Making holiday memories sometimes involves navigating long lines and jostling crowds, which can push the limits of our youngest holiday revelers. Take a breath and pass around the candy canes—we've found the best activities geared toward the 5-and-under crowd. From decorating gingerbread houses to rocking out at a holiday concert, we've got plenty of ideas that the whole family can enjoy.
You'll find even more ideas in our Holiday Guide, and for a complete listing of things to do this season, be sure to check out our Event Calendar.
Holiday Light Shows – Various locations
Starting November 17
New Jersey pulls out all the stops when it comes to Christmas lights, and there are plenty of spots to see a spectacular display, whether on foot or from the comfort of your car. Just a few are: the Turtleback Zoo, Skylands Stadium, and Historic Smithville.
Holiday Train Rides – Wall Township, Whippany, Wayne, and Flemington
November 18 – December 23
Hop aboard the Polar Express, Christmas Express, or another holiday-themed train ride for hot cocoa, caroling, stories, and a glimpse of Santa or Mrs. Claus. Purchase tickets online.
Van Saun Park transforms into a Winter Wonderland this season. Photo by Derek Sands/Bergen County Executive's Office.
Winter Wonderland at Van Saun Park – Paramus
November 24 – December 24 (Thursdays–Sundays); December 26 – January 1 (daily)
Visit this seasonal wonderland to see Santa and all the animals at the county zoo, or take a ride on the carousel or zoo train, and try ice skating on a pop-up, outdoor skating rink.
Asbury Park Boardwalk Christmas Tree Lighting – Asbury Park
Little ones will be wowed by this three-story Christmas tree inside the Grand Arcade at the Asbury Park Convention Hall. The festivities will include live music, free hot chocolate, and a visit from Santa. FREE
Holiday Model Train Show – Woodbridge
November 25 – December 31
If your little ones prefer small-scale trains, check out the annual model train show at Barron Arts Center, featuring designs and layouts by Mike Gelesky. FREE
Breakfast with Santa – Various locations
November 25 – December 16
Want some QT with Santa? Pull up a chair for a morning feast with the man in red. Kids can share their Christmas lists with Santa and pose for photos after enjoying pancakes, muffins, eggs, and juice. Advance registration required.
RELATED: Gingerbread House Displays, Classes, and Competitions for NJ Kids
See amazing gingerbread-and-candy creations at Frelinghuysen Arboretum. Photo courtesy of the Arboretum.
Gingerbread Wonderland – Morristown
Stroll through the 25th annual Gingerbread Wonderland at Frelinghuysen Arboretum, and feast your eyes on the fanciful candy creations on display. Afterward, vote for your favorites in each category: children, adults, scouts, special needs, family, and school. Kids under 2 are FREE.
Santa Storytime – Short Hills
Enjoy cookies and a story with the Grinch and Santa Claus at Greenwood Gardens' winter wonderland. There are great photo ops in the decorated mansion. Advance registration required.
Make your own sweet creation at Liberty Hall Museum. Photo by Don LaVange via Flickr.
Gingerbread House Workshop – Union
December 9 and 16
Kids can decorate their own gingerbread houses at Liberty Hall Museum, where they can dig into piles of peppermints, gum drops, and candy canes. Registration required.
RELATED: 25 Free Things To Do in NJ This Holiday Season
Walk through magical winter scenes at Christmas Ice Caverns. Photo courtesy of Christmas Ice Caverns.
Christmas Ice Caverns – Little Falls
Through December 31
For more than 40 years, preschoolers have been pointing at their favorite storybook characters arranged in holiday scenes, as they walk through the festive displays at this garden center. From Disney characters to Santa's reindeer, dolls and woodland creatures, the holiday scenes capture the spirit of the season.
Living Nativity – Mount Laurel
December 2, 3, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17
This Fellowship Community Church event is a 45-minute walking tour through live, outdoor scenes featuring shepherds, villagers, live animals, a drummer boy, and kings, followed by hot chocolate and cookies.
Dickens Village – Maplewood
December 2, 9, 16
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.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical – Red Bank and New Brunswick
November 24 at Count Basie Theatre
December 18 at State Theatre New Jersey
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.
A Charlie Brown Christmas – New Brunswick, Rahway, Montclair
November 28 at The State Theater
December 2 and 9 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.
Mooseletoe – Rahway
November 30 at Union County Performing Arts Center
A moose follows his dreams and learns to fly along with Santa's reindeer in this whimsical one-hour holiday musical.
RELATED: Best Nutcrackers and Holiday Shows for NJ Kids
Meet Scuba Santa and see the world's tallest underwater Christmas tree at Adventure Aquarium. Photo courtesy of the aquarium.
Scuba Santa – Camden
December 2–30, daily schedule varies
Celebrate the season at Adventure Aquarium, where Scuba Santa will be swimming alongside sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays. Kids may even meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Bumble the Abominable Snowman. The interactive live show, "I Believe in Scuba Santa," is included in the aquarium admission fee. Check website for show times.
Laurie Berkner Band Holiday Concert – Freehold
Rock out with preschool favorite Laurie Berkner at iPlay America. Berkner will be performing songs from her holiday album plus other Christmas classics and Hanukkah favorites, including "Candle Chase" and "The Dreidel Song." This one's sure to inspire a family sing-along.
'Twas The Night Before Christmas – West Windsor
All the wonder of Saint Nick's midnight visit, as captured in Clement Moore's beloved classic, is brought to the stage by The Kelsey Players in this enchanting musical that's perfect for the littlest audience members.
Holiday Family Concert – Hoboken
Head to the Fire Department Museum for an afternoon of holiday singing and dancing with Hoboken favorites Dave Lambert and Howard Olah-Reiken. Young audience members can join in the merrymaking with jingle bells, shakers, and rhythm sticks, and everyone is invited to sing along to the wintertime tunes.
The Christmas That Almost Wasn't – Wayne
Go behind the scenes for a peek at the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle, and some near disasters, at the North Pole in this whimsical children's play. Children will chuckle as they witness some madcap holiday preparations, performed by Child's Play Touring Theater.
The Dance Connection's Nutcracker – West Windsor
This one-hour, fully narrated version of The Nutcracker will transport the youngest audience members to the Land of the Sweets, along with the Mouse King and Sugar Plum Fairy, followed by a cast meet-and-greet.
Updated for 2017.
Top image: Photo courtesy of State Theatre New Jersey.