40 FREE Things To Do This December 2021

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The holiday season has officially started, and with all the festive things to do this month, a lot of it is FREE. So round up the fam and head out to get in the holiday spirit all over the state. Watch a Car Menorah Parade full of festive lights in Cherry Hill, get a glimpse of Santa at dazzling Tree Lightings in Cape May, Ocean Grove, and Westwood, or see lights and wildlife at the Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Lights Spectacular in West Orange.  With so many things to do this December, there is no time for a dull moment. And for more ideas and places to go, check out our Winter Festivals in NJ.

Featured Photo Credit: Cape May Resorts

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(Note: Since COVID-19 rules and regulations are continually changing, it’s best to check ahead for in-person events)

American Dream Heart of the Holidays
December 1-24
It’s the “The Heart of the Holidays” celebration throughout December at American Dream Mall. You can visit the Elf Workshop tucked inside Nickelodeon Universe daily to visit stations run by elves, where guests can write a letter to Santa, decorate ornaments, or color some pictures. Or see toy soldier stilt walkers or listen to local performers showcased across American Dream’s social channels and live pop-up performances throughout the mall on Music Mondays. On Wish Wednesdays, beginning December 9, make a wish in the Garden Court with one of American Dream’s holiday elves. There’s a Candy Cane Passport Hunt, and on Saturday, it’s Holiday Sweater Saturdays. Tickets for Nickelodeon Universe are not required to participate.
1 American Dream Way, East Rutherford, NJ 07073
(833) 263-7326

Kip’s Castle
December 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23, 30
Take a self-guided tour at Kip’s Castle to experience the holidays circa the 1920s. The grounds at Kip’s Castle Park are open from dawn to dusk seven days a week.
22 Crestmont Road, Verona, NJ 07044
(973) 433-7469

Bridgewater Lights up the Night: A Hanukkah Celebration
December 2
Watch interactive science shows celebrating the miracle of Hanukkah and lights. There will be two shows, one at 5:30 PM and the second at 6:30 PM. There is also a Community candle lighting at 6:15 PM, along with crafts and holiday treats.
Bridgewater Commons, 400 Commons Way, Bridgewater, NJ 08807
(908) 218-1166

Dickens Village Maplewood
December 2-18, select dates
Dickens Village will bring various scenes from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol to life in miniature houses arranged in Ricalton Square. This community tradition opens in December and runs each Saturday until Christmas. The festivities include horse and wagon rides, a petting farm, tree lighting, and Menorah lighting.
Ricalton Square, Maplewood, NJ 07040
(973) 762-4556

Jersey City Holiday Lighting Ceremony
December 2, 6:30 PM-7 PM
The Historic Downtown Special Improvement District’s annual holiday celebration includes a Christmas tree and Menorah lighting to put everyone in a holiday mood. Enjoy cookies and hot chocolate and wait for Santa to visit on a fire truck. Gifts will be given out to children in need while supplies last.
Newark Avenue Pedestrian Mall (119-158 Newark Ave),
Jersey City, NJ 07302

Fireman’s Park Tree Lighting in Asbury Park
December 3, 5:30 PM
Start the holiday season off right in Asbury Park for their annual tree lighting. The event will feature a visit with Santa, delicious refreshments, and celebrating with the community.
Fireman’s Park

Asbury Park, NJ

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Christmas Tree Lighting
December 3, 4:30 PM
Usher in the holidays in a unique location—next to a lighthouse. In addition to the tree lighting, listen to festive holiday music, grab something to eat and drink, and let your littles safely visit Santa. You can also take a free tour of the lighthouse.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse Courtyard
North Wildwood, NJ

JC Fridays
December 3
JC Fridays feature art events in restaurants, galleries, stores, and event spaces in almost every neighborhood of our great city. Sponsors include Jersey City Art & Culture, New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Jersey City Times, Central Avenue SID, New Jersey Theatre Alliance, A.R.T./New York.
Several locations around Jersey City

Somerville Holiday Jubilee
December 3
It’s an annual Somerville tradition, and there is music in the air, a warm glow from shop windows, and the aroma of fresh cuisine. Santa will also be on his way to the Downtown Somerville Holiday Jubilee with a tree lighting, ice carving, horse-drawn carriage rides, frozen characters, strolling carolers, photos, musical performances, hot cocoa, cookies, and more.
Division Street and Main Street, Somerville, NJ 08876

