From light parades to model trains, to holiday concerts and colonial recreations, Connecticut holiday happenings are as rich and diverse as the state itself. Kids can welcome Santa arriving by firetruck or boat, with plenty of hot cider and hot chocolate to keep everyone warm.
Or not. The ho-ho-holidays aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if they are…
Go medieval and cut your own Christmas tree at Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree Farm in East Hampton. Hayrides and hot chocolate are featured with surprise visits from Santa.
Santa and his elves float into Essex village in a parade of boats decorated with holiday lights on Sunday, Nov. 29. The Trees in the Rigging event includes a carol stroll down Main Street and the Sailing Masters Fife and Drum Corp.
Kids and kids-at-heart will be awestruck by the model train village at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex. For the 22nd straight year, this display’s level of detail will impress the most rabid railroading enthusiast. More than 25 feet long, it includes a scavenger hunt and a smaller hands-on display for toddlers. The show runs from Nov. 19 to Feb. 15, 2016.
The village of Niantic claims to host the largest Holiday Light Parade in New England. Now in its 27th year, it features floats made by businesses, organizations and neighborhoods. You can also help families in need by bringing a non-perishable food item to drop off on the “Fill-A-Float.” The parade is scheduled for 6 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 12.
Niantic also holds the Jingle Bell 5K, a walk/run through the village on the same day, Saturday, Dec. 12 at 10 a.m. Awards are given to the top three male and female finishers in eight different age brackets. All proceeds from the event are donated to the Brian T. Dagle Memorial Foundation, which provides healing and support for anyone dealing with grief.
Down the other end of the coast, the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in Norwalk holds its annual holiday exhibit, running through Jan. 3, 2016. See how different decorations were during the Victorian era, including edible and handmade ornaments. The mansion is a national historic landmark that was built by Connecticut railroad magnate, LeGrand Lockwood, and later owned by globetrotting socialite, Miss Florence Mathews.
The Mansion also hosts a holiday open house on Sunday, Dec. 13. Highlights include a performance by the New Canaan Dance Academy, a Doll and Teddy Bear Victorian Tea, holiday music, and (here again) Santa.
In Madison, A Child’s Colonial Christmas features storytelling, caroling, hearth-baked gingerbread, hot cocoa, and make-your-own ornament. This free event is on Dec. 13 at the Deacon John Grave House. The Grave House also holds a Holiday Faire Extraordinaire, Dec. 3-6, with ten vendors offering unique holiday gifts from apparel and jewelry to baked goods.
Going back further in time, a group of historic houses in Old Wethersfield, Connecticut’s first settlement, will host “Three Centuries of Christmas.” In the 18th century, New Year’s Day, not Christmas, was the most celebrated holiday. In the Silas Deane House, relive how ladies of the day received prominent gentlemen, and how masters of the house settled their debts on New Year’s Day. See how a middle-class house was decorated in the 1800s and an exhibit of illustrations from Clement Moore’s book, An Account of a Visit of St. Nicholas, at the Isaac Stevens House. Jump to the early 20th century in the Joseph Webb House and find a collection of antique toys and a Victorian dollhouse.
All three of these houses, known as the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, are adjacent to each other. The “Three Centuries” tour includes food, wine, ale, live holiday music, Mrs. Claus (for a change), and more. Tours will run on Saturdays and Sundays from Dec. 12 to Jan. 3 during the day, with additional evening tours on Dec. 18 and 19.
Elsewhere on the shoreline, the Firelight Festival at Guilford’s Henry Whitfield Museum, features outdoor fires and luminaria, s’mores, popcorn, hot chocolate and cider, tours of Connecticut’s oldest house; Dec. 4, 4-8 p.m.
Also at the Whitfield, hear the backstory and live reading of The Night Before Christmas, along with discounts on toys, games and books on Dec. 12 & 13. Ongoing thru Dec. 13 is Holidaze: The Real Story of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. This exhibit explains the myths and origins of the winter holidays going back to ancient Rome.
Bright Lights and Music
Billing itself as the brightest village in Connecticut, Ivoryton kicks off its 6th annual Ivoryton Illuminations on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. More than 300,000 lights illuminate buildings around the huge tree on the Ivoryton Green. Shops and local organizations offer drinks, food and gifts. Santa arrives by fire ladder.
For live holiday theater, the Ivoryton Playhouse presents I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Chock full of songs sure to put you right in the spirit, the production runs from Dec. 10 thru Dec. 20.
For those whose Christmas isn’t complete without the Nutcracker, the Garde Theater in New London presents a well-regarded production. Choreographed by the Eastern Connecticut Ballet with live music by the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, matinees are scheduled for Dec. 12 & 13, with an evening performance on the 12th.
If full orchestral concerts are your thing, several venues may satisfy. A Messiah Sing-Along & Holiday Extravaganza!, will be presented by the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, December 5, at Norwalk City Hall.
A second Holiday Extravaganza is offered by the New Haven Symphony on Thursday, Dec. 17, at Woolsey Hall in New Haven. The NHS also appears at Madison’s First Congregational Church on Saturday, Dec. 19, with its brass quintet to present Holiday Brass, a selection of holiday favorites.
A staple of the Christmas season, Handel’s Messiah, will be performed by the Stamford Symphony, Saturday, Dec. 12, at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, Stamford.
For a polyphonic experience, Joyous Noise is presented by Co-Co Beaux, an a cappela group from Connecticut College singing an array of holiday songs in the art galleries of the Florence Griswold Museum, Sunday, Dec. 13, from 2-4 p.m.