Guide to Holidays in New York City: Museum Events This Winter

Go see these Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa celebrations and exhibitions

New York City is a popular holiday destination for tourists. People come with their children to see the giant tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skate at Wollman Rink in Central Park, eat the famous frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, and gaze into the store windows of midtown Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.

Additionally, all the major museums put together exhibitions and celebrations timed with the holidays to welcome both out-of-town guests and locals alike. Whether you're looking to specifically celebrate Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa or find a more generally festive holiday event, this round-up will help you choose the best holiday museum event in New York City.

01 of 05

Holiday Train Show at New York Botanical Garden

Holiday Train Show at NYBG

Other the Rockefeller Center tree, the most popular holiday event in New York is the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. This annual event is a point of pilgrimage for New Yorkers and tourists who come to marvel and the intricate village made by hand with natural materials.

Always displayed inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, trains move in and out of familiar and meticulously crafted New York City landmarks including the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty all the way out to a tiny version of Coney Island's amusement park. 

Plan ahead as this event is popular with families. Purchase tickets online and consider making a full day visit including the 250 acres at the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo and lunch or dinner on Arthur Avenue, the heart of New York's only real remaining Little Italy. 

The New York Botanical Garden is located in the Bronx, and the best way to get there from Manhattan is by train, via Metro North from Grand Central Station.

02 of 05

The Met's Neapolitan Christmas Tree

The Met's Neapolitan Christmas tree display
The Met

Every year visitors flock to The Met Fifth Avenue to see the Christmas tree installed in the Medieval Art sculpture hall in the very center of the museum.

A traditional northern European fir tree is combined with a collection of 18th-century Neapolitan sculptures representing the traditional presepio, or Christmas village. This unusual combination has been a Met tradition since 1957, and every year more than two hundred figures are displayed in new settings and arrangements. 

In Naples, the craft of making a miniature Christmas village is an ancient and important tradition. There's an entire street in Naples where artisans who make the presepio figures have their stalls and sell to the public year round. The figures at The Met are based on designs by the most famous sculptors and set designers of 18th century Naples. 

You'll also want to make sure to check The Met's calendar for concerts and performances set in front of the tree. Admission to the museum is free, but a suggested donation of $10 helps fund museum activities like the Neapolitan Christmas Tree.

03 of 05

Family Hanukkah Day at The Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum

Every year, the Jewish Museum hosts an all-day art-making party in honor of Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights. During the event, families can enjoy a concert, story hours, and drop-in studio time to make art projects as well as an interactive gallery tour where kids will learn the story of Hanukkah.

In 2018, Hanukkah Day at the Jewish Museum will take place on December 2 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. New to the event this year, guest can collaborate on a giant work of art or catch a drawing performance by Jeff Hopkins that retells the story of Hanukkah. The event is free to attend with admission to the museum, which is also free for kids under 18.

The Jewish Museum is located on Fifth Avenue between 92nd and 93rd streets in Manhattan's Upper East Side neighborhood. To access the museum via subway, you can take the Woodlawn-bound 4 or 5 trains to 86 Street-Lexington Avenue then walk up Lexington to 92nd Street and turn right.

04 of 05

Discover Medieval Decorations at The Met Cloisters

Holiday decorations at the Met Cloisters
In Season: Met Cloisters blog

Christmas decorations inevitably conjure up images of red bows, jingle bells, and twinkling lights, but The Met Cloisters—a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval art—goes all out during the holidays each year with Christmas decor in the medieval tradition.

Visitors will find the arches of the Main Hall covered in dried apples, bunches of chestnuts and acorns, and ivy leaves, which are hand-assembled by the horticultural staff. Inside the galleries, you'll see tied sheaths of wheat and garlands studded with pomegranates, which recall medieval traditions whose roots are in the ancient stories of Demeter and Persephone. 

The Met Cloisters also has a series of annual concerts to celebrate the holidays, including performances by the early music ensemble "Waverly Consort," who have graced the event for over 35 years. Hymns, processionals, antiphons, and Mass compositions from the Middle Ages are performed by a 13-member vocal and instrumental ensemble inside the Fuentidueña Chapel as well.

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05 of 05

Celebrate Kwanzaa at the Brooklyn Children's Museum

Each year, the Brooklyn Children's Museum hosts the largest Kwanzaa celebration in New York City with five days of cultural events, creative activities, and fun for the whole family.

The 10th Annual Celebrate Kwanzaa will take place from Wednesday, December 26 to Sunday, December 30, 2018, and will feature a variety of performances, discussions, workshops, games, and exhibits exploring the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, faith, and creativity.