2. Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Number 2 is Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Candlelight Stroll is an annual event that spotlights holiday and seasonal traditions spanning 350 years. The streets of the seaport museum are lit with hundreds of lanterns to help you find your way to see Mrs. Shapiro preparing for a Hanukkah celebration in her 1919 Russian Jewish kitchen, or Mrs. Goodwin and staff readying for a Victorian Christmas. Or witness the anxious moments of a family waiting to hear from their son during World War II.
Homes are decorated with hand-made decorations, created with live greens, dried flowers and herbs. Live music and the smell of a bonfire fill the night air. The people you meet are actually based on diaries and history from the area and are supported by archeological evidence and public record. Most of the 39 buildings stand on their original foundation, some dating back to 1695. Enjoy period cooking and craft demonstrations. Of course among those you may meet as you wonder is Father Christmas. No Stroll is complete without the jolly old elf. Tickets cost $25.00 for adults, $12.50 children 5-17, and $60.00 for a family. Purchase early.
The Stroll is only part of the celebration in town. As is typical of Portsmouth, it seems like the entire community participates. Travel + Leisure magazine says Portsmouth is “the Christmas Capital of North America.” The Vintage Christmas celebration begins on December 2nd with a party and gingerbread house contest. The Seacoast Repertory Theatre is presenting A Wonderful Life, the Music Hall Loft is hosting a holiday play reading of Kent Stephens’ The Ragpicker’s Dream, the Music Hall is also presenting the Holiday Pops and the Ogunquit Playhouse’s production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There’s skating on Puddle Dock Pond, a parade, and a tree lighting ceremony to name some of the events. Check the website and head to New Hampshire for a piece of history and Christmas revelry.
1. Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia
Number 1 is Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg, once the capital of Colonial Virginia, has buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Colonial Revival period and some more recent reconstructions. The historic center has many restored and re-created buildings that bring us back to the American Revolutionary War period.
Christmas at Williamsburg spans the years as colonists’ religious beliefs were reflected in their observation of the day. The homes and buildings are bedecked with wreaths and garlands laden with fruit and greens. The colors and decorations are famous, and people around the country try to reproduce the Williamsburg look. Learn how to make a wreath or enjoy events such as music from Victorian England and readings from Dickens.
Marvel at Grand Illuminations, the town fireworks displays held in three areas (fireworks were used in the 18th century along with firing of guns to commemorate important events such as military victories and the arrival of a new governor), or enjoy English Country Christmas and holiday sing-alongs or other events that explore music and traditions spanning hundreds of years. Witness George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, join walking tours, have holiday tea, celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, or observe a 1940’s Christmas with the Rockefellers. You can watch tree lightings, hear holiday reminiscences of the founding fathers and mothers, decorate homes, and learn how to dress a vintage holiday bride while moving through the changing decades.
Check the website to find the entire list of events, and you will likely want to purchase a multi-day pass. $50.99 for 13 and over and $25.49 for youth 6-12. The holidays begin in November so don’t wait to buy tickets and make plans. Come, relax, eat at one of the colonial restaurants, meet the people and find Christmas spirit in the past.
Experience and Enjoy Christmas This Year
Christmas is a time for reflection and open hearts. It’s a time to share traditions and enjoy family and friends. We complicate it. We make it harder than it needs to be. Spend time this year just taking in the sights, the scents, the tastes and the fun. Go back in time and see how it all got started. I hope you have a good time. Have a very Merry Christmas. See you on the road!