39 Community Highlights: Victorian Christmas to Magic Dreidel. Gingerbread Houses to Folk Opera.

Making gingerbread houses are a great opportunity for families to spend time together in free, creative play- working together as a team and practicing culinary, math and architectural skills. This week there are four community gingerbread making events for families to choose from!

Victorian Christmas to Magic DreidelBeekeeping to Boreal Forest. Gingerbread Houses to Folk Opera… 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: Join the Berkshire Museum for the Festival of Trees Family Day on Saturday, December 13, 11am-5pm. There will be loads of fun activities for all ages, including Animals Up Close with Rick Roth of Creature Teachers ($), cookie decorating, a chance to see the Museum’s animals get fed, a performance by the Blafield Children’s Chorus, and a Winter Wonderland of Music and Song with with Kids4Harmony, the Pittsfield High School Jazz Ensemble, and Randy & Friends. Most events are free with museum admission. 413-443-7171. 39 South Street. Pittsfield, MA. ($)

HistoryBirds & BeesHanukkahCollaborative ConsumptionMYO GiftsArchitecture & Design/Gingerbread HousesCommunity ServiceMuseum AdventuresAnimal StudiesFolk OperaMusic StudiesFilm StudiesFeatured Playgroups  ♦ PreSchool Highlights

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North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens


You probably know the classic Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but did you know that it might have a hidden meaning? Learn about the song’s history and possible symbolism with Dr. Thomas Bernard at the Jones Library on Saturday December 13 from 2:30pm-3:30pm. Dr. Bernard will present, “The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Mystery and Meaning,” which will examine the song’s patterns and verses in order to show the story and meaning that hide within it. This program offers a fascinating look into a traditional Christmas tune that most people consider nonsensical. Learn about its potential hidden meaning and the logic behind the 12 verses. This program is free and open to the public. Call 413-259-3090 for more information. Jones Library – 43 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Learn about letterpress printing with Carl Darrow at Historic Deerfield on Saturday, December 13, 10:30am-4pm.  He will demonstrate printing on a small press and visitors will get handmade holiday cards to take home. Free with museum admission. 413-774-5581. 84B Old Main Street. Deerfield, MA. ($)

Learn about the Christmas traditions of Emily Dickinson’s family at the Emily Dickinson Museum’s Dickensian Christmas with the Dickinsons event on Saturday, December 13, 11am, 1pm, & 2pm . Explore the Homestead and the Evergreens and see traditional decorations, hear seasonal music, and see new objects on exhibit. At the end of the tour, hear Tony Abbott read from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Visitors will also receive a holiday token for attending this special tour. Reservations are recommended. 413-542-8161. 280 Main Street. Amherst, MA. ($$)

Discover what Christmas was like in the past with the Springfield Museums at this week’s Museums a la Carte lecture at the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday, December 18 at 12:15pm. Anne Barrett will present “Victorian Christmas Traditions,” in which she will dress up as “Victoria Yule,” a woman from 1895. “Victoria” will share and teach about Christmas traditions from the late 1800s at this event. She will tell about the gifts she and her family will be exchanging, her meal plans, and the history of Christmas trees and cards. Discover which of our current Christmas traditions are rooted in the Victorian era and which are more modern inventions at this entertaining and informative program. Older students can learn about history and how certain traditions have come about at this event. Call 800-625-7738 for more information. The Museum are located at 21 Edwards Street in Springfield, MA. (>$)

Birds & Bees

Have you ever wanted to try beekeeping, but weren’t sure where to start? Get a crash course on beekeeping with The Haberdashery at their free Bee School Info Session with Angela of Yard Birds Farm on Saturday, December 13 from 1pm-2:30pm. This event is an information session for Angela’s 7-week series all about beekeeping. The info session is an ideal place for older teens and adults to learn about honeybees, hive design, and how to get started beekeeping. Come eager to learn and discover the basics of beekeeping, and if you want to learn more, this is a great chance to learn more about the full course! Call The Haberdashery (52 Union Street, Easthampton, MA) at 413-527-1638 for more information

Help catalog and learn about our local bird species with the Hampshire Bird Club at their 81st Annual Northampton Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 14 from midnight to midnight. The CBC takes place in a 15-mile diameter, centered on the Hadley Cemetery on Cemetery Road, and is part of a larger citizen science effort by the National Audubon Society, who is holding their 115th Christmas Bird Count. Volunteers of all ages and experience levels are welcome to participate in the CBC – just email cbc@hampshirebirdclub.org for more info and to sign up. This is a neat opportunity for anyone interested in birds and in learning more about them – the CBC allows you to study birds in their natural habitats, and in turn, learn about their eating habits, ideal habitats, and more, which helps with species conservation. More information on this great volunteer opportunity can be found on the Hampshire Bird Club website.

