The holiday season, like most things in 2020, won’t be normal. But that doesn’t mean you have to go totally without cheer this year.
A number of venues around the region have put together events they feel capture the essence of the season while also providing the safest atmosphere possible for their guests. For some, people don’t even need to leave their cars.
Here are nine things to do this December to brighten your holiday season (literally):
Festival of Trees
Morven—the former governor’s mansion—has modified their annual Festival of Trees to better suit the COVID-19 era, adding more and grander outdoor lighting and displays.
Each year, the festival showcases a juried collection of trees and mantles displayed throughout the museum’s galleries. This year’s festival stays open longer, running through Sunday, Jan. 10.
Festival of Trees is open to the public during regular museum hours, Wednesdays through Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, with a half-hour break 1 to 1:30 p.m. for cleaning.
Museum tickets must be purchased at the gift shop to gain entrance. Morven staff will be limiting crowd sizes inside the museum in order to adhere to CDC guidelines. During Festival of Trees, no formal tours of the museum are given.
Admission is $10, $8 for seniors and students.
Morven will also hold a 2020 Holiday Preview Party Thursday, Dec. 3, featuring a “Winter Wonderland” theme with cocktails, music and hors d’oeuvres outdoors on Morven’s back lawn with fire pits. The museum will also be open to view the indoor holiday decorations with masking and at safe capacity limits. Proceeds from the evening benefit the exhibitions and programs at Morven Museum & Garden. Ticket pricing and information for the preview party is available at morven.org.
Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. (609) 924.8144. morven.org.
The Magical Express
Take a train ride through millions of Christmas lights at Hammonton’s DiDonato Family Fun Center. The massive display has been voted among the best in the state by New Jersey Monthly magazine and funnewjersey.com.
The rest of the grounds transform into a holiday village, where visitors can meet Santa and receive a present, watch holiday movies in a tent and get a photo with a snowman, and visit the snack and toy cottage. All activities are outdoors.
Admission is $12.95 online or $14.95 at the door. DiDonato’s recommends buying advance tickets, as time slots often sell out.
This is particularly true this year, as crowds will be limited to meet CDC guidelines. All guests must have their temperature taken on a contactless wrist thermometer before entering. Each family will receive its own train car, and train cars and doors will be disinfected in between families. Payments and ticket scanning will be contactless. Masks are required when social distancing is not possible.
The Magical Express operates seven days a week, Dec. 1-23, from 5 to 9 p.m.
DiDonato Family Fun Center, 1151 S. White Horse Pike, Hammonton. (609) 561-3040. didonatofuncenter.com/magical-express.
Light Show on the Lake
More than 120 Christmas trees made from more than 50,000 Christmas lights float on Lake Meone in the center of Historic Smithville.
When darkness falls, an orchestrated show of lights and music takes over the lake. The show can be seen from either side of the village as well as the bridge, and runs every Thursday through Sunday until Thursday, Jan. 7, starting at 5:30 p.m.
Historic Smithville has many more programs and activities planned this December. A schedule and more details are available online at historicsmithville.com.
Historic Smithville, 615 E. Moss Mill Rd., Absecon. historicsmithville.com.
Holiday in the Park
Six Flags Great Adventure’s Holiday in the Park—which runs weekends and select days through Sunday, Jan. 3—features millions of lights, holiday entertainment, seasonal treats and Santa’s village. Themed areas showcase holiday traditions from around the world. And, regardless of the weather forecast, snowflakes fall gently every evening at Great Adventure.
The theme park itself stays operational during Holiday in the Park, with Great Adventure’s assortment of rides open for thrillseekers, weather permitting.
Six Flags Great Adventure. One Six Flags Blvd., Jackson. sixflags.com/greatadventure.
Magic of Lights
Magic of Lights will be on display at Holmdel’s PNC Bank Arts Center through Saturday, Jan. 2. A drive-through holiday lights experience, Magic of Lights features the scenes and characters of the season using LED technology and digital animations. Tickets are $25 per car, if purchased in advance. The show runs Sundays-Thursdays 5 to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays 5 to 11 p.m. Also on display will be the Mega Trees of Light, which promoters say are giant Christmas trees featuring “over 240 feet of light and music.”
PNC Bank Arts Center, 116 Garden State Parkway, Holmdel. magicoflights.com/events/newjersey.
South Jersey Holiday Light Show
New this year is the South Jersey Holiday Light Show at Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro. Following a route around the grounds of the racetrack, the show lasts about 25 minutes and drives past and through a festive display of lights. South Jersey Holiday Light Show runs Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Dec.19 and everyday from Dec. 20 until Dec. 30. Tickets are $23 in advance.
Bridgeport Speedway, 83 Flood Gate Road, Swedesboro. (856) 213-2838. southjerseylightshow.com.
Outside New Jersey
Currently, the State of New Jersey and Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is discouraging any non-essential interstate travel, including to neighboring states Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York. Should those recommendations lift, nearby Bucks County offers numerous options for a festive outing this holiday season.
Sesame Place, in Langhorne, hosts A Very Furry Christmas, in which the theme park turns into a Christmas wonderland with lights and festive decorations. The park’s 1-2-3 Christmas Tree show features a 30-foot illuminated pixel-based tree that will project festive animated images along to a holiday soundtrack. Sesame Place also will have a train ride tour through the Twiddlebugs’ Gingerbread Cookie Factory on the Sesame Place Furry Express. Sesame Place. 100 Sesame Road, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. sesameplace.com.
Peddler’s Village, a collection of shops just outside New Hope in Lahaska, has been decorated for the season once again. The annual Christmas Festival and Grand Illumination event have been cancelled, but other traditions—like the gingerbread house competition—live on in 2020. Peddler’s Village. Routes 202 and 263, Lahaska, Pennsylvania. (215) 794-4000. peddlersvillage.com.
One of the few area options that can be experienced without leaving the car, Shady Brook Farm’s Holiday Light Show allows visitors to drive through acres of farmland decorated for the season. Shady Brook Farm says its display has more than three million lights.
Timed tickets are required for entry this year, and are available at shadybrookfarm.com. The show, which runs until Sunday, Jan. 10, can also be experienced in an open-air wagon. Shady Brook Farm. 931 Stony Hill Road, Yardley, Pennsylvania. (215) 968-1670. shadybrookfarm.com.