Town of Newton Tree Lighting
December 3
Head to this village for a tree lighting event at Newton Town Hall. Festivities start at 5:00 PM with the tree lighting and a visit with the big guy in red. There will be lots of holiday cheer, including holiday music, pre-packaged refreshments, and of course, letter writing to Santa.
39 Trinity Street, Newton, NJ 07860

Cape May Congress Hall Tree Lighting Weekend
December 3-4
Kick off the 11th annual Winter Wonderland at Congress Hall with holiday festivities all weekend. On Friday night, gather around the promenade to watch the traditional tree lighting ceremony as they illuminate the towering 30-foot tree. On Saturday, check out a performance by the Turning Pointe Dance Team and then sit back and enjoy the West Cape May Christmas Parade.
200 Congress Place, Cape May, NJ 08204
(855) 290-8467

Toms River Winter Wonderland Weekend
December 3-5
Start the weekend with the annual tree lighting on Friday, December 3. Then on Saturday and Sunday, get your holiday shopping in at the courtyard at Town Hall when it transforms into a winter village with craft vendors, kids’ activities, holiday music, and more.
33 Washington Street, Toms River, NJ 08753

2021 Weihnachtsmarkt German Christmas Market of New Jersey
December 3-5 
Who says you need to fly to Germany to experience an authentic Weihnachtsmärkt? Sussex County Fairgrounds is home to the largest annual Christmas market in the state and the only German Christmas Market in the US, complete with a Biergarten, food market, folk dancers, and live music. Your littles will have a ball in the petting zoo and enjoy a special visit from St. Nicholas. 100% of all proceeds are donated to the local Sussex County charities.
Sussex County Fairgrounds, 37 Plains Road, Augusta, NJ 07822

Rahway Winter Wonderland
December 3, 10, 17, 18
Live jazz, fire pits, hot chocolate, giveaways, decorate an ornament, candy canes, ice sculptures, a holiday DJ, and photos with Santa. Don’t miss Santa on parade on December 18.
Train Station Plaza, Cherry Street, The Paseo, and Arts District Park (weather permitting), Rahway, NJ 07065  (732) 669-3600

Howell Living History Farm Christmas on the Farm
December 4
Enter the 130-acre county park for special tours and activities to celebrate the season. Christmas crafts, farm animal visits, and opportunities to peek inside a decorated circa-1900 farmhouse are just part of the festive fun. The farm’s forge, horse barn, barnyard, and gift shop will all be open. Pre-registration is not required for entry, but guests must sign in at the Visitor Center outdoor reception area upon arrival.
Cost: Free, but visitors are invited to bring canned goods for contribution to the farm’s Share the Harvest Program, and Toys for Tots is also accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys
70 Woodens Lane, Hopewell Twp., NJ 08530
(609) 737-3299 

Ocean Grove Holiday Festival and Christmas in Ocean Grove
December 4
During the day, you can see crafters, artisans, and live music. Then as it gets later, you listen to the choir, see a live nativity, a tree lighting with carols, Santa will arrive, and the night will end with a Christmas Celebration Concert.
Crafters, artisans, and live music- Main Ave., Ocean Grove, NJ 07756
Choir, nativity, tree lighting, and Santa- Auditorium Square, Ocean Grove, NJ 07756
(732) 774-1391

Pitman Winter Village
December 4
Treat yourself to the charm of a Victorian Holiday at this village, where you can shop for unique, handmade gifts from 30+ special vendors. Your little ones can visit Santa or make a craft and play games. After, grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants on the street.
Ballard Ave., Pitman, NJ 08071

Westwood Home For The Holidays
December 4, Parade begins at 6 PM
Get ready for the holiday season with the return of Westwood’s beloved Home For The Holidays celebration, which features a tree lighting, library storytime, live music, ice sculpting, and more. The parade will begin at 6:00 PM and will include a visit from the big guy in red.
Downtown Westwood

Atlantic City Holiday Bazaar
December 4-5
Holiday shopping, food and libations, handcrafted and vintage goods, and more round out this bazaar. Local art and photography will also be available for purchase. There will be photos with Santa too.
The Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University 2200 Fairmount Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ 08401

Artist & Maker Market Happy Holiday Market
December 4-5, 11-12

Last-minute gifting is inevitable, so why not shop for locally-made jewelry, candles, specialty food items, and handmade gifts all in one convenient spot. Shop directly from emerging new makers and established artists to find one-of-a-kind items and meet the people who made them. The bazaar seeks to support handmade goods as an alternative to mass-produced items and works to cultivate small businesses and entrepreneurship by providing a thriving place for them to sell.
Grove Street PATH Plaza and The Ashford Rooftop, 
Jersey City, NJ 07302