Two more Western MA Christmas Bird Counts are north and central Berkshire. The central Berkshire count will take place on Sunday December 14. To participate contact count leaders Holly Higinbotham and Bob Wood  at 413-684-3724, higinbo@hotmail.com. The north Berkshire area count will take place on Saturday December 20, with the traditional “count-up” pot-luck dinner at 6:30pm at Sheep Hill, the headquarters of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation. For the north Berkshire area, contact Leslie Reed-Evans at 413-458-5150 or lre@wrlf.org. All ages are welcome to join in the counts.


Kick off Hanukkah this year with the Yiddish Book Center at their Hanukkah celebration on Sunday, December 14 at 1pm. Families can come enjoy a performance of The Magic Dreidel by the Grumbling Gryphons. This performance tells the story of Hanukkah using masks, music, storytelling, and audience participation, and features music by The Yiddishkeit Klezmer band. In addition to the performance, there will also be a reading by picture book author Martha Sief Simpson, who will read from her book, The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah. This event at the Yiddish Book Center is a great chance for families to engage in fun activities and learn the story of Hanukkah through stories and theater. Call 413-256-4900 for more information. The Yiddish Book Center is at 1021 West Street in Amherst, MA. ($)

Help light the largest menorah in Springfield with Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy in Court Square at this community Hanukkah celebration on Tuesday, December 16, 3pm! There will also be Hanukkah songs, latkes, and hot cocoa. 413-567-8665. Court Square, Downtown. Springfield, MA.

Kick off this year’s Hanukkah celebration at the Springfield Jewish Community Center’s First Light Community-wide Celebration on Tuesday, December 16, 5pm! There will be family-friendly activities like games, crafts, and music, followed by the lighting of the largest menorah in western Massachusetts at 6:15pm! This is a great way to celebrate Hanukkah with the community. 413-739-4715. 1160 Dickinson Street. Springfield, MA. (FREE)

Celebrate Hanukkah in the Westfield Athenaeum Courtyard (Court Street) with the mayor as he lights the menorah, and then attend a community Hanukkah party at the Amelia Park Children’s Museum (29 South Broad Street) on Tuesday, December 16, 6pm! This is a fun way to celebrate Hanukkah with family and community members. 413-562-2277. Westfield, MA.

Collaborative Consumption

The Northampton Department of Public Works is holding their Fourth Annual Toy Exchange at Smith Vocational High School on Saturday, December 13, 9am-12noon. The DPW is accepting donations of clean, gently used sports equipment, musical instruments, action figures/dolls, books, games, puzzles, stuffed animals, and MUCH more on December 12 and 13 from 8am-9am. Come to the exchange to find free gifts for the holidays – those who donate can come find some to take home on December 13 from 9am-10am, and the general public (those who did not donate) can come from 10am-12noon. 413-587-1570. 80 Locust Street. Northampton, MA. (FREE)

MYO Gifts

Join Aimee Gelinas of Tamarack Hollow Nature and Cultural Center for “Boreal Forest Winter Treasures: Balsam Fir Tree Seasonal Wild Crafting” on Saturday, December 13, 10am-1pm.  Learn how to make simple crafts like balsam balm and evergreen sachets with materials you can harvest yourself. These would make great holiday gifts! Email aimee@gaiaroots.com for more info. Windsor, MA.

The Montague Common Hall is holding a Make and Take Crafting Event on Saturday, December 13, 10am-3pm. Teachers will lead kids in making gifts for the holidays, like magnets, beeswax candles, spin art, juggling balls, snow globes, shrinky dink ornaments, and more. This is a great chance for kids to make unique, one-of-a-kind gifts for family and friends this holiday season. Food will also be available for purchase. 34 Main Street. Montague, MA. (FUNDRAISER)

Grow Food Amherst is hosting a Design Your Own Earrings workshop with Kalli of Sparke and Swing handmade jewelry on Sunday, December 14, 2pm-4pm. Come have fun making handmade gifts at this hands-on workshop – beads, stones, glass, and crystals will be provided, and you will learn how to make beautiful earrings. No experience necessary. This workshop takes place at All Things Local Cooperative Market. 413-259-3149. 104 North Pleasant Street. Amherst, MA. (>$ per pair)

