To mark the last of our 12 New England Christmas traditions, let’s talk about New Years Eve. This festive night falls right in the middle of the twelve days of Christmas (if you’re only familiar with the song, the twelve days span from Christmas Day to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th).
One New England tradition that has become popular over the past 40 years is First Night. Established in Boston in 1975, First Night is a series of events that take place in public spaces like the Boston Public Library, churches, and performance halls, and local attractions like the New England Aquarium and the Paul Revere House. The events last throughout the day and night and range from puppet shows to ice sculpture competitions to plays and concerts. Many of the events are free. Two fireworks displays are featured–one at midnight over Boston Harbor and another earlier in the evening over Boston Common.
First Night was established to provide a family-friendly New Years activity as well as to promote Boston-area attractions. Since Boston began the tradition, other New England cities including Hartford, Portsmouth, and Providence (they call it Bright Night; no celebration is planned this year) have started similar celebrations.
Check out Boston’s First Night 2015.
Revisiting some of these New England traditions has been fun. I look forward to writing more about New England here next year and wish everyone a healthy, happy, and peaceful 2015!
Want to experience an authentic, old-fashioned New England Christmas? Then you might want to head up to beautiful Woodstock, Vermont. There you’ll find the Billings Farm and Museum, a working farm with an award-winning Jersey herd and a farmhouse museum that is open to the public. At Billings you can take classes, watch documentary films (part of the Woodstock Film Series), and learn more about what life was like in Vermont in 1890, the year that the farmhouse was built.
The museum captures the simplicity and difficulty of rural life in late 19th-century Vermont with hands-on activities like buttermaking and milking as well as special exhibits. During each weekend in December, the museum celebrates Christmas at Billings Farm with activities like sleigh rides, sledding, candle dipping, and ornament making. The farmhouse is decorated as it would have been in Christmas 1890, with simple green boughs on the mantels and trees strung with cranberry and popcorn garland, painted pinecones, and paper ornaments.
I’ve been to Woodstock, but somehow I missed this landmark farm on my visit. I’ll have to remedy that next time I am in the area! If you want to find out more about old Vermont Christmas traditions, the Billings Farm & Museum is a good place to start.
When the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad shut down in 1941, farmer Ellis D. Atwood bought several passenger and freight cars and constructed a railroad on his cranberry plantation in South Carver, Massachusetts. What began as a practical way to move supplies around the plantation became a local tourist attraction. After offering free rides to neighbors, Atwood opened his railroad to the public in 1947, complete with small amusement park rides. In the late 1940s, Atwood introduced an annual Festival of Lights to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
The railroad and the surrounding park went through many owners after Atwood died as the result of an accident in 1950, but the holiday light tradition continued. For a time in the 1990s, the park was shut down. Eventually, all of the railroad cars were sold off and the park was reopened with new passenger cars. In 2005, the current owner renamed the park Edaville USA and introduced updated rides and attractions mostly related to cranberry harvesting. Despite the changes, the Festival of Lights continued to be a popular attraction. Today the event features not only one of the largest light displays in the region, but also hot chocolate and cookies, and carol singing. Many children wear their pajamas for the nighttime ride. After the train ride, families can explore light displays and enjoy vintage amusement park rides.
In 2011, the railroad introduced a new holiday attraction: a live version of The Polar Express. The popular children’s book comes alive in a 40-minute train ride around the cranberry bogs that culminates in the appearance of Santa Claus.
In 1973, Arthur Fiedler, long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, introduced the Holiday Pops. The celebration was called “A Pops Christmas Party” and featured the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Typical of Fiedler’s Pops, the concert was aimed at a mass audience, with accessible, crowd-pleasing musical selections. Over the years, the Holiday Pops has included narrations of “The Night Before Christmas” (some featuring special guests like Boston’s former mayor Thomas Menino), audience sing-a-longs, and guest choirs and choruses.
In 1985, the Holiday Pops was televised for the first time. Forty-one years later, the Holiday Pops is still going strong. This year, the performance, which takes place in Boston’s Symphony Hall, features former Pops conductor and composer John Williams’s score to the holiday-themed film Home Alone. The program runs until December 31.
Mystic Seaport is one of Connecticut’s most beautiful and popular attractions, so it’s not surprising that the town is home to an enduring Christmas tradition.
The Lantern Light Tours have been going on for 35 years now. This special event is both a play and a walking tour. The play differs from year to year (this year’s story has a Twelve Days of Christmas theme), but the walking tour always covers the village of Mystic Seaport, which is the world’s largest maritime museum.
Elements of the tour include lantern-lit paths, horse-drawn carriages, traditional Christmas dance and song, and an appearance by Santa Claus.
While this is a tradition enjoyed by many families, it’s only recommended for children older than four years old as the audience must stand and/or walk for the entire performance.
The Lantern Light tour is only part of the Christmas by the Sea celebration at Mystic Seaport (the celebration runs through December 27th). Other highlights include storytelling, crafts, music, and displays of Christmas trees and antique children’s toys.
Contrary to popular belief, Santa Claus doesn’t live at the North Pole. He hangs out in Jefferson, New Hampshire.
Santa’s Village is a family-run amusement park that gives kids the opportunity to see Santa’s home while also enjoying rides like the Yule Log Flume and the Reindeer Carousel, live shows and 3D films, and attractions like Santa’s Blacksmith Shop.
The park was founded in 1953 by Normand and Cecile Dubois. Normand was inspired when he saw deer crossing the road near Jefferson, a small town in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire. He thought the area was exactly the type of place where you would find Santa. The park started out as a simple attraction whose main feature was a mule who could do tricks. Over time, the Dubois family added rides, elves (both people in costume and cartoon elves), and real reindeer. Children loved the idea that they could visit Santa in the middle of the summer and see what he was up to (not to mention tell him what they wanted for Christmas so he could really plan ahead). Eventually, the Dubois grandchildren took over the park and opened it during the Christmas holidays (they even have a fireworks show on New Year’s Eve).
I haven’t been here yet, but eventually I will bring my little one here because my friends who have visited with their kids said the kiddos had a wonderful time…and even the adults had fun seeing Santa in his natural habitat.
Like many New England communities, Kennebunkport, Maine has a Christmas celebration every year. The Christmas Prelude includes a caroling by candlelight, which you’ll find in many communities across the United States. Some of the more uniquely Maine traditions, though, include a chowder luncheon, Santa’s arrival by lobster boat, and a Christmas tree built out of lobster traps.
The tree, located in Kennebunkport’s Cape Porpoise neighborhood, consists of a tree-shaped stack of lobster traps decorated with red buoys, wreaths, and Christmas greens. It is one of three trees that are lit during the Christmas Prelude celebration. The Lobster Trap Tree was introduced in the first Christmas Prelude in 1982, and has been a local icon ever since.
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.