Category Archives: Boston and New England

12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 5): Christmas in Newport

In 1971, Newport local Ruth Myers was looking for a way to highlight Christmastime traditions in that beautiful Rhode Island city. More than 40 years later, Myers’s Christmas in Newport is an annual tradition that celebrates the region’s history and culture while supporting local non-profit agencies.

The city and harbor are decked out in white lights throughout the month of December. There are events throughout the month, all of which are either free to the public or the cost is donated to a local charity. Local businesses help to underwrite the events, which range from lantern-lit history tours to holiday storytelling for children to tours of Newport’s iconic mansions decked out for the holiday.

Find out more about Christmas in Newport.

Photo: The Preservation Society of Newport County

Photo: The Preservation Society of Newport County

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

12 Days OF New England Christmas Traditions (Day 4): The Flying Santa

On Christmas Day in 1929, a pilot from Friendship, Maine decided to make a few airborne deliveries to lighthouse keepers around midcoast Maine to thank them for their service. William (Bill) Wincapaw and his floatplane were well known in Rockport and around Penobscot Bay, as he helped to transport islanders who needed medical help back on the mainland. Wincapaw felt indebted to the lighthouse keepers and their families who made his flights safer as he battled fog and bad weather, so he decided to bring them some simple tokens of his appreciation like coffee, newspapers, and candy. When Wincapaw realized how much this simple act meant to the recipients, he turned it into an annual tradition that would spread throughout New England.

Wincapaw’s son, Bill Jr., eventually joined him on his trips and they expanded their reach to include Coast Guard stations as well as lighthouses and they started to cover the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Eventually, Wincapaw would dress as Santa Claus as he had been dubbed the “Flying Santa” by the lighthouse families. As their reach spread, Wincapaw and his son were able to get businesses to help support the cost of fuel and gifts. He began to bring toys and dolls to the children on his route and continued the tradition of providing coffee, newspapers, and other simple household items that were normally difficult to deliver to the lighthouses’ remote locations.

After the Wincapaws relocated from Maine to Winthrop, Massachusetts, Bill Jr.’s high school history teacher, Edward Rowe Snow, an aviation enthusiast and author of many books about the history of the New England coast, began to help out with the annual Christmas delivery. Father and son would take a northern route, covering Maine, while Snow would deliver to the coast of Southern New England. It continued this way through much of the 1930s. During the war, the 1942 deliveries were cancelled due to the Flying Santas’ military commitments. The following year, the Flying Santas got special permission from military officials to continue their route. They had their aircraft painted with a Christmas slogan to make it clear to the anti-aircraft batteries of New England that they were not an enemy plane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1946, both Wincapaws as well as Snow were back on the job, and they delivered packages to 118 lighthouses and Coast Guard Stations around New England. The following year, Wincapaw Sr. had a heart attack while piloting his plane in Rockport. He and his passenger both died when his plane plunged into the water shortly after takeoff. Edward Snow took over and expanded the Flying Santa route to cover 176 lighthouses and Coast Guard Stations from Maine to Florida.

Snow would continue his deliveries every Christmas for decades (with the exception being 1974, when most visits had to be cancelled due to bad weather). Over the years, as the Flying Santa tradition became more publicized, corporate sponsors contributed aircrafts and gifts and local television stations covered the Flying Santa’s route and deliveries. Snow had to adapt to changing FAA regulations and modernization. He would eventually use a boat to deliver to some islands in Casco Bay and Boston Harbor due to flight restrictions, and when automated lighthouses meant many lighthouse keepers and their families moved away, Snow still made deliveries to islanders and Coast Guard stations.

After Snow’s death in 1982, the Hull Lifesaving Museum in Massachusetts took over the annual flights for several years. Coast Guard members often served as Flying Santas into the 1990s. The route was cut back due to the fact that so many lighthouses were automated by then, but the flights, now run by the Friends of the Flying Santa, continue to take place every year, making deliveries to many of the stops along the New England coast that Bill Wincapaw visited more than 80 years ago.

