NH's small towns offer lots of options for holiday fun



Offering parades, tree lightings, carol sing-alongs and plenty of chances to visit with Santa, New Hampshire’s small towns and villages welcome locals and visitors alike to join in the festive fun. Why not skip the hustle and bustle of Christmastime in the city (and avoid the parking woes) by adding some small-town charm to your family’s holiday season? Here’s what happening this holiday season in a small town near you.

  1. On the Seacoast, a small-town favorite is Exeter’s annual Holiday Open House, taking place this year on Thursday, November 29, from 4 to 8 p.m. Watch Santa arrive in downtown via the special Exeter Express train and magically light the holiday tree and holiday light displays. Afterward, visitors are welcome to board the railroad train for a ride, sing carols, ogle a sweet display of gingerbread houses, browse Exeter's eclectic mix of shops, and take in the seasonal beauty of more than 50 decorated trees at Town Hall.

  2. Two days later, Exeter is again a holiday hotspot as it hosts its annual after-dark illuminated holiday parade on Saturday, December 1. Stepping off at 5:30 p.m. and heading down Water Street to the Swasey Parkway, the parade features decorative floats, horse-drawn wagons, colorful marching bands, and a special visit from Santa Claus. This year’s theme is “Land of the Misfit Toys".

  3. Elsewhere on the Seacoast, Hampton’s tree lighting takes place at Marelli's Square Gazebo on Friday, November 30, starting at 6:30 p.m. The annual celebration includes hot cocoa, holiday sing-a-longs, and jingle bell hayrides. The following day at 1 p.m., Hampton keeps the small-town holiday spirit going with its town-wide Experience Hampton Holiday Parade, starting at the North Hampton bridge and following Route 1 to the Galley Hatch restaurant. If you just can’t get enough parades, on Sunday, December 2, visit the quaint seaside village of Rye for the Rye Fire Department and Lion's Club annual Holiday Parade, which steps off at 1 p.m.

  4. For many of us, December seems like it’s all about non-stop shopping. But at Settler’s Green Outlet Village in North Conway, there is still room to mix gift-buying with quality holiday fun. Stop by the outlet on Saturday, December 1 for the annual Settlers' Green Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting, from 12-4 p.m., and take in live music performances, walk among a forest of trees dressed in holiday finery, sip a cup of free hot chocolate and take a free horse drawn wagon ride with Santa. Then go snowtubing! Cranmore Mountain Resort is going to set up a miniature snow-tubing park for free tubing all afternoon.

  5. If your holidays just aren’t complete without riding in a one-horse open sleigh, make your way to the small town of Milton and the New Hampshire Farm Museum’s Victorian Christmas on the Farm, taking place this year on Saturday, December 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tour the beautifully decorated Jones farmhouse, talk to costumed role players, enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh or wagon ride, visit with the farm animals, make a hand-dipped Christmas candle to take home, roast chestnuts over the open fire, nibble on gingerbread, and sip hot cider in the farmhouse kitchen.

  6. In the Merrimack Valley, it’s on your mark, get set, go feel the holiday spirit at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s annual Gift of Lights event in Loudon. Drive through more than 60 holiday scenes and more than 400 light displays on a two-mile course that winds around the outside of the track's grandstands and includes a portion of the NHMS Road Course. Crank up the holiday tunes and enjoy. Gift of Lights begins on Friday, November 23 and runs various evenings through Monday, December 31. Bring three non-perishable items for donation to the Loudon Food Pantry and get a $2 discount. Admission is $20 per car from November 23 – December 14 and $25 per car from December 15-31.

  7. In Merrimack, you can make merry at the Merrimack Holiday Parade on Sunday, December 2. The parade beings at 3 p.m. at The Commons Shopping Plaza, then continues down Daniel Webster Highway to Baboosic Lake Road, turns left onto McElwain Street and ends at the Town Hall parking lot. Immediately following the parade, the town’s tree lighting ceremony takes place in Abbie Griffin Park.

  8. On the western edge of the Merrimack Valley in tiny Hillsborough, the town’s annual Olde Fashioned Christmas, planned for Saturday, December 1, features free crafts for kids, music, and a town tree-lighting ceremony. This is one jam-packed day – activities begin at 8 a.m. with a community-wide breakfast and go until evening.

  9. For “unplugged” holiday fun, head north of Concord to Canterbury, where on Saturday, December 8 and Saturday, December 15, from 3 to 8 p.m., you can visit Canterbury Shaker Village for Christmas at Canterbury, a magical evening filled with simple holiday entertainment in the Shaker tradition. Watch an old-time 19th-century magic show, meet Santa and costumed characters, make Christmas cards for loved ones, decorate gingerbread cookies, make ornaments to take home, listen to fiddlers, enjoy hot cider, and sing carols before the lighting of the village Christmas tree. Canterbury Shaker Village also has Christmas with the Canterbury Shakers tours scheduled for December 6, 7, 9, 13 and 14.

  10. If you’re heading to the White Mountains this month for some early season skiing, make a few pit stops first for holiday fun. In Lincoln, not far from the slopes of Loon Mountain, hop aboard the Hobo Railroad for the Santa Express, a special holiday-themed train ride with Santa and friendly elves on board to spread holiday cheer and pass out cookies and hot cocoa. The 2018 Santa Express dates are November 23, 24 and 25 and December 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16 and 22.

  11. One last small-town stop? At the Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm in historic Tamworth Village, visitors are invited to experience the spirit and joy of holiday celebrations from New Hampshire’s rural past at Homestead Christmas. On Saturday, December 1, from noon to 3 p.m., tour the museum’s many historic buildings, make seasonal crafts, listen to live music, sample traditional syllabub (a holiday treat from England) and learn how to make old-fashioned Christmas candy. Children will enjoy hearing the tales of holidays past, playing winter games and decorating their own sugar cookie.

Jacqueline Tourville is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives on the Seacoast.

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