40 Community Highlights: Gingerbread Houses to Latkes. Hanukkah to Holiday Strolls.

Gingerbread houses first appeared in Germany in the early 1800s, perhaps inspired by the edible house in Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” Even today they are part of our end of the year holiday traditions. Building a gingerbread house is a fantastic way to include creative folks of all ages in creating a delicious, well-engineered work of art, along with skills in architectural design, engineering, communication, and collaboration. Check out the community-based opportunities happening this week!

Gingerbread Houses to Latkes. Kwanzaa to Hanukkah. Holiday Strolls to MYO Gifts… These are just a few of the community-based 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 community highlights this week:  Celebrate the holidays at Storrowton Village’s Yuletide: Saturday, December 5, 11am-4pm & Sunday, December 6, 11am-4pm! This winter festival brings the community together with traditional Yuletide activities, shopping, and entertainment. There will be traditional music, storytelling, craft demonstrations, ice sculpting, a Sweet Shoppe, kids’ crafts, Santa, and more. 413-205-5051. 1305 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, MA. (FREE)

Family Volunteer DaySTEMHoliday StrollsSpellingMYO GiftsFood TraditionsBook ArtsPastry ArtsArchitectureColonial HistoryCollaborative ConsumptionFood SwapGuided WalksKwanzaaHanukkahChoral Music

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Service-Based Learning

Saturday, December 5, 9-11am
Volunteering together as a family encourages quality time, increases communication, and provides opportunities for family members to be role models. In partnership with Hilltown Families, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts invites families to attend a Family Volunteer Day on Saturday, December 5, 9-11am, to help sort food, take part in educational activities, and learn how to take action to help fight hunger. This month’s theme is “Holidays.” Families may stay for all or some of the event. Space is limited, and pre-registration is required. 413-247-9738 x135. 97 North Hatfield Road, Hatfield, MA.Sponsored by Hilltown Tree & Garden

Tuesday, December 8, 6pm
Did you know that volunteering your time makes you feel as though you have more of it? Volunteering also builds empathy and strengthens social bonds. Help your neighbors in need put food on the table during the holiday season and beyond by sorting donations at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. This orientation will show you how. For ages 16 and up. Registration required. 413-247-9738. 97 North Hatfield Road, Hatfield, MA. (FREE)


Saturday, December 5, 9am-1pm
Learn about food through applied science and technology at Elms College‘s STEM Day. Choose from workshops in biotechnology, chemistry, computer programming, macromolecules, mathematical modeling, and physiology. Suitable for high school and college students. Includes lunch and campus tours. Pre-registration required. 413-594-2761. Center for Natural and Health Science, 291 Springfield Street, Chicopee, MA. (FREE)

Saturday, December 5, 2pm-3:30pm
Do you have (or know) a child who loves to tinker and create? Check out the ARPS-Jones Library Makerspace, where kids can try out robotics kits, 3D printing, littleBits circuitry components, die-cut shape makers, LEGOs, and an assortment of craft supplies. An adult facilitator will be present to help participants explore new materials, but the session is, by design, very open-ended, and everyone is welcome to pursue her/his own interests and ideas! Intended for ages 8-13. Pre-registration requested. 413-259-3090. 43 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Monday, December 7, 5:30pm-6:30pm
Young children are drawn to electronics. Did you know they can learn to express themselves creatively on devices with ScratchJr, a coding app that allows them to program their own stories and games? This workshop, offered by Holyoke Codes, will show them how to solve problems and design projects, while expressing themselves creatively. For ages 5-7. 100 Bigelow Street, Holyoke, MA. (FREE)

Monday, December 7, 6pm
What is light? How do we see color? What is a “light-emitting diode,” and how do we make one? Evelyn L. Hu, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering at Harvard University, will answer these questions and any others you have at SciTech Cafe‘s “Better than Edison: Bringing Light to the World through LEDs.” Open to all but particularly suited to life-long learners and self-directed teens. Union Station Banquets, 125 Pleasant Street, #A, Northampton, MA (FREE-WILL DONATION)

Holiday Strolls

Saturday, December 5, 9:30am-6pm
Williamstown‘s 32nd annual Holiday Walk will include seasonal fun for all ages! The Run with the Reindeer Fun Run begins at 9:30am, and the Reindog Parade gets going at 3pm. Throughout the day, adults and kids can make holiday crafts, taste samples in a chili and soup cook-off, decorate gingerbread cookies, and watch an ice carving demonstration. Spring Street will be a festive place to stroll with music, hot chocolate, and cookies at every turn, and those who are present at the end of the day will be treated to a reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, followed by the lighting of the town’s holiday trees! 515-708-1413. Downtown Williamstown, MA. (FREE)