Tagged , , , , , ,

12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 3): The Vermont Country Store

The famous Vermont Country Store has been a shopper’s paradise since 1946. The store, with two locations in Vermont and a thriving catalog business, is run by Lyman Orton and his three sons.

The store is known for its vast stock of both practical and nostalgia items; their motto is “Purveyors of the Practical and Hard-to-Find.” Peruse their catalog or wander their sprawling Weston or Rockingham, Vermont stores and you’ll find an impressive selection of nightgowns, blankets and sheets, baking tools, Vermont’s famous Common Crackers, and other run-of-the-mill household goods. But and you’ll also come across many nostalgia products, like Tangee lipstick, old-fashioned candy like Mary Janes and Clark Bars, and Fisher Price’s old pull-string phone and milk truck toys. As a history buff, I had a blast visiting the Weston store and wandering through the bins and shelves that evoked old Vermont and American traditions; it was a crash course in New England cultural history.

This retail institution is also known for its year-round Christmas shop. There you’ll come across traditional European Christmas fare like marzipan candy and Stollen bread, vintage decorations (glass ornaments, bubble lights, a plastic Santa Claus made from the original 1950s mold), and of course a wide variety of Vermont-made goods.

So whether it’s Christmas or Christmas in July, stop by the Vermont Country Store if you ever find yourself in Weston or Rockingham. Just make sure you give yourself a couple of hours to enjoy a stroll through the past.

Photo source: Vermont Country Store

Photo source: Vermont Country Store

Tagged , , , ,

12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 2): The Nova Scotia Tree

On December 6, 1917, the SS Mont-Blanc, a French ship laden with ammunition, collided with another vessel in the harbor in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Mont-Blanc caught fire and its ammunitions exploded, causing devastating damage to the city. Estimates indicate that between 1,700-2,000 people were killed by collapsed buildings, flying debris, and other after-effects of the explosion. More than 9,000 were injured. Some sources claim the explosion was the largest man-made blast before the invention of nuclear weapons. The explosion was so large that it created a tsunami that wiped out all the inhabitants of a First Nations settlement on the other side of the harbor. 

Relief came from around Canada and American cities like Chicago, but Boston made particularly generous contributions. When Bostonians learned of the disaster, they organized a relief train that included medical personnel and supplies. The train reached Halifax on December 8 (it was delayed one day due to a snowstorm).

To show their appreciation (and highlight tourism and trade opportunities), Nova Scotia Christmas tree farmers sent Boston a tree for the holidays in 1918. This idea was revived in 1971, and since then the government of Nova Scotia has sent an official Christmas tree to Boston every year. They even have guidelines to ensure the quality of the tree (it must be a white or blue spruce of a certain height and density).

Each year, the city of Boston holds a ceremony to light the tree, and it stands on Boston Common throughout the season.  

Read about the 2014 tree.
Read more about the Halifax Explosion.

Nova Scotia tree for Boston

Photo: CBC

Tagged , , , ,

12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 1): Joe Froggers

Here is the first in my 12 Days of Christmas series with New England traditions as the theme (it’s actually 11 days of Christmas at this point, but let’s pretend otherwise).

I’d like to start with everyone’s favorite Christmas food: the cookie!

The popular holiday molasses-spice cookie known as “Joe Froggers” is a deliciously chewy treat that goes back to the eighteenth century. A free (formerly enslaved) African American and Revolutionary War veteran by the name of Joseph Brown ran a tavern with his wife Lucretia in Marblehead, Mass. Lucretia made these delectable, pancake-sized treats and served them up to guests who christened them “Joe Froggers” after the frog pond located next to the tavern. Variations of the story claim that the “frogger” name came from the frog-leg shapes the cookie batter made while cooking in the pan. Fittingly, given the gingerbread-like flavor of this cookie, the Browns lived in an area of Marblehead known as Gingerbread Hill.

