Chances are, you’re already spending an arm and a leg this holiday season on gifts, decorations and travel. So why not give your wallet a rest and check out a free holiday event before the new year? New Jersey offers lots of great holiday events for the family that won’t break the bank. Not convinced?
To prove it, we’ve rounded up some of the best holiday events you can enjoy without spending a dime (or even a penny, for that matter).
Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Lights Spectacular
Where: Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, 560 Northfield Avenue, West Orange
When: Weekends now through December 3, then open daily December 8 – January 2 from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm (closed December 24 & 25)
Details: Stop by the Turtle Back Zoo any night during the Holiday Lights Spectacular to see the twinkling lights and illuminated characters on displays. Check the website for special happenings each weekend. This event is free but donations of non-perishable food items, new toys and gently used coats are greatly appreciated.
More info: Visit Turtle Back Zoo or call 973-731-5800.
Holiday Model Train Show
Where: Barron Arts Center, 582 Rahway Avenue, Woodbridge
When: November 25 through December 30 (closed December 25);
Monday to Friday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, Saturday and Sunday hours are from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Details: The 27th annual Holiday Model Train Show features Lionel trains from the extensive collection of Michael Gelesky. The exhibit is free, but donations are greatly appreciated.
More info: Visit the Woodbridge town website or call 732-634-0413.
Country Christmas with Santa
Where: Alstede Farms, 1 Alstede Farms Lane, Chester
When: Saturdays & Sundays from November 25 through December 24 from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm
Details: Come visit Santa’s Country Corner at Alstede Farms this holiday season. Your kids can meet Santa and you can snap the perfect picture while you listen to Christmas music. Cider, hot chocolate and other light refreshments are available for purchase.
More info: Visit the website or call 908-528-8823.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
Where: Village of Anglesea, 111 North Central Avenue, North Wildwood
When: December 1 at 5:00 pm
Details: Get into the holiday spirit while still enjoying the best of the Jersey shore! Hereford Inlet Lighthouse will be lighting its Christmas tree with some help from Santa Claus, topped off with holiday music and decorations, plus refreshments available for purchase.
More info: Visit Hereford Inlet Lighthouse or call 609-522-4520.
Where: Millburn Avenue between Holmes and Spring Streets, Millburn
When: December 3 from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm
Details: Come kick off the holiday season at Millburn’s annual Snowflake Parade. Live music, clowns, costumed characters and more join in the street parade fun! A bounce house, free temporary tattoos, photo ops with Santa and a sand art table will also be on-hand.
More info: Visit Downtown Millburn or call 973-379-2341.
Drive Through the Christmas Story
Where: Sayre Woods Bible Church, 2290 US Highway 9, Old Bridge
When: December 1-3 and 8-10 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Fridays and 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on Saturdays & Sundays
Details: Experience the Christmas Story like never before, as you drive through the show from the warmth of your car. This special holiday event features live characters, animals and narration that depict the birth and life of Jesus. Donations of canned food will be accepted.
More info: Visit Sayre Woods Bible Church or call 732-679-5989.
Hoboken Christmas Tree Lighting
Where: Hoboken City Hall, 94 Washington Street, Hoboken
When: December 5 at 5:00 pm
Details: Join Santa Claus, Elvis the Elf and other merry guests as Hoboken does its annual Christmas tree lighting, with musical performances by local schools and musicians.
More info: Visit the Hoboken town website or call 201-420-2000 ex. 5100.
Candlelight Village Tours
Where: Historic Smithville Park, 803 Smithville Road, Mt. Holly
When: December 8-11 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Details: Enjoy a tour of Historic Smithville Park’s Village, which is fully lit up for the holiday season. A special kids’ night on December 9 will include crafts, cookies, hot cocoa and a visit from Mrs. Claus!
More info: Visit Burlington County or call 609-265-5000.
Santa’s Family Workshop
Where: Cape May County Zoo, 707 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House
When: December 9 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm
Details: Meet Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus while you celebrate the season with crafts, candy, music and a scavenger hunt, plus the animals of the Cape May Zoo! Don’t forget to bring your letters for Santa to drop in the special Santa mailbox.
More info: Visit the website or call 609-465-5271.
Miracle on Elm Street
Where:Elm Street Parking Lot, Summit
When: December 10 from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Details: All are welcome to enjoy free ice skating in downtown Summit. Half-hour sessions are available and skates will be provided. There will also be food trucks, bonfires, cookie decorating, music and photos with Santa Claus.
More info: Visit Summit Community Programs or call 908-277-2932.
Connect with Nature – Holiday Special
Where: Rancocas Nature Center, 794 Rancocas Road, Westampton
When: December 11 from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm
Details: Mother Nature also gives gifts during the holidays. Use the natural bounty of the land to make edible ornaments for animals, build a wildlife shelter and learn about the winter food chain. You must call ahead to pre-register for this program; it’s free, but donations are encouraged.
More info: Visit the website or call 609-261-2495.
NJPAC Kwanzaa Festival and Marketplace
Where: NJPAC Center for Arts Education, 1 Center Street, Newark
When: December 16 from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm
Details: Bring the whole family along for NJPAC’s 19th annual Kwanzaa Festival and Marketplace. The festive event features an Arts and Crafts Village, music and dance activities, a marketplace and more! Dance, sing and experience the rhythms and culture of the African tradition.
More info: Visit New Jersey Performing Arts Center or call 1-888-GO-NJPAC.
Visit with Santa
Where: Historic Longstreet Farm, 44 Longstreet Road, Holmdel
When: December 16 & 17 from Noon to 3:00 pm
Details: Visit Historic Longstreet Farm to celebrate Christmas the old-fashioned way. Kids can visit with Santa Claus, then head on over to the farmhouse for a cup of hot cider.
More info: Visit the Monmouth County Park website or call 732-946-3758.
Moorestown Menorah Lighting
Where: Moorestown Community House, 16 East Main Street, Moorestown
When: December 19 at 6:00 pm
Details: Join the Moorestown community as the Moorestown Community House lights its lawn menorah to symbolize the start of Hannukah. All are welcome at this free holiday event, which will also have latkes, donuts, dreidels and gelt.
More info: Visit Moorestown Menorah Lighting or call 856-235-0326.
Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Syda Productions / Adobe Stock
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
Turtle Back Zoo / Website
Barron Arts Center / Facebook
Alstede Farms / Website
Hereford Inlet Lightnouse / Facebook
Downtown Millburn / Facebook
Sayre Woods Baptist Church / Facebook
Cape May County Zoo / Website
Summit Community Programs / Website
Rancocas Nature Center / Facebook
NJPAC / Website
Historic Longstreet Farm / Facebook
The Moorestown Community House / Facebook