'Tis the season to get the gang all dressed up to see some holiday shows. While there are certainly lots of spectacles to splurge on beyond the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and all those Nutcrackers, if you've got young children you may not want to blow all of your bucks on theater tickets. That's why our roundup includes a range of productions, from inexpensive, low-key offerings perfect for fidgety preschoolers, to extravaganzas that are worth the money. Bonus: We've got the scoop on how to save money to a few of the higher-priced offerings.
From live stage adaptations of holiday classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Elf to tot-friendly puppet shows to offbeat, eye-popping circus and dance, here are our top 16 holiday shows for NYC families.
Click through to our listings for all the details, including address and performance schedule.
Celebrate all the holidays at the Swedish Cottage's multicultural The Three Bears Holiday Bash. Photo by Justina Wong/courtesy the production.
The Three Bears Holiday Bash — Upper West Side
Through Friday, December 30
The three bears and all their fairy-tale pals are back at Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre for their annual seasonal variety show. This spirited marionette performance celebrates all the holidays, whether you observe Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah. A perfect theatergoing experience for very young audiences. $10 for adults, $7 for children under age 12
RELATED: 12 Must-Do Holiday Events for NYC Kids
Pilobolus: Shadowland — West Village
Friday, November 20-Saturday, December 6
Ages 8 and up
Stop what you're doing and take 45 seconds to watch the trailer for this awe-inspiring, genre-busting, shadow-dance show from cutting-edge performance collective Pilobolus. The troupe uses choreography, circus skills and rock music to capture an adolescent girl's emotional coming-of-age journey as she navigates a dreamscape populated by bizarre creatures and characters, all conjured by the dancers' amazingly flexible bodies, a spotlight and a scrim. Given the subject matter, lack of dialog and one brief moment of toplessness (at evening performances only), the show is best for tweens and up. $45-$75 but save money on select performances via Broadwaybox.com.
Get into the seasonal spirit with fictional but fabulous fashionista Fancy Nancy at her Christmas show. Photo courtesy of Vital Children's Theatre.
Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas — Upper East Side
Saturday, November 28-Sunday, December 27
Vital Children's Theatre is famous for its page-to-stage adaptations, and the troupe has fared particularly well with shows based on Jane O'Connor's couture kid-lit character Fancy Nancy. After doing a stupendous job of musicalizing the first book in the series, Vital debuted this tuner last year about the pint-size fashionista's quest to find the most fabulous Christmas arbor ever. Of course, things don't go quite as she plans but it all turns out all right in the end, with her family trimming the tree with help from children in the audience. We enjoyed it last year and think it's a must for Fancy Nancy fans. $49.50-$59.50 but save money on select performances through our affiliate Goldstar.
The Commedia Rapunzel: Holiday Extravaganza Pumpkin Spice Latte Edition — Soho
Saturdays, November 28-Saturday, January 30, 2016
This FringeJr summer hit transferred to Off-Broadway's Soho Playhouse in the fall, and now the creators are giving this Commedia dell'arte take on the classic fairy tale a seasonal makeover. The so-called "Holiday Extravaganza Pumpkin Spice Latte Edition" is set at Christmastime and packed with send-ups of seasonal clichés, including lots of Frozen jokes, as an impoverished troupe of Italian performers mount a campy and interactive musical inspired by the long-haired princess. $39 for adults, $25 for children under age 13, and Mommy Poppins readers can take 30 percent off with the discount code MOMPOP
Seven In One Blow, or the Brave Little Kid — West Village
Friday, December 4-Tuesday, December 22
An offbeat stage variation of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, this annual Axis Theatre production follows the misadventures of Kid, a young boy who kills seven flies in one shot and gets caught in a tangle of lies surrounding his feat. In the end, he learns about love and caring, with help from the children in the audience. $15 for adults, $5 for children
RELATED: Where to Brunch with Santa in NYC this Christmas
Cirque Mechanics offers a stunning steampunk-style cycling circus. Photo by Zach Mahone.
Pedal Punk — Midtown West
Friday, December 4-Sunday, January 3, 2016
Ages 5 and up
Every holiday season, the New Victory Theater celebrates by presenting a colorful, jaw-dropping, nondenominational circus show, and we're particularly excited about this year's offering from Las Vegas' incredible Cirque Mechanics. The troupe wowed us with its past two New Vic shows: the Metropolis-inspired Birdhouse Factory and Boom Town set in the Wild West. This time around, the circus rides into NYC with a steampunk-themed cycling spectacle. Familiar acts like aerial, acrobatics and balancing get a jolt of adrenaline from the troupe's skilled members and highly stylized environments. This one can't roll into town fast enough! $19-$55
Young Charles Dickens — Midtown West
Saturday, December 5-Sunday, January 3, 2016
Ages 8 and up
Formerly known as Making Books Sing, the rechristened New York City Children’s Theater is once again using a historical fiction picture book by the prolific Deborah Hopkinson as fodder for a family musical. Their past two collaborations, Sky Boys and Band of Angels, were truly exceptional, so we have high hopes for this bio-tuner about Charles Dickens' childhood. Find out how this talented young storyteller was forever changed when he was forced to spend a year (including Christmas Eve!) working to support his struggling family. Who knew A Christmas Carol was semi-autobiographical? $25-$45, $95 for a family four-pack
Elf the Musical — Midtown West
Wednesday, December 9-Sunday, December 27
Ages 6 and up
Based on the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy of the same name, this musical debuted on Broadway in 2010 and returns to the Theater at Madison Square this December. Like the film, the tuner follows the journey of Buddy, a young human boy raised as one of Santa's elves. Once grown, he realizes he doesn't fit in, so he leaves the North Pole to find his birth father and himself. I saw it with my daughter a few years back and we both found it charming with funny songs and great dancing. Best for school-age children, the show really captures the joyful spirit of the season. $39-$160 but save money on select performances through our affiliate Goldstar.
