Tis the season for Portsmouth’s Vintage Christmas
Every year in December, magic happens in Portsmouth as New Hampshire’s historic seaport comes together for Vintage Christmas, a month-long celebration of holiday traditions, past and present. From holiday musicals and concerts to candlelight strolls and more, you can’t help but feel the spirit of the season. And best of all, family fun is the star attraction.
Vintage Christmas gets off to a sweet start at the Vintage Christmas Kick-off Party on Friday, November 30 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Discover Portsmouth Center on Middle Street, when visitors will get their first look at the popular 28th Annual Gingerbread House Contest exhibit. Created by local businesses, artists, families and kids, the elaborate candy houses can be viewed daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours on weekends until 8 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public. Get some inspiration for your own gingerbread house building, and while you’re there, browse the museum and cultural center’s historical art and artifacts displays.
Portsmouth’s much-anticipated after dark Illuminated Holiday Parade is on Saturday, December 1. The parade steps off on Islington Street at 6 p.m. marching toward Market Square and ending at the South Mill Pond parking lot. Non-perishable food donations will be collected along the route for three local food pantries. Prior to the parade at 5:30 p.m., Market Square is the place to be to watch the holiday tree lighting ceremony.
Adding an extra twinkle to Portsmouth’s downtown are the many shops and boutiques, art galleries and restaurants that are decked out in the holiday spirit of Vintage Christmas. With two toy stores, a game and puzzle shop, book stores, jewelry and specialty gift boutiques, kitchenware shops, men’s stores, and more, Portsmouth’s downtown shopping scene has something for everyone on your list. To keep it festive, wandering carolers and school music groups serenade shoppers with holiday tunes.
Portsmouth is known for its pedestrian-friendly streets, but if you need a lift, look no further than the free Vintage Christmas Trolley, which operates on weekends throughout December (Sunday, December 2 through Saturday, December 22 from 1:30-10:30 p.m.) to take passengers to various Vintage Christmas stops downtown. Some people take the 15-minute ride just to see all the decorations. Hop on at one of the convenient stops, which are marked by Vintage Christmas Trolley signs.
Need to warm up or a quick pick-me-up after shopping? Stop into White Heron Tea and Coffee, Caffe Kilim, Breaking New Grounds, Popovers or Ceres Bakery for pastries, coffee and hot chocolate.
On December 31, Portsmouth’s First Night draws revelers to celebrate New Year’s Eve in family-friendly style with fireworks, concerts and a DJ-hosted outdoor dance party in Market Square.
Once again this year, Maine’s Ogunquit Playhouse takes up a special holiday residency at Portsmouth's Music Hall during the month of December. In 2018, they're bringing the tale of Buddy the Elf and "Elf The Musical" to the Port City. This modern day Christmas classic is sure to make everyone embrace their inner elf.
From December 6-9, the Pontine Theater presents “A Victorian Christmas," an original toy theatre adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Toy theatre is a form of miniature theater that enjoyed great popularity as a parlor entertainment in Victorian times. Toy theaters were printed on paperboard sheets and sold as kits at the concession stand of an opera house, playhouse, or vaudeville theater. Toy theaters were assembled at home and performed for friends and family members. The nostalgic charm of this traditional form is sure to put the whole family in the holiday spirit.
If you're looking for a more traditional way to celebrate the holidays, then don't miss the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra's Family Holiday Pops shows happening Tuesday, December 18 and Wednesday, December 19 at the historic Music Hall in Portsmouth. Audiences young and old will love hearing and singing along with their favorite Christmas carols and jingles.
Holiday fun you can Banke on
As the living, breathing heart of historic Portsmouth, the Strawbery Banke Museum’s 39th Annual Candlelight Stroll leads visitors on a 300-year journey to understand how people who lived in the carefully preserved neighborhood spent the holidays in days of yore — from simple Colonial observances to elaborate Victorian Christmas parties to Hanukah celebrations and more. Live music, food tastings, crafts for kids, horse-drawn carriage rides, a bonfire, hot apple cider, and visits with Father Christmas will make this a step back in time you won’t soon forget. The Candlelight Stroll takes place on December 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16 and 22.
Strawberry Banke is also home to Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Dock Pond, the museum’s seasonal outdoor ice skating rink. Opening in early December, the rink operates daily throughout the winter season from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with skate rentals and sharpening services available. In celebration of Vintage Christmas, the rink will host a Currier & Ives-type show during each of the December weekends of Candlelight Stroll.
Jacqueline Tourville is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives on the Seacoast.