Kids can craft their own toys at the Jones Library on Tuesday, December 16, 3:45pm-5pm! Come get creative and build your own toy at this hands-on activity. Registration is required. 413-259-3090. 43 Amity Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Kids of all ages can make their own holiday ornaments at the Lenox Library on Wednesday, December 17, 3:30pm-4:30pm. This is a fun chance for kids to make something that can decorate their home! 413-637-0197. 18 Main Street. Lenox, MA. (FREE)

Architecture & Design/Gingerbread Houses

The Carnegie Library is hosting a gingerbread party for all ages on Saturday, December 13, 10:30am. Come make gingerbread houses and have fun with family and friends at this hands-on holiday program. 413-863-3214. 201 Avenue A. Turners Falls, MA. (FREE)

Kids can come to Whole Foods Market in Hadley to decorate gingerbread houses on Saturday, December 13, 12noon-2pm! Have fun and get creative with this festive holiday project. 413-586-9932. 327 Russell Street. Hadley, MA. (FREE)

All ages can come decorate magnificent gingerbread houses at Stanton Hall on Saturday, December 13, 1:30pm. Come make buildings of Huntington, Massachusetts, the United States, or the world at this fun, hands-on event. 413-667-0085. Huntington, MA.

Celebrate the holidays and exercise your creativity at the Lenox Library’s 10th Annual Gingerbread House Competition and Silent Auction on Sunday, December 14, 1pm-3pm. This year’s theme is “Nutcracker Sweet Home” and there will be entries by chefs, groups, and individuals of all ages. Judges will award prizes in several categories, and each house will be auctioned off to benefit the library after the competition. To learn more about the competition and how to enter, please contact the library. If you plan on entering, please register by December 8. 413-637-2630. 18 Main Street. Lenox, MA. (FREE)

Community Service

Birthday Wishes, an organization that provides birthday parties for homeless children, is holding a Family Volunteer Event at their office in South Hadley on Saturday, December 13, 11am-12:15pm. Families can come tour the office, learn about the organization, sign up to volunteer, stuff goody bags, wrap gifts, sign cards, and attend a volunteer info session (parents and teens). Please bring an item to donate – small water bottles, blowers/noisemakers, party banners, sippy cups, or toddler gifts. This event can teach kids about homelessness and how they can make a difference in a homeless child’s life. Email meghan@birthdaywishes.org to RSVP or for more information. 866-388-9474 x7. 17 Dayton Street. South Hadley, MA. (FREE/DONATIONS ACCEPTED)

Museum Adventures

Join the Berkshire Museum for the Festival of Trees Family Day on Saturday, December 13, 11am-5pm. There will be loads of fun activities for all ages, including Animals Up Close with Rick Roth of Creature Teachers ($), cookie decorating, a chance to see the Museum’s animals get fed, a performance by the Blafield Children’s Chorus, and a Winter Wonderland of Music and Song with with Kids4Harmony, the Pittsfield High School Jazz Ensemble, and Randy & Friends. Most events are free with museum admission. 413-443-7171. 39 South Street. Pittsfield, MA. ($)

Animal Studies

Kids ages 6 and up can learn all about wild cats at the Westfield Athenaeum on Saturday, December 13, 2pm. Learn about wild cats big and small and how they survive in the wild. You can even see some up close at this program! Registration is required. 413-568-7833. 6 Elm Street. Westfield, MA.

Folk Opera

Local composer David Anderegg will present his folk opera, “The Beasts,” on Saturday, December 13, 4pm, at Old Parish Church in Sheffield. Based on the European tradition that animals can speak on Christmas Eve, this story includes a parrot, a goldfish, a wolf, a puppy, their owner Joseph and his girlfriend, and an angel. The choral work is performed by Quintessential, and proceeds benefit the Berkshire Humane Society, the Sheffield Food Program, and Breaking Bread Kitchen in Great Barrington. 125 South Main Street. Sheffield, MA. ($)

Music Studies

The Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will perform their Annual Family Holiday Concert at Deerfield Academy’s Hess Center for the Arts on Saturday, December 13, 7pm. There will be performances by the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Deerfield Choral Society, and the Pioneer Valley Symphony Youth Orchestra. They will perform holiday classics that everyone will enjoy! Tickets available in advance. 7 Boyden Lane. Deerfield, MA. ($$)

