Shopping small isn’t the only thing fortunate families can be doing this particular holiday season. They — we — can also be doing small. This winter, theaters, museums, historic sites, and such need our support, too.
Here’s an idea: During this most wonderful time of the year, patronize local spots that are staying open and reinventing how they do what they do. Take a walk through an outdoor train set. Pop by Old City’s charming-est historic courtyard. Buy a ticket for the fam to watch an at-home seasonal performance. We’re all stretched thin, but can perhaps stretch a little more.
Holiday Garden Railway at Night
4:30–7:30 p.m. Sat. and Sun. through Dec. 27, reservations required at morrisarboretum.org, $20 adult, $10 ages 3–17, free under 3 (all ages)
Morris Arboretum always attracts fans of its outdoor trains that roll by small scenes and around bends and through foliage. Tickets are much easier to score for daytime visits. But, this year, it seems more thrilling to stroll through the setup around dusk, when white lights twinkle, Percy steams over a bridge — and you’ve finally gotten yourself out of the house.
Betsy Ross House Courtyard
10 a.m.–7 p.m. Sat. and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun. through Dec. 20, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 26 and 27, information online at historicphiladelphia.org/betsy-ross-house, pay-what-you-wish (all ages)
It’s begun to look a lot like Christmas, if not so much on Walnut Street or in King of Prussia then, at least, on the bricks outside Betsy Ross’ house. With indoor tours cancelled — social distancing being quite difficult in that teensy place — the masked flagmaker will stand alongside the neighborhood’s official tree to tell of holiday traditions from 250 years ago.
Christmas Carol in Concert
Tuesday through Jan. 3, tickets online at peopleslight.org, $25 per household (ages 4 and up)
People’s Light recreates Charles Dickens’ novella in a way that’s less expensive than a Byers’ Choice figurine and more accessible than Dickens’ Village (although Macy’s vintage animatronic setup is virtual this year). The Malvern theater reimagines Scrooge through 19th-century English carols, original songs, and excerpts from the story, in a recorded performance hosted by Ian Merrill Peakes and performed by talents ages 12 through 72.
The Little Princess
Preview 7 p.m. Weds. and Thurs. ($19/household), opening night Friday 7 p.m. then at various times through Dec. 27 for $29/household, tickets online at quintessencetheatre.org (ages 6 and up)
Yes, Philadelphia, there is a live holiday play! Quintessence Theatre Group’s production of The Little Princess is happening remotely, granted, but really, truly, live. Four actors perform a 21st-century version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1902 riches-to-rags script, each from their own set-designed home studio. The heartfelt tale — only distantly reminiscent of the saccharine 1939 film version starring Shirley Temple — promises a lesson in the importance of loving thy next-door neighbor.
Polar Express Drive-In
6 p.m. Thurs., information at filmadelphia.org, free with donation of canned good (ages 4 and up)
At last: a holiday drive-in movie that breaks neither the bank nor bedtime, and, as a bonus, benefits Philabundance. The Navy Yard, now South Philly’s preferred drive-in theater, screens the 2004 film about a child who pulls an all-nighter on a Christmas Eve voyage and visit to the North Pole. Tom Hanks plays the animated train conductor. Admission price: cooking oil, peanut butter, canned soup or tuna, whole grain pasta, a bag of rice, or other items on the Philabundance 10-most-needed list.
The Hip Hop Nutcracker
7 p.m. Saturday livestreamed and on demand, tickets at kimmelcenter.org/events-and-tickets, from $25/household (ages 7 and up)
Tchaikovsky’s score and Jennifer Weber’s choreography combine for a holiday dance remix that’s more bboy than Balanchine. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center hosts. Kurtis Blow is MC and show opener. The moves are modern, the graphics are graffiti-touched, and the time and place is now, in New York City.
National Museum of American Jewish History Gala
8 p.m. Saturday livestreamed on Facebook, YouTube, and via nmajh.org, free with donations accepted (ages 7 and up)
You’d never bring your kid to an in-person gala. But Junior can’t spill his mocktail on a stranger’s gown if the gala is virtual. The National Museum of American Jewish History adds Harry Houdini and David Copperfield to its Hall of Fame in a fancy ceremony starring magicians Asi Wind, Lucy Darling, and New Jersey’s own Copperfield, live from his very own International Museum and Library of the Conjuring in Las Vegas. The famed disappearer of the Statue of Liberty will then induct the late Harry Houdini into the hall, where the magical pair will join Emma Lazarus, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Irving Berlin, and Steven Spielberg.