The month of December is like one big jolly holiday. Santa's making his rounds via planes and trains, and even underwater. Local towns and Jersey's favorite haunts are glowing with holiday lights. Plus, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's Eve round out the month-long festivities.
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 every day 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, and 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. And sign up for our FREE newsletters so you can have our picks delivered directly to your inbox!
Gingerbread Wonderland – Morris Township
Through December 9, 2018
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.
Take a festive hayride around the farm. Photo courtesy of Johnson's Corner Farm
Holidays at Johnson's Corner Farm – Medford
Through December 23, 2018
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, 2018 (except December 25)
Head to the Baron Arts Center for the 28th 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 January 6, 2019 (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 1:30–4:30pm for storytime, or chat with the Magic Talking Tree. FREE
Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Lights Spectacular – West Orange
Through December 16 (Fridays–Sundays); December 17–31, 2018 (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
RELATED: 30+ Holiday and Christmas Events for NJ Kids
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 December 30, 2018
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. Admission to the indoor Christmas Village is included.
The Polar Express – Whippany
Through December 30, 2018
As of this writing, tickets for select dates 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. See the website for availability.
Christmas Underwater – Camden
Through December 30, 2018
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 (plus eight miniature trees), a Snow Shower Dance Party, Milk & Cookies with Santa, and more festive fun.
Bergen County Winter Wonderland – Paramus
Through December 23 (Tuesdays plus Thursdays–Sundays); December 26 – January 1, 2019 (daily except December 25)
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.
Six Flags Holiday in the Park – Jackson
Through January 1, 2019
It's a grand holiday adventure at Great Adventure when the park gets gussied up for the holidays. Visit Santa, walk the Peppermint Path, get dazzled at Wonder: A Cirque Spectacular, and much more holiday fun.
Santa Fly-In – Teterboro
December 1, 2018
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.
Downtown Newark Holiday Tree Lighting Celebration – Newark
December 1, 2018
Newark goes all-out for this tree lighting celebration, featuring Santa, plus super guests like Captain America, Black Panther, The Incredibles and Paw Patrol. FREE
Civil War Christmas – Morristown
December 1-2, 2018
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.
Candy Lane Holiday Game – Robbinsville
December 1-16, 2018
Oasis Family Farm hosts this sweet holiday celebration, where children can visit holiday characters and collect goodies along a festive path.
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Peek in at scenes from A Christmas Carol in Maplewood's mini Dickens Village. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
Dickens Village – Maplewood
December 1, 8, and 15, 2018
Downtown Maplewood is dressed up 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 Thursday, December 6. FREE
Car Menorah Parade – Cherry Hill
December 2, 2018
Hanukkah kicks off with this unique parade of cars decked-out with menorahs. Top off the celebration with a candle lighting and gelt drop. FREE
A Christmas Carol – Princeton
December 4-29, 2018
McCarter Theatre's top-notch, family-friendly production is the perfect way to introduce your kids to Dickens' holiday classic. (Also at Paper Mill Playhouse on Saturday, December 15 and Bergen PAC on Saturday and Sunday, December 15-16)
RELATED: 30 Holiday Events for NJ Babies and Toddlers
Jam to holiday faves with Laurie Berkner at iPlay. Photo by Jayme Thornton for The Laurie Berkner Band
The Laurie Berkner Band Holiday Celebration Concert – Englewood
December 9, 2018
Kids and adults alike will want to rock out to traditional Christmas and Hanukkah songs, plus originals from the well-loved A Laurie Berkner Christmas.
NJ Ballet in The Nutcracker – Morristown
December 14-27, 2018
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 8 and 15, 2018
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. Reservations required.
Sea of Lights – Point Pleasant Beach
December 14–28, 2018
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.
RELATED: Best Family-Friendly Nutcrackers and Holiday Shows for NJ Kids
Celebrate Kwanzaa with dancing and more at NJPAC's Kwanzaa Festival. Photo by Donnell Woodson for NJPAC
Kwanzaa Festival – Newark
December 15, 2018
Celebrate the 20th 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.
Fourth Annual Hot Chocolate Hike Weekend – Short Hills
December 15-16, 2018
Bundle up for a guided hike on the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum, then warm up in the historic Stone House with hot chocolate by the fire.
“A Magical Cirque Christmas” will dazzle audiences of all ages. Photo courtesy of the the production
A Magical Cirque Christmas – Red Bank
December 19, 2018
Get ready to be awe-struck by dazzling circus acts, amazing magic tricks, and incredible, live Christmas carols. America's Got Talent stars Duo Transcend get in on the act.
New Year's Eve Splash – Camden
December 31, 2018
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 6pm, so you'll be home in time to have a New Year's Eve celebration of your own.