Santa isn't the only one making a list and checking it twice. Our carefully curated December Go List is packed with the absolute best things to do with kids in NYC throughout the month. These aren't your run-of-the-mill tree lightings or Santa sightings. Our top picks include one-of-a-kind holiday gatherings like the activity-packed Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square, offbeat seasonal fun such as the MTA's Nostalgia Trains, performances by legendary kid rockers Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner, plus two of our favorite annual parades for families. You may also want to look at our November Go List again to be reminded of our previous picks like Dyker Lights, Macy's Santaland and the New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, all of which continue in December.
As always, if an event piques your interest, be sure to click through to our listing for all the details, including address and time. And keep in mind: In NYC, really cool things to do with kids often get booked up quickly—especially during the holidays. So buy your tickets ASAP or, in the case of FREE events, arrive as early as possible to try to beat the crowds.
The holiday season always requires extra planning, so get your calendars ready! Here are the top 12 things to do with kids in New York City this December, five of which are FREE.
MTA Holiday Season Nostalgia Trains – Long Island City to the Lower East Side
Sundays, December 1, 8, 15 and 22
With a swipe of your MetroCard, you can take retro rides on vintage R1/9 subway trains that date from the 1930s through the 1970s. My eight-year-old particularly loves looking at the authentic old-school advertisements (some quaint, others downright funny). These special trains run on the Sixth Avenue line between the Queens Plaza and Second Avenue stations and stop at holiday hot spots like 34th Street/Herald Square, 42nd Street/Bryant Park and 47-50th Streets/Rockefeller Center so you can jump off and enjoy Macy’s Santaland, the no-cost ice-skating in Bryant Park, the Rock Center tree and many of the major department store holiday windows. Bonus: On weekdays from December 2 to 20, you can hop on buses from the 1950s through the 1980s running on the 42nd Street crosstown line. Free with MetroCard
Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square – Upper West Side
Monday, December 2
The tree lighting in Dante Park kicks off this huge neighborhood holiday celebration that's totally worth blowing bedtime for—even on a weeknight. From Columbus Circle to 68th Street, enjoy tons of free entertainment, in-store activities, shopping discounts and much more. This year, kid-centric attractions include performances by the Grammy-nominated Pop Ups; the mini show Jack Frost with magic, juggling and singing; meet and greets with Curious George and Daniel Tiger; face painting, tattoos and crafts; and incredible ice sculptures by Okamoto Studio. While admission to this awesome event is FREE, attendees are encouraged to drop off new or gently-used coats as part of New York Cares Coat Drive. Visit the website for a list of drop-off locations and a complete schedule of events and times. I highly recommend you plan which things you want to see and do in advance since Winter's Eve is always insanely crowded. FREE
Mother Africa – Midtown West
Friday, December 6-Sunday, January 5, 2014
My son and I have been looking forward to this holiday show ever since the New Victory Theater announced its season. Tanzania's Circus Der Sinne (Circus of the Senses in English) is behind this exuberant and colorful spectacle featuring acrobats, stilt walkers, jugglers and other acts alongside dancers, singers and musicians playing catchy Afro-beats. We're particularly excited to see the foot jugglers from Ethiopia and the Kenyan contortionist who's known as the most flexible man in the world. The video on the New Vic's website makes it look like multicultural fun for the whole family. It's certainly different than the traditional holiday stage offerings. $17-$55
Santa Brunch and Jingle Bell Parade – Greenpoint
Saturday, December 7
Nonprofit community organization Town Square Inc organizes this annual Christmas-themed parade, which kicks off after a Santa brunch. Put on your holiday outfits, Santa hats, elf ears and reindeer antlers and join local families as they march through the streets in honor of the season. It's a family-friendly alternative to SantaCon, which started out cute but has turned into a messy bar crawl for drunken singletons. FREE for the parade, $10 per person for brunch
Laurie Berkner Band: A Holiday Celebration Concert – Upper West Side
Saturday, December 7
The reigning queen of the kiddie music scene plays a pair of holiday concerts in her hometown. Tots can dance in the aisles to classics like "Jingle Bells" as well as Berkner's beloved original tunes, including "Candy Cane Jane" and the Hanukkah-themed "Candle Chase." In 2012 these shows sold out in a flash and seats are going quickly for this year so don't delay. $45
Holiday Sing-along with Dan Zanes and Friends – Tribeca
Sunday, December 8
Another cool kindie concert: The Grammy-winning family rocker celebrates the holidays at City Winery with a sing- and dance-along show. Enjoy catchy tunes from the legendary performer's nine genre-busting, parent-approved albums along with seasonal songs from his 2012 release Christmas in Concord. Zanes does this intimate concert every year and it always sells out in advance. $20
