21 Community Highlights: Yuletide to Colonial Christmas. Jane Austen to Charles Dickens.

There are a number of variations on the Gingerbread Man story available to read with your kids. Click here for a list of titles.

Yuletide to Colonial Christmas. Human Rights to Afro-Caribbean. Jane Austen to Charles Dickens.

These are just a few of the community learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured learning highlight this week:  The history of a town can often times been seen in the architecture of it’s buildings and the remains of local industry.  In the early 19th century, Westfield was manufacturing bricks, cigars and whips (the city is know as the “Whip City” to this day.) On Sunday afternoon, December 8th, families can participate in a self-guided Dickens Days Historic House Tour of Westfield. Discover the history behind eight historic Westfield homes, all decorated for the holidays, and learn about what the city was like in the past and the industries in which past inhabitants worked.

Holiday HistoryAnimal StudiesSocial JusticeLiteratureLocal HistoryNature StudiesCultural StudiesPerformance ArtParent Workshops

Holiday History

Historic Deerfield, a Western MA museum dedicated to the heritage and preservation of Deerfield, MA and providing families with experiences that create an understanding and appreciation of new England’s historic villages and countryside, will host a month-long celebration, “Heritage Holiday.” Holidays are a time of year that are filled with family traditions, including traditional baked goods. Heritage Baking Day on Saturday, December 7th will give visitors the opportunity to learn about baking recipes from the past.   See what recipes are still strong today during a baking recipe contest, and enjoy a festival day with gift-making, horse-drawn wagon rides, gingerbread cookie decorating, performances by the Connecticut Yuletide Carolers, museum tours, and a presentation/demonstration from King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center.

Celebrate the holidays at The Mount in Lenox on Saturday, December 7th at their “Backstairs” tours. These tours will highlight the roles, relationships, living conditions, and working expectations of the 20 servants who staffed the house and property each summer.  Taking a Backstairs Tour will allow families to learn about the story of the home and Edith Wharton’s place in literary history; more importantly, however, it will shed light on the class divisions that existed during the Gilded Age in the United States. Students can ponder the ethics of keeping servants, and can think about fair working conditions and wages when they consider the servants’ employment.

On Saturday & Sunday, December 7th & 8th, take your family to discover traditional Yuletide activities at Storrowton Village Museum in West Springfield. Learn about the history and folklore of the Christmas Tree and hear music from the American tradition of the 19th Century. Meet Henry David Thoreau and a Victorian Santa. See traditional craft demonstrations and ice made into sculptures… a fun and festive weekend that will put you in the holiday spirit while learning about the history and traditions of holidays past.

Take a step back in time this holiday season at Sturbridge Village, where you can celebrate  Colonial Christmas during their “Christmas by Candlelight” event. This historical celebration happens every weekend leading up to Christmas including Friday-Sunday, December 6th-8th.  Families can experience life in the 1800′s through sleigh rides, a recreation of Mrs. Cratchit’s Christmas dinner, Christmas traditions, carolers, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, a puppet show, music, dancing, and much more. This event allows visitors to experience the Christmas holiday as it was in the past in Colonial New England.

Ever gaze into a Norman Rockwell picture and long for those days gone bye? The Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas Recreation aims to bring you back into time on Sunday afternoon, December 8th.  Stroll down Main Street and see it as it was when Norman Rockwell painted his famous painting “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas.” Antique cars will be parked along the street, and there will be music, carols, Christmas food, Roger the Jester, kids’ activities, and visits with Santa. This holiday event allows you to get an idea of what Stockbridge was like in the past, while celebrating the present-day town and the upcoming holidays.

Animal Studies

Children can make meaningful and lasting connections with the natural world through positive interaction with animals. They can even learn about animal life and diversity in other continents by examining reptiles and insects native to other lands.  This Saturday afternoon, December 7th at the Holyoke Public Library, Rae Griffith from Teaching Creatures will give children the opportunity to meet unusual animals from the wilds of Africa and learn about the amazing habitat diversity on this large continent.

The UMass Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department presents OEB Science Cafe at Esselon Cafe in Hadley on Monday evening, December 9th. This month’s talk is by Dr. Steve McCormick, who will discuss how migratory fish tackle major environmental challenges. Science Cafes are oriented towards adults without a science background, but are interesting to those with science backgrounds as well! Older students interested in science would enjoy the Science Cafe

Social Justice

In honor of the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first worldwide enunciation of human rights, Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton is holding “Sweets and Songs for Justice: A Musical Evening for Human Rights” on Saturday evening, December 7th. Ben Grosscup, Annie Hassett, and Yosl Kurland will play social justice related songs for all to come and sing.

December 10th is Human Rights Day, celebrated across the globe and in our own community.  On Tuesday evening, December 10th celebrate Human Rights Day at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. Join with community members for this special event, which includes musical performances by The Raging Grannies, Northampton Community Center Children’s Choir, and Lisa and Lisa; a keynote address by Dr. Joshua Miller of the Smith College School for Social Work, and a public reading of the Declaration of Human Rights. This free event is open to all and is a meaningful way to commemorate and learn about this important declaration.


Celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday and the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice at The Mount in Lenox with narrator Alison Larkin, who narrated a new audiobook for the novel.  On Saturday afternoon, December 7th, Larkin will present excerpts from the recording, and there will also be tea, period music, and Austen trivia.  Fans of Jane Austen will enjoy this special event, and older students interested in literary studies will find an open door towards appreciation of this 19th century novelist.

The Springfield Museums’ “Museums a la Carte” lecture series continues on Thursday at noon, December 12th with “Dickens in Springfield,” by Frances Gagnon. Gagnon will discuss Dickens’ two visits to Springfield, including 1842, the year he wrote “A Christmas Carol,” and how they impacted the city. This lecture would be interesting to older students who are interested in local history and/or literary studies.

Local History

On Saturday evening, December 7th, come to the Meekins Library in Williamsburg for the premier of Harvey Allen: A Man for All Seasons. This documentary follows Harvey into farmland, fields, and forests to show the importance of having a sense of place and to teach about the many wonders of the Pioneer Valley. Harvey is known for his interest and involvement in protecting local natural areas, helping the homeless and hungry, and much more. Anyone interested in learning about this Pioneer Valley resident will benefit from this intimate screening.

The history of a town can often times been seen in the architecture of it’s buildings and the remains of local industry.  In the early 19th century, Westfield was manufacturing bricks, cigars and whips (the city is know as the “Whip City” to this day.) On Sunday afternoon, December 8th, families can participate in a self-guided Dickens Days Historic House Tour of Westfield. Discover the history behind eight historic Westfield homes, all decorated for the holidays, and learn about what the city was like in the past and the industries in which past inhabitants worked.

Join the Wistariahurst Museum in Hoyloke as they continue their fall lecture series, “Historical Culinary Incidents: An Exploration of Food and Culture in the Pioneer Valley” on Monday evening, December 9th. Ever wonder how families living in the post-electrical era kept their food cold? This week, Dennis Picard presents “Ice Harvesting and How it Changed Food Storage.” Picard will discuss the beginnings of commercial ice harvesting in New England, when ice was collected from ponds and lakes and then exported in the early 19th Century. At the time, it was the 9th largest industry in the country and was responsible for employing tens of thousands of New Englanders and producing hundreds of thousands of tons of block ice annually. Picard will do a show and tell with some of his antique ice harvesting tools, discuss the trade, and tell tales of New England’s ice harvesting days.

Nature Studies

Western Gateway Heritage State Park is offering an educational holiday program – a Natural History of the Holidays, on Saturday afternoon, December 7th in North Adams.

You may have heard of Japanese knotweed, one of the world’s worst invasive species, but did you know that you can make flutes or panpipes from its stalk? On Sunday morning, December 8th at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, kids (ages 8-16) and an adult partner can make their own panpipes (named after Pan, the Greek god of the wild) and learn about other musical instruments that you can make from nature with naturalist Kevin Kopchynski.

Cultural Studies

The Holyoke Public Library and the Puerto Rican Cultural Project are collaborating to present Roulé Candela on Main Street, an Afro-Caribbean and Carols Concert at Holyoke City Hall Auditorium on Saturday evening, December 7th. 

The Welcome Yule Players are hosting their annual Welcome Yule: A Midwinter Celebration at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls on Friday, December 13th-Sunday, December 15th. The show celebrates the light during winter’s darkness through music, songs, dance, and stories, and include the Swedish tradition of Santa Lucia Day.

Performance Art

Shakespeare and Company in Lenox presents a special production of It’s a Wonderful Life, a live radio play, through December 29th! The performance is a funny and unique play-within-a-play that tells the classic Christmas Eve tale of It’s a Wonderful Life, complete with live radio commercials, sound effects, and more. This unique performance is a fun way to celebrate Christmas while learning how a classic radio production might have been produced before the time of television.

Parent Workshops

On Sunday evening, December 8th, join Dr. Jonathan Schwab (pediatrician) and Sharon Saline, Psy.D (clinical psychologist) for “When Worrying Takes Over: Managing Anxiety in Your Child or Teen,” a workshop for parents at Northampton Area Pediatrics.

On Monday evening, December 9th, parents of young children are invited to the Gorse Children’s Center in South Hadley for “Healthy Play: Toys and Activities in a Commercialized World.” This free workshop will help parents discover less commercial toys for their kids.

List of Weekly Suggested EventsFind out about these events and many other events & activities happening all next week in our List of Weekly Suggested Events. All of our listed events are “suggested.” Please take a moment to confirm that these events are happening as scheduled, along with time, place, age appropriateness and costs before heading out.

[Photo credit: (cc) Susy Morris]

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