The holiday season has finally arrived! It’s time for festive shows, visits with Santa Claus, and spectacular light displays. All the hustle and bustle is great fun, but it can also be a strain on the wallet. With that in mind, we've rounded up 25 free events taking place in New Jersey this season.
Read on for ways to have some budget-friendly holiday cheer. And to get the scoop on wonderful activities all year long, subscribe to our newsletter.
Tree lighting at An Old-Fashioned Christmas Exhibit. Photo courtesy of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities.
An Old-Fashioned Christmas Exhibit – Cape May
November 17 – January 1
Victorian Cape May is the perfect setting for a beautiful, old-fashioned Christmas. The Physick Estate will be decorated for the season with festive lights and trimmings. And don’t miss the Carroll Gallery’s exhibit showcasing holiday traditions throughout the years with model trains, toys, and more.
Holiday Lights at Turtle Back Zoo – West Orange
November 17 – January 2
Don’t miss this spectacular holiday tradition! Take an evening stroll through the zoo on select dates throughout the season to view the animal- and holiday-themed light displays. Donations of canned goods, new toys, and winter coats are encouraged.
Historic Smithville Holiday Light Show – Smithville
November 23 – January 6
Enjoy an orchestrated show of lights as more than 100 Christmas trees float along Lake Meone, twinkling in time to holiday music. Thursday through Sunday evenings throughout the season.
Santa's helicopter arrives at Nutley Park. Photo courtesy of the Nutley Chamber of Commerce.
Santa’s Helicopter Arrival – Nutley
No reindeer needed for this guy! Santa & Mrs. Claus swing into town in style, arriving at the Nutley Park Oval by helicopter. Bring the kids to meet Santa and celebrate the season at this fantastic event.
Palmer Square Christmas Tree Lighting — Princeton
The main attraction, of course, is Santa flipping the switch on the 32,000 lights that adorn a 65-foot Norwegian Spruce, but there’s also live music and a performance by the Princeton Repertory Ballet’s Nutcracker and Clara.
Holiday Express Concert & Town Lighting – Red Bank
Santa Claus leads a festive parade down Monmouth Street aboard a fire truck, and then the Holiday Express performs a special concert of seasonal tunes. The event culminates with the town tree lighting.
Winter Wonderland – Rahway
This delightful afternoon of holiday entertainment features ice skating, music, carriage rides, and more. The activities start at 1 p.m. and conclude with a parade and tree lighting.
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Meet the Man in Red at Santa's Country Corner. Photo Courtesy of Alstede Farms.
Country Christmas with Santa – Chester
November 24 – December 24
Visit Santa’s Country Corner at Alstede Farms on weekends for a great photo op with the kids. Enjoy festive Christmas music and a cozy campfire. Snacks and drinks will be available for purchase.
Asbury Park Boardwalk Christmas Tree Lighting – Asbury Park
Head down to the Asbury Park Boardwalk as the sea-side town lights up a three-story-high tree inside The Grand Arcade at Convention Hall. The show begins at 7 p.m. and, along with Santa spreading holiday cheer, there will be live music and a DJ spinning Christmas classics.
Holiday Model Train Show at Barron Arts Center – Woodbridge
November 25 – December 30
Kids of all ages will delight in viewing the trains on display in Barron Arts Center’s annual holiday exhibit. On December 1, come for the town tree lighting and train show opening reception.
Christmas Festival at the Morristown Green – Morristown
November 26 – December 22
The Christmas Festival opens for the season with Santa’s arrival and the lighting of the Morristown Green. The celebration continues throughout December with special activities every weekend, including holiday crafts, entertainment, and Santa visits.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Christmas Tree Lighting – Wildwood
One of NJ’s beautiful lighthouses, Hereford Inlet, is hosting a Christmas tree lighting ceremony with music, refreshments, and a visit from Santa.
Casino Pier Holiday Festival – Seaside Heights
Celebrate the holidays at Casino Pier Arcade. There will be lots of fun, including an indoor snowball fight and a visit from Santa. Compete in an ugly–Christmas sweater contest to win a prize, and make cards and special pictures to be sent to service members.
Maplewood's mini Dickens Village features 10 little houses decorated with scenes from A Christmas Carol. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala.
Dickens Village – Maplewood
Maplewood's mini Dickens Village is a charming annual tradition. The village is made up of 10 little houses, each standing about six feet tall and decorated with scenes from Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The village officially opens December 2, when Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive in town escorted by the Maplewood Fire Department. Check the Village of Maplewood's website for the full 2017 schedule, coming soon.
Gingerbread House Workshop and Contest – Roseland
Make a "green" gingerbread house at the Essex County Environmental Center, and enter your completed creation into the contest if you wish. Houses will be on display from December 6–15, and prizes will be awarded on December 16.
Holiday Concert at Keris Tree Farm – Allentown
The Allentown High School Woodwind Quartet performs holiday favorites at Keris Tree Farm and Christmas Shop.
Downtown Millburn Snowflake Parade – Millburn
A beloved annual celebration, the Snowflake Parade features decorated floats, marching bands, costumed characters, and free refreshments. Look out for an appearance from jolly old St. Nicholas, too!
Gingerbread House Display – Flemington
Head to Hunterdon County Library to admire storybook scenes or structures crafted out of gingerbread, royal icing, and other edibles.
Hoboken Christmas Tree Lighting – Hoboken
Bring the family to Hoboken City Hall for its annual tree lighting ceremony, featuring Christmas music, hot chocolate, and a visit with Santa.
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Christmas Parade. Photo courtesy of the Seaside Heights Business Improvement District.
Seaside Heights Christmas Tree Lighting – Seaside Heights
Usher in the season at the courtyard in front of borough hall with some festive refreshments and Santa, of course.
Breakfast with Buster Holiday Food & Toy Drive – Lakewood
The Lakewood BlueClaws host this free breakfast with Santa and Buster. Attendees are asked to bring an unwrapped toy and/or non-perishable food to benefit the Salvation Army of Ocean County.
Jewish Center of Springfield Menorah Lighting – Springfield
Everyone's invited to Chabad Jewish Learning Center's Hanukkah celebration, which includes a menorah-lighting, latkes, music, and sweets.
Kwanzaa Festival – Newark
Rejoice to the rhythms and culture of African tradition at this 18th annual children's festival and marketplace at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The festival features an arts and crafts village, plus singing and dancing.
Visit with Santa – Holmdel
Head to Longstreet Farm for an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas. Children can visit with Santa, then take a walk to the farmhouse and have a cup of cider. Be sure to bring your camera!
Moorestown Menorah Lighting – Moorestown
Join the families of the Jewish Federation of South Jersey in celebrating the penultimate night of Hanukkah by lighting the lawn menorah together at the Moorestown Community House.
Top photo courtesy of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities.