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Winter Break Guide: 12 ways for families to stay busy

Winter break has started for some kids. It's about to start for many more. And, let's face it, once those presents are unwrapped, the cookies are eaten and the four walls of your house start getting very small, there will be a point when it's time to get out of the house.

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Aerial view of Hill Ridge Farms' Festival of Lights
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
, Go Ask Mom editor

Winter break has started for some kids. It's about to start for many more.

And, let's face it, once those presents are unwrapped, the cookies are eaten and the four walls of your house start getting very small, there will be a point when it's time to get out of the house. If you're looking for ways to entertain the kids - out-of-town guests - here are 12 ideas to keep everybody busy before and after Christmas.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in Raleigh through Tuesday, Dec. 24. Tickets start at $26. This show is incredibly faithful to the TV classic and is perfect for young children - grade schoolers and under.

Carolina Ballet's Nutcracker

Carolina Ballet's Nutcracker runs through Sunday, Dec. 29, at the Duke Energy Center in downtown Raleigh. This is a beautiful production that includes illusions designed by a world renowned magician in the first act. Mesmerizing. Tickets start at $37. But, if you go to the Dec. 20 shows, you can get $15 off tickets with the donation of two pairs of new socks. Socks can be delivered in advance at the time of purchase or via drop-off at will-call check-in the night of the show. Multiple donations for multiple discounts are welcome. More information is on the Carolina Ballet's website.

And don't forget to get a Nutcracker-themed treats at local restaurants and bars ...

Chinese Lantern Festival

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary is open through Jan. 12. This large-scale display of beautiful handmade lights feature a few interactive pieces for the kids. Tickets run between $10 to $20. (Get them in advance to save some cash.)

Museum Visits

Triangle-area museums have a bunch of new exhibits open. The Museum of Life and Science in Durham opened the massive Earth Moves outdoor exhibit in 2019. Marbles Kids Museum recently updated its Power2Play exhibit. The N.C. Museum of History has an exhibit on Baby Boomer toys and quilts, both great to visit with multiple generations. And the N.C. Museum of Art has a Frida Kahlo exhibit, which I'd recommend for tweens and up.

Here are the holiday hours for each:

  • Marbles Kids Museum: Closed Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dec. 31, and noon to 5 p.m., Jan. 1.
  • N.C. Museum of Art: The museum will be closed Dec. 24 through Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.
  • N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences: Closed Dec. 24, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.The Nature Research Center closes at 2 p.m., Dec. 31.
  • N.C. Museum of History: Closed Dec. 24, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
  • Museum of Life and Science: Closes at 3 p.m., Dec. 24. Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
  • Kidzu Children's Museum: Closed Dec. 24, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
  • N.C. Zoo: Closed only on Dec. 25.

First Night

First Night Raleigh takes over downtown Raleigh on Dec. 31, starting with lots of children's activities at 2 p.m. at the state history and natural sciences museums and wrapping up with fireworks at midnight (and 7 p.m. for us early birds). There are lots of activities for kids, including a Ferris wheel, arts, crafts and a variety of performances. Tickets purchased in advance are $11.

Christmas Lights

Christmas lights are sparkling across the region. Some major displays remain open through New Year's Eve.

Model Trains

North Raleigh Model Train Club has again set up a sprawling train set for the public to enjoy at Raleigh Union Station. It will be free to see from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekends, through Dec. 29.


There are all kinds of great family-friendly movies out this holiday season, including Frozen 2, Jumanji: The Next Level and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

But there are some screenings and a deal of note:

  • If you see "Frozen 2" at the Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill, you can cut your costs on a day at Kidzu Children's Museum. Kidzu is offering $5 admission when you bring in your "Frozen 2" Silverspot movie tickets. The deal runs through Dec. 31. Tickets are only valid for individual admission.
  • Marbles' IMAX theater has back-to-back screenings of the new Star Wars movie starting Dec. 20 (including two screenings on Dec. 25.) But it also has two screenings of The Polar Express 3D at 10 a.m., Dec. 23 and Dec. 24.
  • Morehead Planetarium is undergoing a major renovation, but it does have a full slate of planetarium shows during winter break. (It is closed Dec. 23 to Dec. 25 and Dec. 30 to Jan. 1.)
  • And the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences will screen "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on Friday, Dec. 27. The Finally Friday event starts at 5:30 p.m. with food, live music and science stations. The movie starts at 7 p.m., followed by commentary. Hogwarts robes encouraged. Tickets are $5.

Indoor Playgrounds

It's bound to be cold and rainy at some point. Check our list for indoor playgrounds if you're looking for everything from bounce houses to trampoline parks.

Day Trips

Explore the state by taking one of our recommended family-friendly road trips.

New and Updated Playgrounds

Both Pullen Park and Sassafras All Children's Playground got an update this year. New playgrounds opened at Optimist Park and Mary Belle Pate Park in Raleigh. And check our post for details about 10 playgrounds worth a drive.

Take a Hike

I'll have more this week about First Day Hikes, held on Jan. 1 at local and state parks. But you can take a hike anytime. Check our list of family-friendly hikes for ideas.


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