The Pig Brooch Theatre Company's annual live stage adaptation of A Charlie Brown Christmas moves to a new venue this season. Photo courtesy of the company.
A Charlie Brown Christmas — Gowanus
Friday, December 11-Sunday, December 20
Ages 3 and up
After years of performing this family favorite at the now-closed Brooklyn Lyceum, the show moves to a huge, brand-new venue, the Redwood Studios, for its seventh annual run. This live stage adaptation of the iconic TV special (which turns 50 this year!) is extremely faithful to the source material, right down to the 30-minute running time, and features a lively jazz trio playing Vince Guaraldi's memorable music. After seeing The Peanuts Movie on the big screen, watching Charlie, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang up close and personal is a fantastic holiday treat for kids. $12
The First Noel — Harlem
Friday, December 11-Thursday, December 31
Ages 8 and up
For more than 15 years, the Classical Theatre of Harlem has been reimagining iconic shows for multicultural audiences (its free summer Shakespeare series is a huge community favorite) and, more recently, incubating new works. We're particularly intrigued by its world premiere holiday musical, which also marks the company's first time working at the legendary Apollo Theater. Set in Harlem and featuring new tunes alongside famous Christmas carols infused with pop, jazz and gospel, The First Noel focuses on three generations of one family impacted by the devastating death of a loved one. But a surprise holiday guest brings the spirit of healing to their home. I love that this show celebrates the season but also explores the harsh realities of life and loss. $25-$125
Ballerina Swan — Midtown West
Saturday, December 12-January 3, 2016
New York City Children’s Theater revives its 2013 hit inspired by NYC Ballet prima ballerina Allegra Kent's children's book of the same name. The tale of a Central Park swan who yearns to do ballet is told through a mix of theater, dance and puppetry, and set to Tchaikovsky's romantic Swan Lake music. Hey, it's a nice change from hearing his Nutcracker all season long! $25-$45, $95 for a family four-pack
RELATED: Best Nutcrackers in NYC
Is Santa magical or the best scientist ever? The hilarious Doktor Kaboom investigates. Photo courtesy of the Tribeca Performing Arts Center.
Doktor Kaboom! Science of Santa — Tribeca
Saturday, December 12
Catch this interactive, science-themed holiday show at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center as the clever and comedic Doktor Kaboom deconstructs iconic Santa lore, like how he knows who's naughty and nice, and why his reindeer can fly. $25
Judy & the Maccabees — Upper West Side
Sunday, December 13
Although we call them "holiday shows," let's face it: Hanukkah gets the short end of the candlestick when it comes to the spotlight. That's why I'm glad the Poppy Seed Players are around. This inventive troupe mounts engaging family musicals that bring the stories behind Jewish holidays to life. In this fun new take on the old Festival of Lights tale, Judy is a headstrong girl who joins the Maccabees to fight for religious rights. They dismiss her at first, but ultimately she becomes a major player in the struggle. A great way to introduce kids of all backgrounds to the meaning of Hanukkah (no it's not gifts!). $20
Annie — Flatbush
Tuesday, December 15-Sunday, December 20
Ages 5 and up
Do I really need to sell you on this classic musical about a plucky orphan during the Depression who lands the best adoptive dad ever? For school-age kids, seeing Annie is a formative experience. They get to watch their peers onstage belting out iconic songs like "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard Knock Life," learn a little bit of history (hey there FDR) and revel in the magic of old-time NYC at Christmastime. This revival is helmed by Martin Charnin, the show's lyricist and original Broadway director, and is playing at Brooklyn's recently reopened Kings Theatre, one of those gorgeous old movie palaces that spent decades dormant, so it should be a particularly memorable night out at the theater. $35-$110
La MaMa Kids: Winter Wonderland Presentation — East Village
Saturday, December 19
Ages 3 and up
The legendary avant-garde arts center celebrates the season with an offbeat interactive experience created by some of its kookiest resident artists. This immersive performance features site-specific works throughout the multilevel theater, all inspired by the winter wonderland theme. Leave your expectations at the door: this genre-busting installation includes acting, puppetry, storytelling, dance and music. $8
A Fairy Tale Winter — Staten Island
Tuesday, December 29
Talk about grrrl power! In this holiday fable, famous heroines like Cinderella, Snow White and even Fairy Godmother band together to save the season after their fairy-tale worlds collide. This Plaza Theatricals production ends with a character meet and greet so bring your camera. $18-$20
Top photo of the family musical Elf based on the hit 2003 Will Ferrell movie by Amy Boyle/courtesy the production.