December is a special time in New York State. With streets lit by twinkling lights, cozy stores inviting you in with a warm, festive welcome, and plenty of celebrating going on everywhere you look, December is the time of year for traditions, both new and old! Don’t let the cold keep you inside; there are endless activities across New York State this December that welcome all with glad tidings and good cheer!
Empire State Plaza Tree Lighting (Capital-Saratoga)
The holiday spirit is waiting this December 8 in the Empire State Plaza (pictured above) when the annual Tree Lighting ceremony lights up an evening of festivities in downtown Albany. Bring the whole family or your group of friends and go ice skating on the plaza, take a horse and carriage ride, visit with Santa Claus, and watch a dazzling fireworks display. Live performances, caroling, crafts, and more await. December 8; Albany; Free admission.
Saratoga Springs Victorian Streetwalk (Capital-Saratoga)
In Saratoga, the Victorian era’s influence is evident in the architecture of stately homes throughout downtown, so it’s the perfect place for a little time-traveling holiday celebration. The Saratoga Springs Victorian Streetwalk on December 5 welcomes everyone to step back in time and enjoy old-fashioned fun. Bring the kids to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, enjoy hot cocoa and cookies, and watch the tree lighting! This event closes down Broadway, allowing everyone to stroll along and enjoy the festive displays. December 5; Saratoga Springs; Free admission.
Ithaca’s Winter Light Festival (Finger Lakes)
Credit: @downtownithaca on Instagram
This inaugural festival brings light to the season on a new art trail where 25 luminous and interactive prisms have been installed to create a winter wonderland like no other. Located at the Commons pedestrian shopping area on East State Street, wander among the prisms and watch as they change colors for a new take on a holiday light display. The two-week celebration also includes annual holiday favorites like a chowder cook-off: on December 7, bring your appetite to the Commons to sample 20 different kinds of gourmet chowders from local restaurants and see who is crowned this year’s Chowder Cup Champion! Don’t miss a visit from Santa on December 8, when Santa and his elves rappel down from the top of Center Ithaca! Live music and performances from dancers and carolers add to the fun. Other festival events include a pop-up Silent Disco, a glow bar serving beer, wine, and hot cocoa, and much more! December 5–15; Ithaca; Free.
Athens Victorian Stroll (Catskills)
Located on the Hudson River, residents of the charming Catskills’ Village of Athens don their holiday apparel and break out their caroling shoes every year for the annual Athens Victorian Stroll. This one-day event is an extravaganza of holiday festivities. Enjoy free horse-drawn trolley and hay wagon rides, craft vendors, strolling carolers, live music performances, and more. Snap a photo of your group at the vintage photo booth hosted by Stewart House, and for the over 21-crowd, enjoy karaoke, brewery tours at Crossroads Brewery, and more. Irish dancing, face painting, tree trimming, and strolling performers make this a one-day event that gets everyone of all ages in the holiday spirit. December 14 from Noon–5 pm; Athens; Free admission.
A Gilded Age Christmas at Staatsburgh State Historic Site (Hudson Valley)
Every year, this Gilded Age–era, 65-room Beaux-Arts mansion, is transformed into a holiday-decorated wonder for guests to enjoy. Tour through this lavish turn-of-the-century mansion. See the servants’ quarters, as well as the grand spaces where generations past, the Mills family entertained. If there’s snow on the ground, go for a sled ride down the sloping lawn. Open November 29–December 22, December 26–31 (closed December 23-25), and tours offered 11 am–3 pm; Staatsburg; Regular admission: $8; Seniors and Students: $6; Children 12 and under are free.
