The turkey's been eaten, Santa is stationed at the mall, and people are driving around with trees strapped to their cars. There’s no denying it: the holidays have arrived!
If you and your kids are eager to celebrate the season, you're in luck—there are so many wonderful events and activities happening throughout the state this month. You'll find plenty of free things to do, as well as activities just for little ones. You can have breakfast with Santa, catch a seasonal show, or hop aboard a holiday train. And be sure to make time to see at least one of the spectacular light displays around NJ.
We know you’re busy with things like shopping, baking, and figuring out what the heck to do with your Elf on the Shelf, so we’ve sorted through all of this month's happenings and picked 25 of our favorites.
For even more ideas, check out our Holiday Guide and Event Calendar. Happy Holidays!
Annie – Millburn
Through December 31
Everyone's favorite redhead takes center stage in one of the world's best-loved musicals just in time for the holidays. The star-studded Paper Mill Playhouse production features Tony Award winner Beth Leavel as Miss Hannigan, plus a couple of amazingly talented young actress sharing the title role.
Take a festive hayride around the farm. Photo courtesy of Johnson's Corner Farm.
Holidays at Johnson's Corner Farm – Medford
Through December 30
You'd probably have to travel to Santa's workshop in the North Pole to find a place more Christmasy than Johnson's Corner Farm: At this one-stop shop for holiday fun, you can take a picture with Santa, buy a fresh-cut Christmas tree, take a hayride, see a musical light show, visit with farm animals, roast marshmallows, decorate cookies, and more.
Holiday Model Train Show – Woodbridge
Through December 30 (except December 25 & 26)
Head to the Baron Arts Center for the 27th annual Holiday Model Train Show, a beloved holiday tradition featuring a beautiful display of trains and scenery. Look closely and you'll spot local landmarks and a boardwalk scene. Go on December 1 for the show's opening reception and town tree lighting, which includes a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Smithville Holiday Light Show – Smithville
Through December 31 (Thursdays–Sundays)
Every weekend, Historic Smithville Village treats families to holiday activities, many of which are free. You can take a train ride around the beautifully decorated village, and after dark on Thursdays–Sundays, watch Christmas trees constructed from more than 50,000 lights float on Lake Meone as holiday music plays in the background. On select dates, catch Mrs. Claus in her Christmas Cottage from 1:30–4:30 for storytime, or chat with the Magic Talking Tree. FREE
Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Lights Spectacular – West Orange
Through December 10 (Fridays–Sundays); December 11–January 2 (nightly, except December 24 & 25)
NJ families have another reason to love Turtle Back Zoo: a free evening holiday light show. More than 50 animal-shaped displays will illuminate the zoo, with several animal exhibits remaining open. Bring non-perishable foods, new/gently used winter coats, and unwrapped toys for donation. FREE
See a stunning display of more than 2 million lights—without getting out of your car. Photo courtesy of Skylands Stadium.
Skylands Stadium Christmas Light Show – Augusta
Through January 1
We like this one because you don't have to get out of your warm car to enjoy it! This drive-through, musical light show features more than two million lights, and it's one of the most popular in the state. New additions for 2017 include a Walk-Thru Lighfest to benefit the American Heart Association and an outdoor ice skating rink.
Bergen County Winter Wonderland – Paramus
Through December 24 (Thursdays–Sundays); December 26 – January 1 (daily)
Spend a festive evening at Van Saun Park, where after-dark activities include ice skating, unlimited carousel rides, zoo entry, a train ride, and food trucks. Santa will be there on select nights.
Gingerbread Wonderland – Morris Township
If the displays at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum look good enough to eat, it's because they are. Stroll around and marvel at hundreds of edible structures, and then vote for your favorite. Find more gingerbread exhibits and workshops here.
Teddy Bear Tea – Morristown
Your little one can bring his or her favorite stuffed friend to tea at the Morris Museum, where there will be treats, a performance in the Bickford Theatre, and a visit from Santa. This event is perfect for kids ages 3–8. Call to reserve a spot at one of three seatings.
Santa Fly-In – Teterboro
Santa gives the reindeer a rest and heads to the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum via helicopter. Stick around after the landing for candy and photo ops. Kids under 12 are free.
