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 month in a small town near you.

On the Seacoast, a small-town favorite is Exeter’s annual Holiday Open House, taking place this year on Thursday, November 30, 2017, from 5 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.

Two days later, Exeter is again a holiday hotspot as it hosts its annual after-dark illuminated holiday parade on Saturday, December 2, 2017. 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 “Six Decades of Hometown Holidays".

Elsewhere on the Seacoast, Hampton’s tree lighting takes place at Marelli's Square Gazebo on Friday, December 1, 2017, 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 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 3, 2017, 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.

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 16, 2017 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.

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. 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 each evening at 4:30 Friday, November 4, 2017 to Sunday, December 31, 2017 (closed December 4 and December 25). Bring three non-perishable items for donation to the Loudon Food Pantry and get a $2 discount.

In Merrimack, you can make merry at the Merrimack Holiday Parade on Sunday, December 3, 2017. The parade beings at 3:30 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.

On the western edge of the Merrimack Valley in tiny Hillsborough, the town’s annual Olde Fashioned Christmas, planned for Saturday, December 2, 2017, 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. Call 464-5858 for event times and locations.

For “unplugged” holiday fun, head north of Concord to Canterbury, where on the first two Saturdays of December, December 9 and 16, 2017, 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 holiday Candlelit Tours scheduled for December 11-15, 2017.

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 2017 Santa Express dates are November 24, 25 and 26 and December 2, 3, 9, 10, 17, 18 and 23.

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 2, 2017, 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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