istockphoto.com/FamVeld

There’s a ton to do during the holidays in North Jersey. Here are some of our favorite festive events and attractions to take advantage of this season.

ALL WINTER LONG

Big Santa

One Garden State Plaza, Paramus​
201-843-2121
Last year, Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus brought back a decorative icon from winters past, the legendary giant light-up Santa Claus. The new Santa figure is 45 feet tall and has size 90 boots. After finding a place atop a chimney from the ’50s through the ’80s as the unofficial sign of the holiday season’s start in Bergen County, Santa made his return after a 30-year hiatus. To see St. Nick in all his glowing glory, head to the entrance by Nordstrom.

Skylands Stadium Christmas Light Show and Village

94 Championship Pl., Augusta
973-383-7644
Dazzle the kids from the comfort of your car with more than two million lights. Pass dancing presents, friendly snowmen, toy-lugging trains and more on the mile-long drive-through course. Head inside after to explore the Christmas Village. This holiday hub has it all: Santa Claus, carnival games, an ice rink, a s’mores station and more. Shop artisanal vendor goods while the kids stay busy. After all that shopping, snack on cheesecake, fudge or something warm from the food court. If you want a formal dinner, the wheelHouse Craft Kitchen + Bar is an on-site restaurant the whole crew will enjoy. Open through December 30.

Bergen County’s Winter Wonderland

216 Forest Ave., Paramus
The seasonal spectacular features a number of wintry attractions, including open-air ice rinks (there’s a synthetic rink for beginners that parents can walk on sans-skates!), unlimited Bergen Express Train and carousel rides, Van Saun’s zoo and Santa’s North Pole Dome and Workshop (get pics with the Big Guy there). If you’re feeling chilly, head to the indoor beer garden for a glass of vino and food truck fare. The decor alone will thrill kiddies of all ages, especially the huge Christmas tree smack in the middle of all the fun, and the 70 unique trees designated for each Bergen County town. And don’t miss special events like face painting, balloon art, live ice carving and more (check the calendar for details).

Turtle Back Zoo Holiday Lights Spectacular

560 Northfield Ave., West Orange
973-731-5800
Combine two of the kids’ favorite things: the holidays and a visit to the zoo. See 50 illuminated winter and animal characters glittering around the grounds. Meet Santa on Saturdays and Sundays through December 23. Don’t forget to sign the little ones up for storytime with Mrs. Claus, too. Ends December 31; open nightly from Dec. 6-31.

FESTIVALS AND LOCAL GEMS

Miracle Pop-Up Bars

229 Centre St., Nutley​
973-542-8151
There’s need to trek to NYC’s Instagram-famous Rolf’s for holiday drinks and pics this year. Get your fix at one of five Christmas pop-up bars, which will be decked out to the nines with holiday decor, and slinging next-level drinks with seasonal inspiration. Miracle will open in Nutley, Jersey City, New Brunswick and Harrison on November 25 and in Morristown on December 3, mixing up all things holly jolly through New Year’s Eve. Noteworthy drinks at Miracle locations include the Run Run Rudolph, made with prosecco, gin, mulled wine puree, lemon and cane syrup and the brand-new SanTaRex, served in a bright green Tyrannosaurus Rex mug. All cocktails are served in Cocktail Kingdom’s signature Miracle glassware, which are available for purchase. Miracle (along with other locales across the US) is donating 10 percent of all glassware sales to Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian org that fights hunger and provides access to water, food, healthcare and emergency response services internationally.

Maplewood Dickens Village

Across from Maplewood Train Station
Ricalton Square, Maplewood
The Village has been a Maplewood tradition for the last half-century. Tiny houses are filled with miniature figures and decor that depict scenes from Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol. Peer into the houses (don’t worry, windows are low just for little ones) and see festive features and familiar characters. Go on select dates to take advantage of themed activities like a petting farm, horse and wagon rides, holiday concerts, crafts and more. This free event runs every Saturday from December 7-21.

Gingerbread Wonderland and Craft Show

Frelinghuysen Arboretum
353 East Hanover Ave., Morris Twp.
973-326-7601
This December marks the 28th Annual Gingerbread Wonderland, which boasts more than 200 edible structures. Past gingerbread creations have included models of Notre Dame Cathedral, Hanukkah menorahs, Japanese temples, Chinese pagodas, European castles and neighborhood sweet shops. You can also fill out a form to submit your own gingerbread creation to Wonderland. If that’s not enough holiday sweetness for you, visit during the Gingerbread Craft Show full of handmade crafts available for purchase. Admission to both events is $2 at the door and kids 2 and under are free. Runs December 6-15.

Christmas Festival at the Morristown Green

Morristown Green
10 N. Park Pl., Morristown
973-539-4900
The kids will be wowed by everything from ice sculpting demos to vintage rocking horse rides. The Green will be all gussied up in all things merry and bright, and receive frequent visits from the Man in Red himself. Snap pics with twinkling holiday lights, sip hot cocoa, ride a mini train, hit the Santa House, work on limited-time activities like ornament making, card crafting, holiday sing-alongs and more. Build your own gingerbread house on December 14 and 22. Runs weekends through December 22.

Kwanzaa Festival and Marketplace

NJPAC
1 Center St., Newark
1-888-GO-NJPAC
This 20th annual event on December 20-21 is chock-full of cultural goodies and holiday entertainment. Shop custom clothing, handmade jewelry, bath products, art pieces and more at the Kwanzaa Marketplace. The free Kwanzaa Family Festival is on December 21 from 9 am-1 pm. Let the kids try some West African dance moves and drums, grab a seat at the Kwanzaa ceremony, tune in for storytelling and see tons of live performances.

HOLIDAY TRAIN RIDES

The North Pole Express

80 Stangl Rd., Flemington
908-782-6622
Kids get to ride all the way to the “North Pole.” Santa, Mrs. Claus and their elves will visit each and every passenger on the train (that means no long lines to visit St. Nick!). Enjoy hot cocoa, a cookie and a photo booth before you head home. Be sure to visit the gift shop, museum and Santa’s sleigh after the ride. Weekends through December 28.

Polar Express Whippany

1 Railroad Plaza, Whippany
973-419-6255
This ride is a huge hit and tix go fast. Kids will receive their iconic silver sleigh bells in addition to hot chocolate and a cookie. Your crew will meet Santa while reading along with the famous children’s book, The Polar Express. The ride is one hour long. Splurge on First Class seating in a stunning restored 1940s coach boasting extra leg room and huge windows. Through Dec. 30 on select dates.

More Like This

The Best of the Holidays in South Jersey

The Best of the Holidays in Central Jersey