Civil War Christmas – Morristown
History buffs will love traveling back in time to the Civil War era for a Christmas celebration that includes attendance at an officer's ball, complete with period music, costumes, and dancing. Visitors can also walk through a soldier's camp and speak with costumed re-enactors.
Peek in at scenes from A Christmas Carol in Maplewood's mini Dickens Village. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala.
Dickens Village – Maplewood
December 2, 9, 16, 18
Downtown Maplewood is decked out for the holidays, and local businesses sponsor horse-drawn carriage rides, carolers, concerts, refreshments, and children's activities. The highlight is a mini "village" featuring 10 tiny houses decorated with scenes from A Christmas Carol. A menorah lighting will take place on December 18.
A Charlie Brown Christmas – Rahway and Montclair
December 2, 3, 9, 10 at Union County Performing Arts Center
December 21 at The Wellmont Theater
Watch Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Linus discover the true meaning of Christmas as they mount a play and save a tree in the stage version of this holiday favorite. Cheer on the whole Peanuts gang, and hum along to Vince Guaraldi's classic score.
Christmas Underwater – Camden
Scuba Santa returns to Adventure Aquarium to swim with the sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays in the aquarium's 760,000-gallon Ocean Realm exhibit. Other attractions include the world's tallest underwater Christmas tree, storytime with an elf, a Snow Shower Dance Party, and more festive fun.
Jam to holiday faves with Laurie Berkner at iPlay. Photo by Jayme Thornton/The Laurie Berkner Band.
The Laurie Berkner Holiday Show – Freehold
Bestselling children's recording artist Laurie Berkner gets the band together for a performance of holiday hits at iPlay America. The show will include traditional favorites like "Frosty the Snowman" and "The Dreidel Song," as well as original songs from the album A Laurie Berkner Christmas.
A Christmas Carol – Princeton
The McCarter Theatre's top-notch, family-friendly production is the perfect way to introduce your kids to Dickens' holiday classic.
The Maccabeats – Englewood
The world-renowned a cappella group performs an assortment of Jewish, American, and Israeli songs in this pre-Hanukkah concert.
NJ Ballet in The Nutcracker – Morristown
December 8-10, 15-17, 22-24
Christmas just isn't complete without a visit to the Land of the Sweets with Clara and the Nutcracker Prince—and it's even better with live music. New Jersey Ballet will perform the holiday classic at Mayo Performing Arts Center this month, with accompaniment by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Read our roundup of Nutcrackers and holiday shows to find even more performances happening throughout the state.
Decorate your own holiday treats at the Gingerbread Workshop. Photo courtesy of Liberty Hall Museum.
Gingerbread House Workshop – Union
December 9 and 16
Kids can dig into piles of peppermint, candy canes, gumdrops, and more to decorate their own gingerbread houses at this workshop at Liberty Hall Museum. The museum provides all of the materials, and you go home with a special treat. The museum will be accepting new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots. Reservations required.
Sea of Lights – Point Pleasant Beach
Head to Jenkinson's Aquarium for an indoor holiday light spectacular featuring crafts, holiday treats, photos with Santa, games, and of course, visits with fish and other underwater creatures.
Kwanzaa Festival – Newark
Celebrate the 19th year of NJPAC's Kwanzaa Children's Festival and Marketplace. Participants can make arts and crafts, sing, dance, and explore the rhythms of African tradition.
Hanukkah on Ice – Voorhees
Skate to contemporary Jewish music and traditional Hanukkah songs at this beloved family event held at the Flyers Skate Zone. The festivities include the lighting of a giant menorah made out of ice, as well as crafts, donuts, and hot latkes.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical – New Brunswick
The beloved TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage this holiday season. See all of your favorite characters, including Rudolph, Santa, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, and more. Don’t miss this wonderful holiday tradition that speaks to the misfit in all of us.
The Polar Express – Whippany
As of this writing, tickets are still available for this magical holiday train ride featuring hot cocoa and cookies served by dancing chefs, a reading of The Polar Express, and a special gift from Santa.
New Year's Eve Splash – Camden
Ring in the New Year at Adventure Aquarium, where you can celebrate by visiting with your favorite sea creatures, getting down at a dance party, and watching fireworks over the Delaware River. The event ends at 6 p.m., so you'll be home in time to have a New Year's Eve celebration of your own.