Elizabeth Mitchell and You are My Flower – Upper West Side
Saturday, December 14
The Grammy-nominated songstress celebrates the release of her holiday-themed album The Sounding Joy with a performance at Symphony Space. As usual, her husband, Daniel Littleton, and daughter, Storey, join her onstage, as do a slew of special guests, notably Natalie Merchant from 10,000 Maniacs. Don't expect traditional Christmas tunes—The Sounding Joy features works by celebrated American composer Ruth Crawford Seeger (Pete's stepmother) and other old-school folk songs that celebrate the holidays of yesteryear. $25 for adults, $15 for children
Unsilent Night – Greenwich Village and East Village
Saturday, December 14
An offbeat alternative to traditional Christmas caroling: Help create a "sound sculpture" by blasting music by avant-garde composer Phil Kline. Participants broadcast one of the four parts of Kline's "Unsilent Night" score on boomboxes or their cell phones as they parade from Washington Square Park to Tompkins Square Park. Download the music online, get the free app or show up early to snag a free CD or cassette tape. All participants should arrive at least 15 minutes before the kickoff. If you don't want to march you can always listen from the sidelines. FREE
New York Pops Family Concert: A Charlie Brown Christmas – Midtown West
Saturday, December 21
Head to Carnegie Hall for this festive concert starring the legendary New York Pops. Charles M. Schulz's classic Peanuts TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas comes to life with narrator John Tartaglia (of ImaginOcean, Shrek the Musical and Johnny and the Sprites fame), New York Theatre Ballet dancers and child actors from TADA! Youth Theater and the Pops playing Vince Guaraldi's jazzy score. Availability is very limited so call 212-247-7800 right away to buy tickets. $10-$22
East Meets West Christmas Parade – Chinatown & Little Italy
Saturday, December 21
One of our only-in-NYC favorites: Adjacent communities Chinatown and Little Italy come together to celebrate the holidays in this multi-culti mash up. Watch marching bands, Chinese Lion and Dragon Dance troupes, half a dozen floats, a gondola on wheels, and more entertainers and attractions parade throughout the nabes' main streets. FREE
Reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – Washington Heights
Sunday, December 22
Get into the holiday spirit old-school-style at the Church of the Intercession. For the 103rd year in a row, Clement Clarke Moore’s ode to Christmas will be read aloud. Afterward, enjoy caroling, a lantern-lit procession to the poet's grave at nearby Trinity Cemetery, a commemorative wreath laying and complimentary hot cocoa. FREE
Paper Bag Players: Hiccup Help – Midtown East, the Bronx & Staten Island
Monday, December 23, Thursday, December 26 and Friday, December 27
My son and I have been going to see the Paper Bag Players' wonderful variety shows since he was in diapers. For more than 50 years, this troupe has entertained families with its creative cardboard sets and props, musical high jinks and silly jokes. Hiccup Help features beloved old skits ("Lost in the Mall," "That’s Good" and "A Perfect Picture") alongside brand-new ones about playing, sleeping babies, surprise birthday parties and hiccups. The Paper Bag Players are touring Hiccup Help throughout the city but you can catch the show for FREE during winter break at three different New York Public Library locations: the Children's Center at 42nd Street, Staten Island's Richmond Town Library and the Bronx Library Center. Seating is first-come, first-served so arrive early! The Paper Bag Players have an avid following. FREE
NYC always has so many incredible things going on, especially around the holidays, that it's difficult to choose. So here are a few more cool events that are worth considering for your December calendar. Be sure to sign up for our FREE newsletters so you can get our weekend picks delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning.
Dress to the nines and splurge on a swanky afternoon tea.
Meet Santa and pose for pics in front of a flotilla of 17 illuminated trees floating on the Harlem Meer at the annual holiday lighting in Central Park on Thursday, December 5. FREE
Go on the fun-filled Great Randall's Island Treasure Hunt on Saturday, December 7. FREE
Give to a great cause and go to a party: A $40 donation to the New York Public Library snags you an invite to its festive Holiday Open House featuring caroling, puppet shows and crafts on Sunday, December 8.
Hear holiday tunes in a whole new way at the annual Tuba Christmas concert at Rockefeller Center on Sunday, December 15. FREE
Celebrate Christmas Mexican style at Mano a Mano's 11th annual Posadas y Pastorelas fest on Saturday, December 21. FREE
Singers of all faiths can enjoy caroling under the arch in Washington Square Park on Christmas Eve. FREE
Enjoy hands-on fun at the New York Hall of Science's annual ReMake the Holidays, where kids can catch a screening of Bag It, watch ice-carving demos and do some 3D printing Friday, December 27-Monday, December 30.
Learn about the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa during the American Museum of Natural History's 35th annual festival on Saturday, December 28.
Brave the cold and ring in the New Year at Prospect Park's amazing fireworks show on Tuesday, December 31. FREE