New England Christmas
New England Christmas: pine trees sparkle with lights, Colonial-style homes have candles at the windows, white steeples point at starry skies and taverns offer welcoming log fires. Take a romantic break in a country inn; or spend time in a New England city with first-class theater, concerts, museums and shopping. Locals in each state enjoy the festive season with traditions old and new. Why not join them?
Drive through the rolling Litchfield Hills to the peaceful village of Bethlehem that comes into its own each December. Back in 1938, the postmaster started to rubber-stamp cards and letters with a special Christmas ‘cachet’ or stamp. Today, the post office handles 150,000 items in December — and every year there’s a new design. In East Haddam, Gillette Castle is decked out for the holidays — transformed to reflect the “Nutcracker Suite.” Nearby in Essex, families will want to hop on the North Pole Express on the Essex Steam Train.
Heading along the coast, stop in Norwalk where The Maritime Aquarium hosts the Annual Festival of Lighthouses with an exhibit of 24 beautifully hand-crafted lighthouses, or enjoy Christmas Tea at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme with dozens of decorated Christmas trees on display.
Just across the border from New Hampshire, Ogunquit celebrates its Annual Christmas by the Sea on two festive weekends with tree decorating, caroling, candlelight walks, concerts, visits with Santa, bonfires and a parade. In Freeport, see a swirl of lights and shop until you fill your bags at the annual Sparkle Weekend. In mid-coast Maine at the Boothbay Opera House view a fabulous gingerbread house display from “Largest” to “Most Delicious” and partake in the town’s Harbor Lights celebration. Special Christmas celebrations are held in towns throughout Maine including Bath, Bethel, Camden, Kennebunkport (where Santa arrives by lobster boat!) and Rockland.
Boston, New England’s gateway city, is full of holiday spirit. Everyone loves skating on the Frog Pond on Boston Common. It’s all so easy, with skate rentals and lessons, a warming area, rest rooms, and hot chocolate! And where better to capture the spirit of a New England Christmas than at Trinity Church on Copley Square. The Rev. Phillips Brooks, author of O Little Town of Bethlehem, was the rector 150 years ago, and that carol still fills the air. Faneuil Hall Marketplace has a special light and sound display featuring the music of the Holiday Pops, played at intervals throughout each evening. See the giant sparkling Christmas tree and holiday lights, visit shops and restaurants.
For a different New England Christmas, head for an island. The highlight of Nantucket Noel, a multi-week celebration, is the Christmas Stroll Weekend: carolers wear period costume, historic homes are open, and Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive on a Coast Guard vessel!
In the Granite State, Santa travels by train — not only aboard the Conway Scenic Railroad’s “Santa Claus Express,” but also the “Ho-Ho-Hobo Santa Express.” The cars are heated, the scenery is magical — and there are presents! As for New Hampshire’s famous villages, none are prettier than Jackson, Intervale, Glen, Bartlett, and Hart’s Location. Together, they celebrate the Christmas season with “Traditionally Yours,” an excuse for all things jolly, from Dickens’ readings and cookie decorating to craft fairs and Jingle Bell Chocolate Tours — by horse-drawn sleigh.
Along the coast, enjoy a romantic getaway with Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth, a month-long event of strolls, shows and stay-over deals offered by local hotels. Walk through the charming historic streets, hop on the trolley to see the sights, and enjoy tax-free New Hampshire shopping. This event was listed as “one of the Top 100 Events in North America” by the American Bus Association (ABA) and “one of the Top Ten Things not to miss in New England” by the Boston Globe.
No other city looks as glamorous at Christmas as Newport. That’s because nowhere else has the Gilded Age mansions. ‘Til January 1, The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are decorated for the holidays, with glittering gold leaf, sparkling chandeliers and halls decked with holly. But there’s more. The Christmas in Newport Celebration includes the Newport Nutcracker ballet at Rosecliff, another of the century-old mansions. Experience lantern-lit walking tours of the city’s historic district, and the ice skating rink overlooking the harbor. In nearby Middletown, you can sing carols and lift a cup of wassail during the 1730s-style New England Christmas at Whitehall, an 18th-century colonial home.
Bing Crosby first sang White Christmas 70 years ago. Since then, millions around the world have listened, while dreaming of snow and a (fictitious) Vermont country inn. No matter that the movie was shot in the studio, there are plenty of real country inns in Vermont — and they all dress the part for that classic New England Christmas. So, too, do charming communities, such as Woodstock. Here, Wassail Weekend brings music, a parade of horses with riders in 19th-century dress, and, of course, Santa Claus! Outside town, the Billings Farm & Museum takes you back to 1890. The farm house is trimmed the old-fashioned way; a traditional meal is cooking; and there are sleigh or wagon rides.
NEW YEAR’S EVE, NEW ENGLAND STYLE
New Year’s Eve is celebrated in a dozen towns across the six states with “First Night” celebrations. All these New Year’s Eve jamborees are aimed at families and all work the same way. Buy a button (badge) for about $15-$20 (less for children): after that, entry to almost everything — from live music and shows to parades and fireworks — is free.
For example, in Burlington, Vermont, the hoopla starts at noon and continues until the fireworks burst high in the crisp clear sky. Some 750 artists turn out to entertain the crowds, with circus and country & western acts, parades and stand-up comedy. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, First Night brings music, dance, ice sculpture and more spectacular fireworks to this harbor-side city. Other First Night jamborees include Wolfeboro, New Hampshire; Hartford, Connecticut; and Providence, Rhode Island, where it’s called Bright Night. But with 35 years under its belt, First Night Boston is the USA’s oldest and largest New Year’s arts celebration.
For more holiday fun: