12 Best Christmas Eve Activities in NYC for Families
Whether your family already has established Christmas Eve traditions or decides to wing it every year, there are plenty of ways to celebrate in New York City on Thursday, December 24, 2020.
Maybe this unusual year will mark some new traditions for you and your loved ones. From amazing holiday light and window displays to Christmas caroling and ice skating, we found plenty of festive things to do on Christmas Eve with kids—during the day and after dark.
Editor's note: While we are trying to promote safer activities that occur outdoors or with social distancing guidelines in place, please keep your family and others safe by always wearing a mask and maintaining an appropriate distance. If you arrive at an event that appears too crowded, try using the “nearby” search feature on our Event Calendar to find something else to do. Remember, several places close early on Christmas Eve, so click through to the full listing or website to confirm times before heading out.
Check out the Winter Village at Bryant Park for no-cost ice skating, if you bring your own skates! Photo by Sara Marentette
1. Go Ice Skating
Many of New York City's outdoor rinks are open on Christmas Eve, although most close early. The city's only no-cost rink at Bryant Park is open until 11:30pm, but you must book your session in advance. While you're there, finish up your holiday shopping in Bryant Park's holiday market.
2. Buy Your Christmas Tree
My family often waits until Christmas Eve to purchase a tree. You can negotiate a better price, and decorating the tree on Christmas Eve is a wonderful way to spend time as a family. Want to cut your own? Try these nearby Christmas tree farms. Most close early on Christmas Eve, so call ahead.
3. Visit Santa
The big guy in red is still holding court at many spots around town, but he'll probably leave early, given the big night ahead. Go in the morning if you have any last-minute requests. Can't deal with the lines? Catch him at Macy's, virtually, try a FREE call, video, or text with Santa, or catch him on Zoom.
4. Cue Up a Christmas Movie
We've got a giant list of family-friendly holiday movies to choose from, and keeping with its tradition, TBS airs A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight beginning at 8pm. If you want to get out, the Skyline Drive-in, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, shows the Christmas classic Home Alone.
Holiday decor gets a makeover with the American Museum of Natural History's annual Origami Holiday Tree. Photo courtesy AMNH
5. Explore a Festive Museum Exhibit
Many of our favorite museums are open on Christmas Eve, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with its angel tree and Neapolitan Baroque Creche and the American Museum of Natural History, with its ultra-cool Origami Holiday Tree.
Brookfield Place lights up with its annual Luminaries display. Photo courtesy of Brookfield Place
6. See the Lanterns
The stunning Luminaries display shines bright on Christmas Eve at Brookfield Place. You can also enjoy Holiday Under the Stars at Columbus Circle or the eye-popping Bronx Zoo Holiday Lights for some killer photo ops.
7. Stream a Religious Service
St. Patrick's Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, offers a livestream of its popular Christmas masses, including the Christmas Eve Family Mass at 5:30pm and the Midnight Mass at 12am. The (Episcopal) Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine's Service of Lessons and Carols is streamed on its website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel at 4pm on Christmas Eve; the Church of the Heavenly Rest's (Episcopal) Christmas Pageant, featuring more than 100 children reenacting the nativity story, has been turned into a film, which streams on its website at 3pm.
8. Belt Out Some Carols
Every Christmas Eve, revelers gather under the Washington Square Arch next to the illuminated tree to sing traditional holiday songs at 5pm. This year, the event goes virtual as The Rob Susman Brass Quartet accompanies a host of online crooners and invites you to join in from home.
Macy's holiday window display is a treat for visitors. Photo by Jody Mercier
9. Revel in the Holiday Decor
In Manhattan, gawk at massive twinkling Christmas trees and amazing department store windows. Or head to the outer boroughs or nearby suburbs to see other truly spectacular holiday displays. Consider Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, or visit the awesome holiday light displays in Westchester, New Jersey, and Long Island.
10. Hit a Drive-Thru Display
Speaking of far-flung displays, glittering, twinkling, professionally mounted drive-thru holiday light displays can be found throughout the tri-state area, and many of these festive installations are open Christmas Eve. You can find awe-inspiring holiday light drive-thru displays on Long Island, in Westchester and the Hudson Valley, and in New Jersey.
11. Or, Hop on a Holiday Cruise
Follow Santa as he makes his magical journey. Photo courtesy of NORAD
12. Track Santa With NORAD or the Google Santa Tracker
Blow your kids' minds by tracking Santa's progress online at night as he delivers presents to good little boys and girls. Remind kids they must be in their beds before he hits NYC to ensure delivery of all requested goodies.
This article, first published in December 2009, is updated annually.