Join the Holyoke Public Library for their 3rd annual Mambo on Main Street on Saturday, December 13, 7pm. This Latin big band holiday concert features performances by Creación Big Band, Charlie Berrios, Casey Ortiz, Orlanda Zayas, and Richard Zayas. Concert takes place at the Holyoke War Memorial. 413-420-8101. 310 Appleton Street. Holyoke, MA. ($)

Film Studies

As part of their Fast Forward Film Series, Historic Northampton presents, “The Message in Light,” featuring films by two local filmmakers on Sunday, December 14, 3pm. Hampshire College Professor Abraham Ravett’s film, Joyas Voladoras (Flying Jewels), was inspired by a still photograph and tells the story of the photograph. The other film, by Holyoke Community College Professor Justin West is about the physics of light and light in art and science. Older students interested in film will enjoy this event. 413-584-6011. 46 Bridge Street. Northampton, MA. (FREE)

Film fans of all ages can join Red Gate Farm’s Film Club on Tuesday, December 16, 5:30pm-8pm. Come watch, discuss, analyze, and make films with other film-loving community members of all ages. Call to sign up. 413-625-9503. 4 Norman Road. Buckland, MA. (FREE)

Five Featured Playgroups

  1. MONDAY: Children ages 8 and under can attend a playgroup at the Meekins Library on Monday, December 15, 10am. Enjoy stories, games, crafts, and more at this fun playgroup. 413-268-7472. 2 Williams Street. Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)
  2. TUESDAY: The Amherst Family Center is open every Tuesday from 9am-12noon. Drop in for playgroups and activities for young children (ages 0-5) and caregivers. 413-256-1145. 1200 North Pleasant Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)
  3. WEDNESDAY: There are playgroups at the Cummington Family Center every Wednesday from 9:30-11:30am. The playgroups are parent-run, which means that the first parent to arrive can set up toys and make coffee/tea. 33 Main Street. Cummington, MA. (FREE)
  4. THURSDAY: The Gateway Family Center  offers a drop-in “Baby Steps” program for infants 0-1 years, as well as their siblings and caregivers. Runs every Thursday. 413-667-2203 x3. 9 Russell Road. Huntington, MA.
  5. FRIDAY: Parents/caregivers and young children can attend an art and nature playgroup at the CHP Campus, held by South Berkshire Kids. Runs every Friday from 10:30-11:30am. 413-464-5095. 442 Stockbridge Road. Great Barrington, MA. (FREE)

Preschool Highlights

Kids ages 3-6 and their families are invited to Great Falls Discovery Center for their Winter Preschool Series on Saturday, December 13, 10:30am-11:30am. Enjoy stories, crafts, and nature-related activities. Kids will learn about different types of animals each meeting. 413-863-3221. 2 Avenue A. Turners Falls, MA.

The Gaylord Memorial Library is offering a new science and nature series for kids ages 2-5 – “Float Your Boat.” Come learn all about the seasons on Saturday, December 13, 11am. Registration is required. 413-538-5047. 47 College Street. South Hadley, MA. (FREE)

Young kids ages 6 and under can come to a Super Fly Dance Jam Music Party for Children at the Artsblock. Kids can play musical instruments, dance, yoga, and more on Saturday, December 13, 1pm. 413-774-0150. Greenfield, MA. (>$)

Amherst Cinema is screening The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992; rated G) on Tuesday, December 16, 7pm. This fun movie is a retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. All ages will love the muppets’ entertaining take on this Christmas story! 413-253-2547. 28 Amity Street. Amherst, MA. ($)

Kids ages 3-5 are invited to the Westfield Athenaeum for a Holiday Tea on Tuesday, December 16, 9:30am, where there will be stories, songs, apple juice tea, and a snack. This is a fun way for kids to spend time together and get in the holiday spirit. Please register in advance. 413-562-6158 x5. 6 Elm Street. Westfield, MA. (FREE)

Meet Toto the Tornado Kitten and hear her story at the Forbes Library‘s on Friday, December 19, 3:30pm. Toto survived the 2011 tornado in western Massachusetts and was found by Jonathan Hall, who then wrote two books about Toto. Hall will read at the library at this event. 413-587-1010. 20 West Street. Northampton, MA. (FREE)

[Photo credit: cc Crazy House Capers]

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Amherst, Ashfield, Bernardston, Charlemont/Hawley, Chesterfield, Conway, Heath, Leyden, Montague, Montgomery, South Hadley and Shutesbury Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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