Stuffing turkeys, trimming trees and stocking up on candles are simple tasks compared with the season's greatest responsibility: making plans to revel in holiday whimsy with the children in your life. Whether you're a parent or the fun aunt or uncle, remember that keeping children busy at holiday time requires planning. And many of Long Island's seasonal events require reservations or tickets.
Looking for ideas? Unsure when or how to secure your spot in the theater or at brunch with Santa? Start here.
1. Buy tickets to a holiday light show
The biggest, flashiest light show everyone talks about is the Holiday Lights Spectacular at Jones Beach. The more-than-mile-long drive through the state park's lit-up route will run you $25 on weekdays, or $30 on weekends, but buy tickets in advance (holidaylights.jonesbeach.com) and get in for just $20 any day. “It’s a commitment — the first time in your life you’ll sit in traffic and be OK with it,” says Greenlawn resident Christopher Appoldt, who, with his wife, Lindsay, took daughter Katie, 6, to the show last year. “Be sure of the age-appropriateness for the kids, as it takes a while to complete — ants in the pants won’t mesh well.”
Other opportunities to see lights on the Island include Suffolk’s own Holiday Light Show (631-543-6622, nwsdy.scholidaylights) starting Nov. 29 for $20 per car, put on by the county Girl Scouts and County Executive Bellone at Smith Point Country Park, as well as free holiday boat parades in waterfront locales such as Huntington (631-421-1985, huntingtonlighthouse.org/boat_parade) on Nov. 23 and Freeport (516-223-8840) on Dec. 11.
2. Book a brunch with Santa
Already one date for Mrs. Claus’ Grand Buffet at Milleridge Cottage (516-931-2201, milleridgeinn.com) is fully booked, which goes to show that you must plan brunch with Santa early.
Santa also dines at The Mansion at Glen Cove (516-671-6400, glencovemansion.com) — think peppermint pancakes and eggnog waffles — and the Centereach Fire Department (631-588-0118, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org), which has been serving pancakes to Old Saint Nick for more than 25 years. “Some that have attended years ago with their parents as a child now attend with their own children,” says Matthew Gehm, a member of the fire department who himself remembers getting excited about Santa’s visit to that very department when he was younger.
3. Sign up for a children's cooking or baking class
Get some help in the kitchen this holiday season — sign your child up for a baking class. But do it now. Some classes max out at just eight children.
“We talk about each recipe’s procedure and why it’s important to stick to a plan,” says Jess Kennaugh, who offers classes as the owner of Blondie’s Bake Shop in Centerport (631-424-4545, blondiesbakeshop.com), only one of the many venues on Long Island that offer baking (and cooking) classes for children. “But at the same time, little bakers are always encouraged to try new flavors and flex their creative muscles.”
And there’s something in this for you, too: Children leave with “a box full of something delicious” to share, Kennaugh adds. At Blondie’s, classes make such treats as snowman cupcakes, stained glass snowflake cookies and mini gingerbread cakes.
If you're looking for some extra bonding time, bake alongside your children at venues such as Baking Coach in Huntington (631-543-8608, bakingcoach.com). And note: This venue offers a class for children over age 13 who would benefit from larger-print recipes, a slower-paced environment or extra guidance in recipe reading, mixing and measuring.
4. Look into volunteer opportunities
Winter is a great time to encourage children to help others. For food-related volunteer opportunities, check out Island Harvest (516-294-8528, islandharvest.org) and Long Island Cares (631-582-FOOD, licares.org). Many schools and religious centers also host food and toy drives.
“Volunteers are always welcome,” says Don Miller, public relations representative for Island Harvest Food Bank in Hauppauge. “We offer a number of opportunities for families to help make a meaningful impact on hunger on Long Island.”
Or think outside of the grocery and toy box: The Book Fairies (516-557-6645, thebookfairies.org), a Freeport-based nonprofit, collects gently used books to donate to libraries, schools and other organizations in New York. The organization accepts material in “like new” condition published after 1995, including activity books, for children of all ages. During drop-in hours, volunteers help sort books for distribution.
5. See a holiday play
A little ways from Broadway, Long Island has its own menu of holiday performances. Try Theatre Three’s “Barnaby Saves Christmas," a children's musical about an elf and a reindeer who learn the true meaning of the season, or, “A Christmas Carol,” in its 35th year at the venue (631-928-9100, theatrethree.com). “Our shows are family traditions,” says Carol D’Accordo, an administrative assistant at the theater. “People come back year after year after year.” The sooner the ticket purchase, the better the seats, she says.
For holiday elegance, see Seiskaya Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Performing Arts (631-632-2787, stallercenter.com), one of tutu many to even keep track of on Long Island.
6. Snag tickets for the Polar Express trolley ride
Take a trolley ride — in your pajamas — inspired by the enchanting Chris Van Allsburg tale, "The Polar Express.” Board in Riverhead or Southampton and head to the “North Pole.”
“It’s a complete musical — singing, dancing, audience participation,” says Jay Mooney, the owner and general manager of North Fork Trolley, which offers the ride. And this year’s “remastered” show starts even before the trolley ride does. The journey is part of the experience.
Reserve your spot: Shows start Nov. 23 and tickets can go quickly (631-369-3031, northforktrolley.com), even though the company has added seats, taking last year’s 7,500 up to 10,500.
7. Do a turkey trot
Running website run.li is a helpful resource for trotting of all sorts. The site lists turkey trots in Bayville, Garden City, Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Nissequogue, Smithtown and Stony Brook, as well as Thanksgiving Day runs in Huntington and Port Washington.
“It is a fun atmosphere,” says Thomas J. Foley, who co-founded the Massapequa Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, which benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “There is a band playing. The kids get a medal for finishing. There is hot chocolate after the race.”
Foley co-founded the event with friends James P. Joseph and Brian Griffin after Joseph’s battle with blood cancer. Last year, the run raised $34,000 for the LLS, he says.
8. Enter a gingerbread house contest -- or create your own for fun
Building the best gingerbread house on Long Island is about more than the thrill of competition — there’s glory involved, too. Finalists in the Town of Huntington’s fourth annual gingerbread house competition (631-351-3347, email@example.com), for instance, will see their entries displayed in the windows of The Paramount.
But why limit yourself to gingerbread? The Chocolate Duck in Farmingdale (516-249-0887, chocolateduck.com/) will host its sixth annual gingerbread and chocolate house competition on Dec. 8. Participants build in advance and bring finished products to the store on Dec. 7. “It’s a fun event for the kids,” says Allison Colombo, the shop’s assistant manager. “They get to really just create their own masterpiece.” Prizes include cash and gift cards.
9. Attend a Menorah lighting
There are Menorah lightings all over Long Island this holiday season, but how’s this for unique? At the Long Beach Ice Arena (515-574-3905, chabadofthebeaches.com) on Dec. 9, skate around as you watch the sculpting and lighting of an ice menorah. Then make your own chocolate gelt, warm up with latkes and doughnuts and eat some pizza. Sign up soon — there are two skating sessions this year.
“Advance sign up is HIGHLY recommended to guarantee your skating time,” the Facebook event reads.
10. Plan to take the family out for a holiday parade
Many towns and villages across Long Island host celebrations, which include tree lightings and lots of opportunities to make happy memories with family and friends.