You start by getting off at the Rockefeller Center subway station (stroller accessible!) and check out the decorations.
You might want to skip the main Christmas tree if you're avoiding crowds. There's plenty of other stuff to see.
Our kids were most excited about watching trash swirl around in the wind. You don't have to come to Rockefeller Center to enjoy this phenomenon, but it is 100% free.
You then mosey down to Bryant Park, where there's a winter village — including more than 100 pop-up stores selling artisanal fare — and its own Christmas tree (it's less impressive than the Rockefeller Center fir, but also less mobbed).
Bryant Park has its own ice rink too, but it's expensive and the line is insane. Instead, head over to the carousel, where there's rarely ever a wait. Tickets cost $3 each, and adults ride free.
Afterwards, plunk yourself down at the free outdoor "reading room," which is sponsored by the New York Public Library. It has a range of weathered children's books.
Pick up a few cider doughnuts from the nearby stall and you have yourself an evening!
On the way home, the kids amused themselves by picking out subway lines with the first letter of their names. (E, A and L are all represented.)
There are many times when New York feels expensive and exhausting, but not always. It's nice to be reminded of that.