Crafts at Christmas Arts & Craft Show
December 4-5

You’ll find something for everyone on your list at Cape May’s Annual Crafts at Christmas Show, where makers and artists display their handmade and original works. Comb the aisles of the legendary Convention Hall for leather goods, ornaments, watercolors, jewelry, and more.
714 Beach Avenue, 
Cape May, NJ 08204

Car Menorah Parade Cherry Hill
December 5
It’s South Jersey’s Annual Car Menorah Parade, where cars will drive with car-top menorahs and a police escort
bringing safe and fun Hanukkah cheer to the streets of Cherry Hill. Don’t miss the menorah music truck, antique Diggerland fire truck, Cherry Hill Police Department, and Fire Police. If you want to join in, parade spots are limited, and RSVP is required. The event will end with a menorah lighting.
Parade preparation, lineup, and departure from The Chabad Center, 1925 Kresson Road, Cherry Hill, NJ 08803 

Asbury Fresh Pop Up at Porta
December 5-23, Thursdays and Sundays
Experience a warm and toasty holiday market season in good ol’ Asbury Park. Shop locally curated vendors and enjoy pizza and festive drinks.
Porta, 911 Kinsley Ave., 
Asbury Park, NJ 07712

Morris County Winter Farmers’ Market – Grow It Green
December 5-March 27 (except December 26)
The Morris County Winter Farmers’ Market features more than 20 farmers and local food vendors to develop a local food system in which patrons can eat locally and seasonally. There will be freshly grown produce, farm-raised beef, pork and poultry and fresh seafood, baked goods, farm eggs, and so much more.
Convent Train Station, Convent Road, Morris Township, NJ 07960 

Christmas Tree Decorating and Lighting Event in Somers Point
December 8, 4:30 PM
Get in the holiday spirit with this Christmas tree decorating and lighting event. Santa will be in attendance for the lighting to visit with all the little ones. Tree decorating can be done any time from Saturday, December 4 to December 8, and a limited number of trees are available at no cost for decorating.
Bay Avenue in front of Shore Medical Center
Somers Point, NJ

Newark Museum Of Art Community Day Winter Wonderland
December 11
It’s a Winter Wonderland filled with food, art, and festive fun. The transformed Museum Garden presents Hip -Hop performances, music, and dance that celebrates holidays worldwide. Pick up gifts from local vendors, create some art, and try ice skating. Grab food from Hot Dog Lady and Tonnie’s Minis, and the first 300 people will receive a free treat from Tonnie’s Minis.
Alice Ransom Dreyfuss Memorial Garden, 49 Washington Street, Newark, NJ 07102-3176
(973) 596-6550

Bayshore Holiday Bazaar
December 12
Local and regional artists, vendors, and shops selling vintage, handmade, art, jewelry, home goods, and more. While you shop, enjoy a holiday show with Father Frost (Russian Santa) and a Kids Craft Workshop hosted by the Keyport Library. Don’t miss the holiday photo wall designed by Lauren Michael Events, and enjoy delicious spirits from 3BR Distillery (the only distillery in the world using 100% garden peas to make their spirits).
7 Main Street, Keyport, NJ 07735

Count Basie Center Holiday Market
December 12
Get ready for holiday shopping, drinks, and more at The Count Basie Center For The Arts. Get into a festive mood at a Winter Market in NJ.
The Count Basie Center For The Arts, 99 Monmouth Street, Red Bank, NJ 07711

Holiday Market in the Park in Hopatcong
December 12, 11 AM-3 PM, Tree lighting – 6 PM-8 PM
The tree lighting—along with a visit from St. Nick—will be happening in the evening, but come earlier to explore what the holiday market has to offer. Grab a bite to eat from the food trucks—they have kid-approved choices like fudge and pizza—and do some shopping at the craft vendors. They’re selling a range of goods, from fashion accessories to soap to holiday gifts. And, of course, holiday music will be playing throughout the event.
Modick Park, Hopatchung Road,
Hopatcong, NJ 07843

Sauce for the Goose Holiday Market
December 13
Pick up a beautiful, handmade treasure at this 28th annual sale of artwork by local and area artists. It’s sponsored by the Arts Council of Princeton and features eclectic and one-of-a-kind ceramics, glassware, ornaments, and other forms of fine art to gift to friends and family. Rain date December 14.
Princeton Shopping Center, 301 N. Harrison Street, Princeton, NJ 08540

