at 8pm.
7. Explore a festive museum exhibit Many major museums are open today including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. Plus there are a pair of fun, kid-friendly exhibits at Discovery Times Square: Shipwreck! Pirates & Treasure and The Art of the Brick at Discovery Times Square. But for a more festive experience, head to CMOM's Grinch's Holiday Workshop, where you can meet the big green guy and make tree ornaments; sing Christmas songs at the Brooklyn Children's Museum; and gaze at the gorgeous Origami Holiday Tree at the American Natural History Museum, where you can also learn all about Frogs, Whales and The Power of Poison.
8. Attend a religious service or Christmas pageant Even if you're not religious, many churches host family-friendly services early on Christmas Eve where all are welcome. That said, they do get crowded, so call ahead to see if you need to make reservations or if you can just show up. Ones that sound particularly good for children include the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine's Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols at 4pm, Trinity Wall Street's Christmas Eve Family Eucharist at 3pm, Riverside Church's Christmas Eve Services Worship for Children & Families at 4pm, Church of St. Luke in the Fields' Christmas Pageant & Eucharist at 5pm, and the Church of the Heavenly Rest's pair of Christmas Pageants featuring more than 100 children reenacting the Nativity story at 3:30pm and 5pm. Want something more traditional? Check out our post about where to find a kid-friendly midnight mass in NYC.
9. Marvel at department store windows, illuminated Christmas trees and holiday light displays In Manhattan, you can gawk at massive twinkling Christmas trees and amazing department store windows like Saks' yet adventure and Barneys' interactive installations designed by Jay-Z. But if you head to the outer boroughs or nearby suburbs, you can see some truly spectacular holiday displays. My daughter and I already went on our annual pilgrimage to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn and we're hoping to do the Bronx Christmas House over the break. If you have a car, you can also see awesome holiday light displays in New Jersey and on Long Island.
10. Go Christmas caroling Every Christmas Eve, revelers gather under the Washington Square Arch next to the illuminated tree to sing traditional holiday songs at 5pm. The Rob Susman Brass Quartet accompanies the crooners, and songbooks are provided. My daughter and I go every year! Traditionally, there is also candlelight caroling at West Stuyvesant Square Park at 5pm and Gramercy Park at 6pm.
11. Help others in need Although holiday volunteering opportunities tend to book up months in advance, our resident volunteering with kids expert, Natalie, has found a few that have space as of this writing. God's Love We Deliver is specifically looking for volunteers to deliver meals on Christmas Eve and CHiPS in Park Slope is looking for helpers for its holiday party on December 24. To donate or volunteer, contact Denise Scaravella at Denise4chips@gmail.com.
12. Track Santa with NORAD See Kris Kringle during the day and then track his progress online at night as he travels around the world bringing presents to all good little boys and girls. Just make sure your kids go to bed before he hits NYC!
Find out about more seasonal fun in our Holiday Fun Guide.