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 29 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Discover Portsmouth Center on Middle Street, when visitors will get their first look at the popular 29th 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. until December 22, 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 Saturday, December 7. 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 December 1-22 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, 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, Maine’s Ogunquit Playhouse takes up a special holiday residency at Portsmouth’s Music Hall during the month of December. This year, they’re bringing the heartwarming and hilarious “Annie” to the Port City. Sally Struthers’ show-stealing Miss Hannigan is back in a production that will knock your family’s socks off.
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 December 18-19 at the historic Music Hall in Portsmouth. Audiences will love hearing and singing along with their favorite Christmas carols and jingles.
From November 29 – December 8, the Pontine Theater weaves together unique puppetry and stage craft for its annual production of A New England Christmas, featuring seasonal stories and poems written by some of New England’s favorite authors.
Holiday fun you can Banke on
As the living, breathing heart of historic Portsmouth, the Strawbery Banke Museum’s 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 is December 8, 14-15 and 21-22.
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.