Festivals & Expos

10 free things to do in Boston in December

These art exhibits, festive lights, and holiday celebrations don't cost a thing.

The “Lunchbox Moments” exhibition by artist Amie Bantz at Chinatown's Pao Arts Center. Amie Bantz

Embracing the holiday season doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Throughout the month, you can appreciate the arts with a cup of cocoa, listen to holiday music, and get crafty with seasonal decor, all without shelling out a dime. Here are 10 things to do in Boston for free this December.

1. View an unusual an art installation

The “Lunchbox Moments” exhibition by artist Amie Bantz debuted at Chinatown’s Pao Arts Center on Oct. 27 and runs until Feb. 17, 2024. Thanks to the AAPI community sharing their stories by writing them on spray-painted lunch boxes, visitors outside of this close-knit community understand the reaction of peers when many Asian American kids eat a traditional Asian meal in the lunchroom at school. (99 Albany St., Boston)

2. Stroll the city to view holiday lights

Take to the streets of Boston once the sun goes down to enjoy a ton of holiday splendor in lights. From the 50,000 glowing blue and white twinkles along the 260-foot Columbus Park Trellis and 14 nearby trees to about 7,000 lights on the special Boston Common Holiday Tree gifted to the city by Nova Scotia, there’s plenty of opportunity for festive strolling.

3. Attend a neighborhood tree lighting

Mayor Michelle Wu joins Santa and Mrs. Claus for a trolley joyride across the city to share holiday splendor. For the 27th year, the Enchanted Trolley Tour continues its festive tradition of bringing the spirit of the season on the first weekend of December (Dec. 2 and 3). The trolley makes stops in Roxbury, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, the South End, Brighton, Dorchester, South Boston, Chinatown, the North End, East Boston, and Charlestown, and includes visits with Santa, tree lightings, and more.

4. Sip cocoa in an art museum

As part of its annual holiday celebration, the McMullen Museum of Art will host festive activities throughout the afternoon of Dec. 2 from noon to 3 p.m. The Museum will offer live music while guests sip hot chocolate and eat holiday treats, tour the exhibitions, play games, and participate in arts and crafts activities throughout the museum. (2101 Commonwealth Ave., Boston)

5. Watch a scary movie

Harken back to Halloween with a free screening of “Vertigo,” the third installment of the Alfred Hitchcock Film Series at the Boston Public Library’s Roslindale branch. On Dec. 4, join Barry Marshall, senior affiliated faculty member in the Visual and Media Arts Department at Emerson College, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. to view and discuss the 1958 film starring James Stewart as a former San Francisco police detective who wrestles his personal demons and becomes obsessed with the hauntingly beautiful woman he has been hired to trail. (4246 Washington St., Roslindale)

6. Take to the frozen hills

Make the most of the city’s snowy slopes and join fellow sledders, tubers, and tobogganists for a day of sledding in Boston. Pair it with your thermos of hot cocoa and you’ve got yourself the makings of an East Coast winter wonderland. Try out Flagstaff Hill in Boston Common, the Sugar Bowl in JP, Peters Hill at Arnold Arboretum, Olmsted Park, Franklin Park, and Dorchester Park, to name a few.

7. Grab decor ideas from Boston’s best designers

Need a little design inspiration for your home in the new year? Enjoy cocktails, food, and music while discovering new and established designers during the Boston Design Center’s Holiday Stroll. On Dec. 7, you’re free to roam the halls of this massive design mecca (aka New England’s largest luxury design resource) between the hours of 4-7 p.m., as you check out the wares and services housed within its 50 showrooms. Parking is available on-site, and registration is required.

8. Decorate a winter squash

Why stop at October’s jack o’ lanterns? On Dec. 17 at noon, show off your creativity by decorating winter squash to add a festive touch to your holiday table. Whether you bring your own winter squash or use one from host Siena Farms, you’ll have everything on hand to turn your gourd into a masterpiece — paints, brushes, and decorations. Held at the Nook at the Boston Public Market, directly behind the Stillman’s produce stand, this event is perfect for all ages and skill levels. (Boston Public Market, 100 Hanover St.)

9. Listen to holiday favorites

Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra’s (BYSO) Intensive Community Program presents its annual holiday concert, featuring ICP musicians performing seasonal favorites and a festive singalong. This rigorous string instrument training program within the BYSO brings quality classical music instruction to underrepresented communities, and for an exciting two hours on Dec. 17 at noon, you’ll enjoy the culmination of all the talent and hard work. (855 Commonwealth Ave., Boston)

10. Ring in the New Year

As the year comes to a close, First Night Boston 2024 brings together as many as 1 million people to celebrate, beginning in the newly refurbished City Hall Plaza at noon on Dec. 31 and continuing with programming throughout the day and night. Free entertainment and special attractions around Copley Square and Back Bay include cultural and musical performances in various indoor venues, fantastic ice sculptures at City Hall, Boston Common, and other locations, light displays, the People’s Procession at 6 p.m., and family fireworks over the Boston Common at 7 p.m. Moments before midnight, join in on the signature Countdown pyrotechnics and light show in Copley Square. (City Hall Plaza, 1 City Hall Sq., Boston)

See More Events