Joseph was born a slave, and he was called “Old Black Joe” by many whites in town, a breathtakingly casual racist appellation that was common in those times. He became a free man who could own property (thanks in part to the Massachusetts Constitution) after the war. The tavern he and Lucretia ran was integrated, but it was one of the few places in Marblehead, with a population that was only 5% African American, that could be described as such. While much of his history (which regiment he fought in, for example) has been lost, Joseph Brown’s name has been associated with the popular cookies although they were actually created by his wife.

The rum, molasses, nutmeg, and cloves in Joe Froggers are ingredients you find in many old-fashioned New England recipes, so this cookie is definitely a paean to the past. And with its ginger and allspice, it’s a perfect treat for the holidays (some modern sweet tooths add frosting, but in my opinion, this cookie is better without it) and remains popular in New England homes and bakeries.

Check out the recipe here.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Nor’easter! Or, 5 things you should not do during a snowstorm

snowpost

It’s the first storm of 2014, folks! And the weather reporters are in their glory (recently spotted: a local news reporter waving a towel to show it was windy outside). As someone who used to live in Central New York, I am not freaking out at the -20 windchill forecast for tomorrow; in the Finger Lakes, that is called “every day in winter.”

Here are some things I wish people would not do during a snowstorm, and I say this as a battle-tested veteran of many a Nor’easter, blizzard, “snow event” or whatever you want to call it (although I refuse to call it Hercules, because The Weather Channel is alone on that one).

1. Don’t buy just bread, milk, and alcohol. This is so cliche. You will be stuck with this food for the next couple of days, and it’s going to get old fast (okay, maybe the alcohol won’t, but believe me you can only have so much toast and peanut butter sandwiches). I was happy to see on Twitter that snow-fearin’ hipsters had busted out of the bread-milk-alcohol mold and cleaned out the bagged organic carrots section of the JP Whole Foods.

2. If you are a news reporter or meteorologist, there is a whole other list of things you should not be doing (showing shots of snow to illustrate it is snowing, touching said snow and informing us that it is light, sticking a ruler in the snow to show there is more of it now, etc.) But you will be doing all of these things anyway, because you are cheesy and predictable. For those of us watching, the least we can do is play Snowstorm News Coverage Bingo (courtesy of Reddit user Adorasaurusrex).

3. For the love of god, don’t skimp on salt for the damn sidewalk in front of your house. I’m lookin’ at you, rich Beacon Hill types who can totally pay somebody else to put salt down even if you are currently in your West Palm Beach digs, laughing at the weather coverage. If there’s one thing you guys won’t find funny, it’s a lawsuit from some poor schmuck who takes a digger on the ice slick in front of your house.

4. Don’t put your trash out when it’s just starting to snow. I see knuckleheads do this all the time. How is the trash crew supposed to find it? Radar? Hold your horses and put it out in the morning when the snow starts to let up. I guarantee that even if trash service isn’t cancelled, it’s going to be late.

5. Stop complaining about the snow if you live here (especially if you’re a native). More than this, stop being shocked that we are getting “so much snow!” It’s New England. Buck up or move somewhere warm. Some of us are crazy enough to love winter and all the snow that comes with it, and that’s one of the reasons why we live here!

Tagged , , , ,

All the Glory of Fall…

It’s cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason.

Apple cider. The first frost. Roadside farm stands overflowing with squash and fall flowers. Hillsides dotted with changing colors, as if a painter had dabbed every tree with a different brush.

Fall is my favorite time of year here in New England. The weather is perfect — warm enough for outside activities during the day, but cool enough for good sleeping at night. Gleaming orange pumpkins and blood-red and yellow mums decorate the stoops and porches. Frost makes the grass crunch when you walk on it in the morning, and every stroll is lit up by the changing colors all around us. Our world is transforming in a familiar and beautiful way.

mums

fall

fall2

fall4

pumpkins

churchpumpkins

Tagged , ,
Advertisements