Thanksgiving weekend is a terrific time to kick off your family’s holiday fun with a day or overnight trip. There is no reason to stay home feeling lethargic with your leftovers when there are so many great activities taking place in the neighborhood and beyond. Here are five suggestions to jump-start your Christmas-Chanukah-Kwanza cheer, family-style.
1. Tree Lighting and Holiday Boat Parade | mystic.org
Where: Mystic River Park, Mystic, CT.
When: Saturday, November 24, Santa from 2-5 p.m. Tree Lighting and Boat Parade start at 6p.m.
Why: True to its seaside setting, Mystic’s historic Downtown has a uniquely nautical way to ring in the holidays. Crowds of kids are sure to be on hand for Mr. Claus’s arrival via tugboat. Stick around for the Tree lighting and Boat Parade, a Mystic tradition. A fleet of hearty sea vessels, decorated and lit for the holidays will cruise down the Mystic River in this competitive parade. There are tons of holiday activities for the family, including the always-fun Lantern Light Tour, where you will experience a celebration of Christmas as it was in this seafaring town 100 years ago. This one-hour moving performance/walking tour covers quite a bit of terrain, so bring the stroller. If you decide to stay the night, The Whalers’ Inn is located four blocks from the train station in the heart of downtown, and offers comfortable family accommodations and continental breakfast.
How to get there: By train, take Amtrak out of Penn Station. The ride is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes. Bring a stroller if you want to walk to downtown or call Yellow Cab 860-536-8888. Peter Pan Bus Lines offers service to Mystic Seaport from New York’s Port Authority. The ride is approximately 3 hours.
2. Annual Tree Lighting & Holiday Entertainment | palmersquare.com
Where: Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ
When: Friday, November at 5:00-6 p.m.
Why: If the throngs of tourists at Rockefeller Center’s annual tree lighting are just a mite too intimidating for you and the stroller, come out to Princeton, where the 65-foot Norwegian spruce rivals (almost) the one in midtown—minus the crowds. There will be a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas just before the 32,000 lights are switched on. Live music and caroling, plus a visit from Santa, make this a sweet treat.
How to get there: NJ Transit from Penn Station stops in Princeton Junction, where you catch the “dinky” shuttle train to Princeton. The train station is right in town, and the journey is just over an hour.
3. Spring Lake Christmas Celebration Kick-off | springlake.org
Where: Spring Lake, NJ
When: November 24, events start just before dark
Why: This town’s Americana flavor is just the elixir for urban families looking for a kinder, gentler Christmas. The main drag, 3rd Street, is the venue for the evening’s festivities, and it’s only a few minutes walk from the train station. Hayrides, Santa’s Workshop, cider and donuts, a tree-lighting ceremony and Christmas carols are all planned for this seaside towns low-key celebration, and it’s all free. It is an easy day trip, at just over an hour each way, but if little ones get tired the town is chock-full of quaint inns for a mini-vacation. Families will feel right at home at the charming Chateau Inn & Suites, with its communal fireplace and complimentary cookies and cocoa. In the morning, borrow the Inn’s cute pink bikes and head down to the boardwalk for an easy ride, perfect for those who have just said goodbye to training wheels.
How to get there: NJ Transit from Penn Station to Spring Lake.
4. Thanksgiving Holiday Tours & Artisan Marketplace at Locust Grove | www.lgny.org/
Where: Poughkeepsie, NY
When: November 23-25th
Why: The mansion at Locust Grove offers an easy day trip for families looking to get out of the city on Thanksgiving Weekend. Join one of their holiday tours (offered all weekend) to learn the history of the site, built in 1850 for Samuel Morse. The National Historic Landmark will even be adorned with holiday decorations! If the weather permits, walk some of the 180-acre grounds and take in expansive views of the Hudson Valley. The site will also be host to the Hudson Valley Artisan Market, which means an opportunity to peruse and even purchase hand crafted holiday gifts.
How to get there: Take the Metro-North to Poughkeepsie Station. There, take a taxi for the 5 minute ride to Locust Grove.
5. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze | hudsonvalley.org
Where: Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.
When: Daily over Thanksgiving weekend with hourly tours from 5:00-8:00PM.
Why: It’s not every day that you ride a pumpkin carousel and see over 5,000 hand-carved and illuminated jack o’ lanterns in an 18th century riverside setting. The annual Blaze, held at the Van Cortlandt Manor, is an extravagant display of artistry and slightly spooky delights. This is a popular evening event, so buy your tickets early.
How to get there: Metro-North train to Croton-Harmon station, where cabs wait to meet each train. Van Cortlandt Manor is a five-minute cab ride or 10-minute walk away (the walk is not too pedestrian friendly).
Photo: Andy Arthur.