Where to experience old-fashioned New England holiday fun
Explore New England’s holiday traditions in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine
There’s nothing quite like the magical and merriment of December in New England. Roasting chestnuts, dancing nutcrackers, sleigh rides and the scent of freshly baked gingerbread make the region’s traditional events and celebrations equal parts history lesson and a chance for families to spend part of their holidays “unplugged” and, let’s face it, not at the mall.
From performances and concerts to living history museums and entire towns taking a giant step into the past to celebrate the simpler times of days gone by, here’s where to find traditional family-friendly fun this season:
On weekends in December, take a step back in time at the Strawbery Banke Candlelight Stroll in Portsmouth. As you make your way through the neighborhood lit with glowing luminaria, costumed interpreters welcome you into their homes to sample some of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of more than 350 years of New England holiday fun. Kids can nibble fresh-baked ginger cookies, make clove and apple pomanders, take in a Christmas concert, go for a horse drawn sleigh ride, vote in the Gingerbread house competition, warm their hands by an open fire and more. (2019 dates: December 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22)
At the Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm in Tamworth, visitors are invited on Saturday, December 7 to experience the spirit and joy of traditional holiday celebrations from New Hampshire’s rural past at their Farmstead Christmas event.Tour historic buildings and a stable, witness open-hearth cooking and wood stove baking, enjoy seasonal exhibits, sample traditional syllabub (a holiday treat from England) and Christmas confections. Children will enjoy making seasonal crafts and spending time with farm animals in their seasonal setting. Events take place from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Looking to escape the mall? On the first two Saturdays of December (7 and 14, 2019) from 3 to 8 p.m., visit Canterbury Shaker Village for a magical evening filled with simple holiday entertainment from days of yore. Christmas at Canterbury events include: watching an old-time 19th Century magic show, meeting Father Christmas, making Christmas-inspired crafts, admiring a toy train display or listening to fiddlers. Guests can also enjoy hot cider and singing Christmas carols around the village Christmas tree.
Experience the wonder of a Victorian Christmas at the annual Victorian Christmas event at the New Hampshire Farm Museum in Milton. Visitors are invited on Saturday, December 14 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. for a day of holiday fun including: horse-drawn sleigh rides, roasting chestnuts and hand-dipped candle making. Don’t forget to try the homemade apple cider and gingerbread cookies.
What does fruitcake and roasted chestnuts have to do with Christmas? And what really is the story behind the Yule log? On weekend evenings throughout the month of December, Old Sturbridge Village invites families to Christmas by Candlelight is an evening filled with New England holiday traditions, live musical performances, storytelling, sleigh rides, festive foods, a roaring bonfire, a popular gingerbread contest and strolls around the decorated Village Common. Take all these in or just stroll around the lantern-lit common and shops and houses that make Sturbridge one of the largest living history museums in the United States.
Added bonus: Don’t miss Brunch with Santa on Sundays, December 1, 8, 15 and 22, 2019.
Like a Christmas card come to life, the town of Stockbridge, made famous by Norman Rockwell’s painting of the village during the holidays, decks its halls to become a jaw-dropping New England setting decorated with holiday wreaths and festive lights. A good time to visit is during the annual Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas, December 6-8, 2019. Village-wide holiday celebrations include kids’ activities, holiday house tours, caroling, holiday concerts and plenty of shopping, too.
Is there a Little Women fan on your shopping list? Give a gift a little early this year with a special trip to Orchard House museum in Concord, Mass. The home of Louisa May Alcott is all decorated for the holidays with the tasteful, festive simplicity the Alcott family embraced. Costumed characters re-create favorite scenes from Little Women and crafts and activities for kids and adults mean you won’t leave empty-handed. A Visit with St. Nicholas takes place on the first three weekends of December and reservations are strongly encouraged.
And what’s Christmas without some Clara and the sugar plum fairies? The Boston Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker is a traditional treat for families around New England. Performances run from November 29 through December 29 and take place at the Boston Opera House, a lavish and fitting setting for a ballet first performed in 1892.
In picturesque Woodstock, Vt., the highlight of the town’s holiday-themed Wassail Weekend is the parade of more than 50 horses and riders dressed in holiday costumes from the early 19th century, accompanied by troupes of carolers and a visit from the Jolly Old Elf himself. Festivities include children’s theater performances and activities, concerts, crafts, and holiday house tours. Wondering just what is wassail? The term has its roots in medieval England and the Norse expression “ves heill” meaning “to drink to the health.” Ale brewed with spiced apples and sugar was the warm drink given to the singers who went door to door during the Solstice. Try some at the festival; hot chocolate and hot apple cider are available, too. Wassil Weekend is December 13-15, 2019.
What else to do in Woodstock? Stop by Billings Farm, a working dairy farm and museum, where families are welcome on weekends throughout December to visit the authentically decorated 1890 farm House, make a historic ornament to take home, go on a sleigh ride and even milk some cows.
Spend the holidays seaside! Maine welcomes the holiday spirit with Ogunquit’s Annual Christmas by the Sea Celebration. Taking place December 13-15, 2019, there is so much for families to do you may need to come back more than once. Planned activities include a cookie walk, ice skating party, gingerbread house lessons, a trip through Santa’s Workshop and the House of Scrooge (for those on Santa’s “naughty” list), hay rides, town tree lighting, family scavenger hunt, caroling, concerts, bonfires, visits with a children’s author, visits with Santa, craft fair and consignment shop.
Or maybe your family is simply in need of a little extra sparkle this year. If that’s the case, trek north to The Sparkle Celebration in Freeport for traditional holiday fun for the entire family happening, December 6-15, 2019. Festivities kick off with the famous Sparkle Parade of Lights and tree lighting, and continues with yummy free hot chocolate for all, old-fashioned horse drawn carriage rides, holiday sales and markets galore, visits with Santa and the Famous Freeport Talking Tree.