Magic of Lights at Jones Beach State Park (Long Island)
If you find yourself on Long Island during the holiday season, a visit to Jones Beach State Park is a must for Magic of Lights. This family-friendly drive-through wonderland features some of the most dazzling holiday light displays found south of the North Pole. This year, after a ride through the show, park your car and enjoy the all-new Jolly Holiday Village. Santa is waiting to take photos with you, and you can decorate cookies, watch holiday movies, play games, and delight in endless seasonal treats. Open every night from November 22–January 4; open 5 pm–10 pm Sunday through Thursday, 5 pm–11 pm Friday and Saturday; Wantagh; Price varies, $25 Monday–Thursday; $30 Friday–Saturday.
Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo (New York City)
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Roaming carolers, master carvers creating works of icy art, and costumed characters are just a few of the fun things on offer at the Bronx Zoo’s Holiday Lights event. Take an illuminated safari through the zoo and discover creatures from the sea, land, and air. Every 20 minutes, a light show starts at Astor Court. Get around the zoo on the Holiday Train, and don’t miss the Ice Jubilee December 20–21. The Jubilee is your chance to sit on the ice throne and do your best impression of a penguin as you slide down the 20-foot-long ice slide. For those who are 21 and older, wintery cocktails are available at the ice bar. Open November 29–December 31, January 3–5. Closed December 24–25; Bronx; Price varies.
Yuletide in the Country Tours and Buffet (Greater Niagara)
Slip into the pages of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when you visit Genesee Country Village and Museum. Enjoy simple holiday pleasures from Yuletides past as you explore the picturesque grounds of the snow-covered village. Join in the fun during town dance, or sing merrily around a candle-lit tree. Make your visit a little more special with a Yuletide Dinner! New this year, tours will be offered for guests with mobility issues and those requiring an ASL interpreter. Tours and times vary. No infants or children under seven years are admitted. December 6–21; Mumford; Prices vary.
Miracle on Main Street (Chautauqua-Allegheny)
Don’t miss Miracle on Main Street December 7 in Fredonia. Santa comes to town in a big way, bringing lots of activities for kids of all ages. Enjoy caroling, watch the tree lighting, and take advantage of kid’s craft workshops. Kids and adults will love decorating a gingerbread house, and everyone can enjoy a screening of the beloved children’s film, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride, watch live music, and don’t miss the Ugly Holiday Sweater contest for adults, and the Little Santa Helper Costume Contest for kids. December 7; Fredonia; Free admission.
Clayton Christmas Parade in Lights & Fireworks (Thousand Islands-Seaway)
Begin your holiday celebrations in the riverside town of Clayton. The 57th Annual Christmas Lights Parade, which starts at 6 pm on December 7, features beautifully decorated floats with twinkling holiday lights, thrilling drum performances by DownBeat Percussion, and much more! The theme for this year’s parade is “My Favorite Christmas Memory.” Following the parade, catch an incredible fireworks display–visible from several locations around Clayton, including Frink Park, the Riverwalk, and the Clayton Harbor Municipal Marina. December 7; Clayton; Free.
Lake Placid Holiday Village Stroll (Adirondacks)
Nestled in the Adirondacks, Lake Placid is a must-visit destination this season. Experience ultimate winter fun when the entire village comes together to celebrate the holidays at Lake Placid’s Holiday Village Stroll, December 13–15. From a skating party and live music to holiday crafts and food tastings, there’s something for everyone to enjoy! Do all of your holiday shopping as you stop by the Main Street shops—many of which will be offering special discounts during the stroll. Also, check out the specials at local restaurants, featuring seasonal cocktails and dishes. Watch for Santa, as he will be making appearances throughout the weekend! December 13–15; Lake Placid; Free.
Candlelight Evening at the Farmers’ Museum (Central New York)
Have a memorable night with the whole family during the Candlelight Evening at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown on December 14. With a picturesque landscape filled with historic buildings, horse-drawn wagons, and glowing candles, the evening is sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Listen to a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” warm up by the bonfire as you sip wassail—hot mulled cider—and listen to the sounds of the season performed live by on-site musicians. December 14; Cooperstown; Adults (13-64): $12.00; Seniors (65 and older): $10.50; Juniors (7-12): $6.00; Children 6 and younger and museum members are free.