Today's History Highlights Archive

Six Historic Christmasy Towns for the Holidays

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So much of New England looks like a Currier and 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.

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A table set for the holidays at the Joseph Webb House.

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

Meanwhile, the Wethersfield Historical Society on Saturday, Dec. 9, will conduct free tours of the historic Hurlbut-Dunham House, decorated inside and out for the holidays. The tour runs from 1 pm to 4 pm.

Hurlbut-Dunham House, 212 Main St., Wethersfield, Conn.

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.

Ogunquit, Maine

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Ogunquit over the holidays.

The historic seaside town of Ogunquit, Maine, celebrates Christmas in a big way, with the 31st annual  ‘Christmas By The Sea’ festival.  The family-owned Beachmere Inn lights a lobster trap Christmas tree along the Marginal Way.  You can walk the entire 1.5 mile cliff path by the sea.

On the weekend of Dec. 9-10, Ogunquit features hay rides, craft fairs, a bonfire, fireworks and a living manger.

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A happy parade-goer

On Saturday, the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit holds history games and do-it-yourself gifts at the Meetinghouse Museum, 938 Post Road in Wells. Shops and churches also offer holiday activities for children, along with free drinks and treats. Admission is free to the beautifully decorated Ogunquit Heritage Museum.

Ogunquit’s Christmas Parade starts at 3 pm at the entrance of Perkins Cove and goes to Main Beach. At the end of the parade, Ogunquit lifeguards take a polar bear plunge into the ocean. After the sunset, there’s a bonfire, fireworks, a barbershop choir and a Christmas concert by Levi Kreis.

Sunday features a free film, Shop Around the Corner starring Jimmy Stewart, dinner theater with A Christmas Carol: A New! Musical Tale, a Christmas parade in Wells next door and an ugly sweater party.

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The Winn House decked out for the holidays.

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 47th year. The Boston Pops Orchestra plays classic holiday favorites in a cabaret setting at Boston Symphony Hall.

On Saturday, Dec. 9, watch the Santa Speedo Run. Seven hundred men and women in red hats and European-style bathing suits run through Back Bay to raise money for needy local children.

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 38th 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. 9, 10, 16 & 17, 2017; 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.

Rosecliff also opens with a continuing exhibition about the fashion designer, Pierre Cardin: 70 Years of Innovation. On Saturday, Dec.9, Rough Point opens its doors for UnDecked Halls: Behind the Scenes at Doris Duke’s Mansion in Winter.

Newport, though, has more to offer than Gilded Age mansions. 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, 2018.  The Breakers opens daily at 9 a.m., The Elms and Marble House open at 10 a.m. On Sundays, Santa visits the houses, so bring the children. For more information click here.

Woodstock, Vt.

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Woodstock's Village Green illuminated

The quintessential Vermont town of Woodstock celebrates its 34th Annual Wassail Weekend on the second weekend in December.

Rooted in 19th century Norse holiday traditions, the festival offers horse-drawn wagon and sleigh rides. On Saturday afternoon, the town holds a parade of horses and riders wearing period dress and holiday costumes. Historic homes, decorated for the holidays, throw open their doors with docents to guide visitors. Some feature live performances by local musicians.

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The Woodstock parade.

Starting at 3 pm, Woodstock lights its memory tree and 400 luminaria on the village green, followed by a carol sing-along.

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 Inn offers a prix fixe wassail feast buffet with three seatings on Saturday night. The Pentangle Theater shows the film The Man Who Invented Christmas, the story of how Charles Dickens conjured up A Christmas Carol.

Local stores stay open late so locavores can do their holiday shopping.

For more information, click here.

Images: Faneuil Hall by Tony Fischer Photography.

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