Virtual Kwanzaa Festival
December 19-31
Take an online class to explore West African dance, stepping, Zumba, drumming, capoeira, Bebop Graffiti Arts, or Afrobeats. This year’s virtual festival runs through December 31, featuring online programs inspired by the seven principles of Kwanzaa (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith). Tune in for a panel discussion about storytelling with the elders, social justice, or Black theater, or stop by the community marketplace for some online shopping.
Virtual, New Jersey Performing Arts Center
1-888-696-5722

Asbury Park Holiday Bazaar 2021
Now-December 19
Peruse the aisles at the Asbury Hotel for the best local and regional artists, vendors, and shops selling art, jewelry, home goods, food gifts, and more. After, catch holiday entertainment, holiday photo stations, and enjoy seasonally inspired food and drink. Littles can take part in a festive holiday craft workshop while you shop for gifts.
The Asbury Hotel, 210 5th Avenue,
Asbury Park, NJ 07712

Long Branch Holiday Bazaar
Now-December 19
There will be food, vendors, and more at this Bazaar, with live music, holiday photo stations, craft workshops, and beautiful holiday décor. The holiday market is inspired by the traditional “Weihnachtsmarkts” held in Germany. While you shop, enjoy delicious food and libations, and craft beers from Whitechapel Projects.
15 2nd Ave., Long Branch, NJ 07740

Bell Works Fresh Holiday Market
Now-December 22, Wednesdays, 12 PM – 6 PM
If the weather outside looks frightful, you can still shop at this indoor market with 80+ local farmers, food purveyors, local artisans, and more. While you browse, kids can be entertained with crafts and live music, plus sample plenty of festive treats and drinks.
Bell Works, 101 Crawfords Corner Road,
Holmdel, NJ 07733

Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Lights Spectacular
Now-December 31, select dates

Grab your winter coat and get ready to stroll through the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo to see over 50 winter and animal characters. The event will feature weekend Santa visits, a train, carousel, reptile house, aquarium, and Essex Farm and Pony rides. Donations are recommended.
560 Northfield Avenue, West Orange, NJ 07052
(973) 731-5800

Thomas Sweet’s Holiday Village
Now-January 3
Stop by Thomas Sweet Chocolate for their annual Winter Village, a miniaturized winter scene in the store windows. You can gaze upon this gorgeous lit village for the entire holiday season. While you’re there, go skating on the square, or enjoy the beauty of the Christmas tree.
Thomas Sweet Chocolate,
29 Palmer Square West, Princeton, NJ 08542

Smithville Holiday Light Show On The Lake
Now-January 6
Over 120 Christmas Trees with over 50,000 Christmas lights float on Lake Meone in the center of Historic Smithville. When darkness falls, an orchestrated show of lights and music plays across the lake. The show can be seen from either side of the village as well as the bridge.
Historic Smithville, 615 E. Moss Mill Rd., Smithville, NJ 08205

(609) 748-8999

Fanwood’s Famous Christmas House
Now-January 8
See over 30,000 lights at Fanwood’s Famous Christmas House, which has twinkling displays and a light show every evening. Donations will be accepted for the NJ Institute for Disabilities.
82 Paterson Road, Fanwood, NJ 07023

(908) 403-6486
2nd Annual Winter Wonderwalk
Now–into Winter 2022
Wrap yourself in the warmth of the holiday season as the grounds of Cape May’s only Victorian House Museum. The Emlen Physick Estate will be lit up and glowing. Join the Winter Wonderwalk to walk the grounds and view these fun and whimsical display of winter’s past. And continue the festivities by walking along the streets of Cape May’s decorated homes.
1048 Washington Street, Cape May, NJ 08204

(609) 884-5404

RWJBarnabas Health: Cooking Classes for Kids
Dates and times vary depending on the program
Kids of all ages will love cooking up healthy treats in these virtual hands-on cooking classes (adult supervision required during class): Try Healthy Kids in Hannah’s Kitchen for kids 8-12, where they’ll learn to use a recipe, cook with nutritious ingredients, and utilize kitchen basics or try Taste Testers in Hannah’s Kitchen, a Mommy and Me style class for 2-4-year-olds.
RWJBarnabas, Virtual
(973) 926-7371

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About Author

Melanie Bodner has always had a love for writing, but now she has a new love…being a mom. Before having her kids, Melanie was no stranger to writing or working with children. She wrote for a local newspaper as a reporter and taught English and Dance in a public school. Now Melanie enjoys spending time with her kids, doing yoga, writing and decorating her home. Check out her Instagram @burlapbythebeach.

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