Free This Week


by Alyssa Grossman, 12/03/2013

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There's always something exciting to do and see around the five boroughs that doesn't cost a dime. See our weekly picks below, and visit our calendar and special offers section for more free events.

December 4–10

Wednesday, December 4
Play Things
Where: New York Public Library, Main Branch
When: 10am–8pm
The art of playtime takes the spotlight in the New York Public Library's latest exhibition. Many of the objects displayed in Play Things provide a historical look at the quest to find new ways to pass the time. The collection, some of which dates back to the 1500s, includes stereoscopic images—known for introducing audiences to the world of 3-D—word challenges, paper dolls, kites, sports cards and playing cards, all showing how some paper and a little imagination can go a long way. While some pieces are of the brain-teasing variety, others encourage a degree of interaction from the viewer, and all provide a unique perspective on how society's views of playtime have evolved.

Thursday, December 5
Holiday Lighting
Where: Central Park, Charles A. Dana Discovery Center 
When: 5:30–6:30pm
Twenty days out from Christmas, things get festive at Central Park's Charles A. Dana Discovery Center. Holiday-themed offerings include photo opportunities with Santa, free hot chocolate and cookies, carolers serenading the crowds with holiday classics and the chance to see a live ice carving, courtesy of New York City–based Okamoto Studio. At the end of the night, organizers will flip the switch to illuminate the Discovery Center and send 17 trees—one for each year the lighting has taken place—floating on the Harlem Meer. This is one of the park's can't-miss events—last year's celebration brought out over 700 revelers. 

Friday, December 6
First Fridays
Where: Noguchi Museum
When: 5–8pm
It's the first Friday of the month, and that means Long Island City's Noguchi Museum is opening its doors for three hours of free entertainment. The evening will feature selections from the 2012 documentary Routes: The Spiritual Odyssey of Chinese American Artists (7pm), which chronicles the creative process of local artists Shen Ruijin and Zheng Lianjie. The film complements one of the institution's current exhibitions, Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi: Beijing 1930 (through January 26), a collection of ink paintings that resulted from Noguchi's collaboration (and ongoing fascination) with the Beijing artist, poet and creator of seals. For those looking for a deeper study of the museum's artwork, a "Center of Attention" session (6pm) will discuss Noguchi's sculptural work Heart of Darkness

Saturday, December 7
123 Sesame and Me
Where: Brooklyn Public Library, Central Library   
When: 1pm
The costumed Sesame Street characters that frequent Times Square aren't the most authentic (or, sometimes, approachable) bunch. Better to bring young audiences to this family-friendly performance by professional look-alikes. A cast of characters based on those from the beloved kids' show will appear at the Brooklyn Public Library's Dweck Center, including such familiar faces as Elmo, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and Ernie, plus a handful of other Muppet-style puppets. The educational event—comprising songs and skits—starts at 1pm. 

Sunday, December 8
Winter Solstice Celebration & Tree Lighting Ceremony
Where: Queens Botanical Garden
When: 12:30–5pm
Summertime may be synonymous with flourishing plant life, but New York City's gardens are just as scenic in the colder months. Wander the grounds of this Queens green space and celebrate the season with special holiday programming. The day will include a garden tour, a performance by a cappella ensemble Rough Dozen and the main attraction, the lighting of a garden tree, complete with festive songs. The event will also feature a marketplace, snacks, photos with Santa and craft sessions, so bring a bit of cash if you're interested in those extra offerings. If you can't make it out for today's activities, worry not; the Queens Botanical Garden has a present for visitors that will last all winter long: admission to the grounds is free through March 31. 

Monday, December 9
Turtle Island Quartet
Where: Brookfield Place
When: 1pm
Spend a Monday afternoon being serenaded by this Grammy-winning group at Brookfield Place. Turtle Island Quartet is teaming up with singer Tierney Sutton (a jazz vocalist and Grammy nominee herself) for a culture-spanning performance celebrating the winter solstice. This showcase is all about traditional song—from popular Hanukkah tunes to 16th-century English carols to the music of the Hindu holiday Diwali, India's festival of lights. 

Tuesday, December 10 
Ohio Edit's Global Holiday Extravaganza
Where: powerHouse Arena 
When: 7–9pm
Web-based literary and art platform Ohio Edit hosts this festive gathering of creative minds at Brooklyn's powerHouse Arena. The eclectic guest list—which includes Amy Fusselman, an author and the editor behind Ohio Edit—spotlights 12 writers and editors who have contributed to the likes of Salon, The Awl, The Hairpin and NPR and hail from all over the country. In the spirit of the season, complimentary candy canes and wine will be on offer. To reserve your spot, email  or complete a form on the event page

related venues/(6)

  1. 1
    New York Public Library
    Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street
    Manhattan – Midtown West
    NY 10018
  2. 2
    The Noguchi Museum
    9 - 01 33rd Rd. @ Vernon Blvd.
    Queens – Long Island City
    NY 11106
  3. 3
    Queens Botanical Garden
    43-50 Main St.
    Queens – Flushing
    NY 11355
  1. 4
    Brooklyn Public Library
    Grand Army Plaza at Flatbush Ave
    Brooklyn – Park Slope
    NY 11238
  2. 5
    Brookfield Place
    100 West St.
    Manhattan – Battery Park City
    NY 10080
  3. 6
    powerHouse Arena
    37 Main St.
    Multiple Locations
    NY 11201

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