In Search of Holiday Season Events with Meaning (Featured in Daily Hampshire Gazette)

In search of holiday season events with meaning
By Barbara Solow, Daily Hampshire Gazette

From card swaps to community singalongs to charity hikes, the season offers a host of options for families. For simplicity's sake, Wildfield organizes her favorites into five categories: Hands-On Opportunities, Outdoor Adventures, Shopping Local, Educational Events and Community Gatherings. (Article by Barbara Solow, Staff Writer for the Hampshire Daily Gazette. Photo credits: Sienna Wildfield)

CHESTERFIELD, MA (Nov 23, 2011) – As the holidays approach, Sienna Wildfield faces a dilemma she believes is common to many parents at this time of year. Wildfield, the mother of a 9-year-old and founder of the Hilltown Families online network, aims to steer clear of the commercialism that envelopes the season like too much gaudy wrapping paper.

“At the same time, Christmastime can be a magical time for kids,” she says. In search of a resolution, Wildfield has spent hours looking for holiday celebrations that capture the magic without focusing too much on what she calls, “the shiny stuff.”

The results of her explorations can be found on the Hilltown Families web site ( in calendar listings, blog posts and more recently, special events hosted by the network.

Earlier this month, Hilltown Families presented a talk on “The Importance of Creative Play in a Commercialized World” by child therapist and author Susan Linn at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg. It’s one of a series of “Community Conversations” on child rearing, voluntarism and other grassroots themes.

When she launched Hilltown Families in 2005, Wildfield says she “really had to dig” for holiday activities that weren’t tied to consumerism. As the network has grown, she’s discovered an increasing number of creative ways for families to celebrate the deeper reasons for the season.

“One of the main things I do is listen to other parents, and the community is definitely talking about this more,” says Wildfield, who has lived in West Chesterfield for a decade.

From card swaps to community singalongs to charity hikes, the season offers a host of options for families. For simplicity’s sake, Wildfield organizes her favorites into five categories: Hands-On Opportunities, Outdoor Adventures, Shopping Local, Educational Events and Community Gatherings.

Below are some examples of events and activities in each one. For more ideas, visit Hilltown Families online.


Be on the lookout for make-your-own crafts events that are part of many holiday fairs. “These are a great way to make your own gifts,” Wildfield says. For example, on Dec. 3 at 10:30 a.m., the Carnegie Library on Avenue A in Turner’s Falls is offering a free workshop on how to make simple gingerbread houses. Call 413-863-3214.

On Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Friends of the Montague Grange are sponsoring a “Make-and-Take Craft Fair” that will include candle and wreath-making using recycled materials. Admission to the fair at the Grange on Main Street in Montague Center is $1 for gifts that cost between $3 and $10 to make. Proceeds will benefit efforts to preserve the Grange Hall. Contact Cindy Tarail, 413-367-0042.


Wildfield’s family has been attending the Gorge Apres Gorge Family Fun Walk in West Chesterfield since it was started by a group of local moms eight years ago. This year’s walk will be held at 11 a.m. on Sunday (Nov. 27) at the Chesterfield Gorge. At 9 a.m., a 5K Trail Race will be held to benefit the Trustees of Reservation and the Zephyr Rapinchuk Memorial Fund. The entry fee is $15 on or $20 on the day of the race. Prizes include hand-knitted hats. Details are available on or on the event’s Facebook page:

For an outdoor holiday activity that’s truly off the beaten path, Wildfield suggests the Audubon Society’s 112th Christmas Bird Count. The nationwide count begins on Dec. 14 and lasts through Jan. 5. The society uses information collected by volunteer “citizen scientists” to gauge the health of the nation’s bird populations. To find out when this year’s local counting day has been scheduled, visit


Wildfield recommends events that highlight community traditions along with shopping. Her pick in this category is Moonlight Magic sponsored by the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association. This year’s event starts at 4:30 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 25) . In addition to stores and galleries staying open late, the evening will feature holiday lights, caroling, crafts demonstrations and live performances throughout the village, Call 413-625-2526.


Regional museums offer a wealth of seasonal programs and Wildfield notes that many area libraries lend free museum passes to card holders. Upcoming events on her list include Historic Deerfield’s “Seasonal Thanks” program on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Reenactors at the Tavern Hall building will offer a glimpse of life in the 17th century, including open-hearth cooking, examples of period arts and trades and a gift-making session. Call 413-774-5581.

On Dec. 10 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Wistariahurst Museum on Cabot Street in Holyoke will host a program on how to make Victorian era ornaments and other holiday gifts. Admission is $5 and reservations are suggested, Call 413-322-5660.


Perhaps the best way to enjoy the holidays is to mark the season with friends and neighbors. Community events include the annual luminary nights in Hatfield and Florence. Wildfield is partial to the Ashfield Solstice celebration, which this year takes place on Dec. 22 starting around 6:30 p.m. on the Town Common. Residents gather around a bonfire to sing and welcome the gradual return of daylight.

There’s also storytelling, Morris folk dancing and the writing of “community intentions” for the New Year. Such events make the holidays “more about a time of year” than about presents under the tree, Wildfield says. “This is the kind of raw around the edges stuff I love to let people know about.”

Copyright Reprinted with permission.

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