Tag Archives: Christmas

12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 11): Christmas at Billings Farm

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.

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12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 9): Holiday Pops

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.

holidaypops

Photo: Boston.com

 

 

 

 

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12 Days of New England Christmas Traditions (Day 7): Santa’s Village

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.

 

 

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12 Days OF New England Christmas Traditions (Day 6): The Lobster Trap Tree

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.

Other communities that have a lobster trap tree include Rockland, Maine (they boast the world’s largest tree made of lobster traps) and Gloucester, Massachusetts.

 

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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