New England Places

Six Christmas Towns for the Holidays

So much of New England looks like a Currier & Ives print over the holidays that it was hard to choose the best of the Christmas towns.

We ended up choosing a town or city that offers history along with the carols, greenery, lights, Santas, skating rinks and horse-drawn sleighs.

So here are six of the best historic Christmas towns, one for each New England state. If you know of another good one, please share it in the comments section.

Wethersfield, Conn.

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A colonial doorman greets guests over the holidays in Wethersfield, Conn.

Wethersfield, one of the three oldest Connecticut towns, has the state’s largest historic district. Some of Wethersfield’s most historically significant houses dress up and offer tours over the Christmas holidays.

The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum goes all out with its annual Three Centuries of Christmas event in its three historic houses. The museum shows the evolution of the Christmas holidays in America with authentic decorations, house tours and candlelight tours led by guides in period dress.

The Silas Deane House presents the 18th century, when the household celebrated New Year’s Day as the main holiday when the Puritanical dislike of Christmas still lingered.

The Isaac Stevens House celebrates the holidays the way a middle-class household would during the early to mid-1800s, when New England adopted many of today’s Christmas traditions.

Finally, the Joseph Webb House shows a lavish Christmas open house typical of the early 20th century.

Webb-Deane-Stevens: 211 Main St., Wethersfield, Conn. Candlelight Tours, with guides in period dress, will be on Friday and Saturday, December 15 and 16, 5 to 8 p.m. Daytime Holiday Tours will be on December 9 – January 7, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Sundays (from 1 to 4 p.m.), closed Tuesdays. Click here for more information.

Kennebunkport, Maine

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Kennebunkport's huge Christmas tree in the center of town.

The historic seaside town of Kennebunkport, Maine, celebrates Christmas in a big way.

On the weekend of Dec. 15-16, Kennebunkport features craft fairs, rides through the woods aboard a festive historic trolley and boat rides aboard a Maine fishing boat.

White Columns, a historic Greek Revival home, offers house tours and stunning Victorian Christmas decorations.The Patriot Fife & Drum Duo entertains shoppers at Dock Square and Lower Village on Saturday afternoon.

Local businesses sponsor a candlelight procession following Mary and Joseph seeking shelter at three historic inns. After all three turn them away, they then go to a manger where carolers sing hymns, scripture is read and hot chocolate and cookies are consumed.

Finally the day ends with the 9th annual Fire + Ice at Nonantum, featuring ice sculptures and bonfires.

Santa arrives on Sunday afternoon for photo ops with children shortly after the pooch parade ends up at White Columns.

For more information, click here.

Boston, Mass.

Hundreds of thousands of lights throughout Boston proper put a nighttime sparkle in the historic seaport city.

Faneuil Hall puts on a seven-minute light show with 350,000 lights, along with the city's largest Christmas tree. String lights twinkle throughout the Public Garden and the Boston Common, which also has a lighted Christmas tree and ice skating on the Frog Pond.

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Faneuil Hall over the holidays.

City Hall Plaza features a European-style Christmas market with a winding skating path, Santa's House and a traveling wine and beer exhibit.

The Boston Opera House stages the classic holiday ballet, The Nutcracker, and the Paramount Theatre stages Langston Hughes' Black Nativity. It’s one of the hottest tickets in Boston, where the play is in its 48th year. The Boston Pops Orchestra plays classic holiday favorites in a cabaret setting at Boston Symphony Hall.

To find out what’s going on in Boston over the holidays, click here.

Portsmouth, N.H.

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Portsmouth's Market Square during the holidays.

Few holiday traditions evoke the past as well as the Strawbery Banke candlelight stroll, now in its 39th year in Portsmouth, N.H.

Strawbery Banke, an outdoor history museum, comprises dozens of restored Colonial, Georgian and Federal style buildings clustered around a large green. At Christmas, hundreds of candle lanterns light the grounds, evergreens garnish the houses and holiday music fills the air.

Costumed role players recreate past traditions including a 1919 Hanukkah celebration and a Victorian dinner. A skating rink hosts a Currier and Ives-inspired show during each of the December weekends of the Candlelight Stroll.

Strawbery Banke anchors Portsmouth’s ‘Vintage Christmas’ celebration. A big part of Portsmouth’s charm lies in its walkability and in its many family-owned shops, restaurants and inns. Fresh green garlands and balsam wreaths decorate nearly every shop and the period homes nearby, while the city illuminates Market Square with a Christmas tree.

The Music Hall Theater in Portsmouth’s downtown, along with the Ogunquit Playhouse, present Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

For those who don’t want to walk, a free Holiday Trolley circulates through the neighborhoods. And when you pass those shops, remember that New Hampshire doesn’t have a sales tax.

Candlelight stroll runs Dec. 15, 16 & 22, 2018; Saturdays, 5-9 pm Sundays, 4-8 pm. For more information, click here

Newport, R.I.

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The Breakers, decorated for the holidays.

Three Newport mansions present over-the-top Christmas tours worthy of the last Gilded Age.

The Preservation Society of Newport County decked the halls of The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House with extravagant Yuletide finery. Thousands of poinsettias, evergreens and flowers decorate the magnificent rooms, while holiday music fills the air and tables glisten with silver and china.

Santa visits the Elms on Saturday, Dec. 15 from noon to 3 PM. And from 6-9 PM that night, the Elms and Marble House feature a Holiday Evening Duet. The city recaptures past candlelit holidays with thousands of clear bulbs. For the 47th annual Christmas in Newport, the lights illuminate the harbor,  restored colonials and Bellevue Avenue.

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The Breakers exterior.

Over each weekend in December, the Newport Historical Society presents walking tours, with and without lanterns.

Newport reopens its skating rink this year with a Christmas tree, and the Visitors Center exhibits a 16-foot tall lighthouse.

Historic churches and museums hold open houses and high teas, while musicians and thespians stage Christmas concerts and Christmas plays throughout the month.

All three mansions open daily for tours from Saturday through Monday, January 1, 2019.  The Breakers opens daily at 9 a.m., The Elms and Marble House open at 10 a.m. For more information click here.

Woodstock, Vt.

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The Jackson House Inn, decorated for the holidays.

The quintessential Vermont town of Woodstock throws itself into the holidays with lights, greenery and plenty of shopping action.

The Billings Farm & Museum demonstrates the traditions of a late 19th century Vermont Christmas on weekends in December and Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 from 10 am to 4 pm.

The Woodstock YOH Theatre Players present a live radio play of Miracle on 34th Street on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 15  and the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 16.

The Woodstock Inn offers seasonal culinary treats during the holidays, including traditional Christmas fare on the big day.  The Pentangle Theater shows the holiday classic film White Christmas.

Local stores stay open late so locavores can do their holiday shopping, and the town's art galleries feature holiday exhibits. And just 10 minutes away, the Suicide Six ski area opens on Saturday, Dec. 15.

For more information, click here.

Images: Faneuil Hall by Tony Fischer Photography; Jackson House Inn by Mark Goebels, Creative Commons License; Kennebunkport Tree by Amy Meredith, Creative Commons License. This story was updated in 2018. 

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