Saturday, December 5, 11am-7pm
Celebrate the season with the “Lenox Holiday Stroll, sponsored by the Lenox Chamber of Commerce. Do some shopping while entertained by caroling from the Cantilena Chamber Choir and students from Lenox High School, Berkshire Country Day School, Berkshire Christian School, and Berkshire Montessori School. Enjoy performances by Shakespeare & Co. and WAM (Women Action Media). Make memories in the “Fabulously Fun Photo Booth.” 413-637-3646. Downtown Lenox, MA. (FREE)

Friday, December 11, 3pm-10pm
Turners Falls RiverCulture presents “It’s a Wonderful Night in Turners Falls.” Participate in family activities, including crafts, live music, and performances, while enjoying dining specials and eclectic shopping. Adults and kids alike are invited to write wishes for themselves or others and place them in the Magic Mailbox, to be collected by Santa when he arrives at Spinner Park at 6:30pm. 413-835-1390. Various locations, Turners Falls, MA.


Saturday, December 5, 10am
As part of its Family Film Series, the Amherst Cinema presents Akeelah and the Bee (PG, 2006), the inspiring story of an eleven-year-old girl from south Los Angeles who has a way with words. Despite her mother’s objections, but with the support of her tutor, principal, and neighbors, she pursues her dream of competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. 413-253-2547. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. (<$)

MYO Gifts

Saturday, December 5, 10am-12pm
Handmade gifts come from the heart and allow children to share pieces of themselves with those they love. Children can make up to three nature-oriented gifts — including panpipes, leaf pendants, and gourd birdhouses — at the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. Recycled wrapping materials provided. Caregiver supervision and guidance expected. Registration required. 413-584-3009. 127 Combs Road, Easthampton, MA. ($)

Saturday, December 5, 11am-1pm
When your tea or coffee is gone, what do you do with the empty box or cup sleeve? Join Local Artisan Candace Bradbury-Carlin for “Coffee, Tea, and Bookmaking” at the Pelham Library, and learn how to make blank books from these cast-offs. Someone on your holiday list would certainly appreciate one! Space is limited so please sign up at the desk. 413-253-0657. 2 South Valley Road, Pelham, MA. (FREE) [POSTPONED]

Saturday, December 5, 10am-3pm
At the Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School‘s Winter Fair, kids can make gifts for the special people in their lives. The school’s chorus will perform. Also, Scholastic books and yummy, homemade treats will be for sale. 413-529-7178. 1 Industrial Parkway, Easthampton, MA. (FREE; >$)

Sunday, December 6, 10:30am-12:30pm
Let it snow! Enjoy open-ended, creative activities focusing on snow at “The Family Snowflake Workshop” at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Learn about the science of snow and make snowflake-themed artwork and gifts. Ages 6 and up; up to two children per adult. 413-658-1126. 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, MA. ($$)

Friday, December 11, 3pm-6pm
Help our feathered friends survive the winter by making bird feeders at the Great Falls Discovery Center. Which ones like sunflower seeds? Which prefer thistle seed? And who likes those little round millet seeds? All good questions to ask while you create. Part of “It’s a Wonderful Night in Turners Falls” — a town-wide RiverCulture event. All ages welcome. 413-863-3221. Great Hall, 2 Avenue A, Turners Falls, MA. (FREE)

Food Traditions

Saturday, December 5, 10am-4pm
Family recipes, or “receipts,” as they were called in earlier times, document culinary memories and play an important role in holiday celebrations. Learn some recipes from the past through demonstrations by Historic Deerfield‘s Open Hearth Cooks and Dede Wilson, the founder of Bakepedia: The Baker’s Resource during Heritage Baking Day. Visitors can also see entries in the King Arthur Flour Heritage Recipe Baking Contest from 12pm-2pm. 413-774-5581. 84B Old Main Street, Deerfield, MA. (FREE Members and Deerfield Residents, $ Non-members)

Sunday, December 6, 1pm-3pm
What’s your favorite Hanukkah treat? Perhaps you’ll find that and some new taste sensations at “A Taste of Hanukkah” at the River Valley Market. Enjoy live music by the Yiddishkeit Klezmer Ensemble. Klezmer music originated in Jewish villages in Eastern Europe centuries ago and was meant to emulate the voice and music of the cantor in the synagogue. 413-584-2665. 330 North King Street, Northampton, MA. (FREE)


Saturday, December 5, 10am-5pm
What goes into making a book? After the writing, there’s illustrating, printing, binding, and more. Learn about these processes and browse books both old and new at the Northampton Book and Book Arts Fair. This celebration of the book includes exhibitions, sales, demonstrations, book signings, lectures, and much more. Exhibitors are some of the best antiquarian booksellers and respected book artists, including engravers, book designers, bookbinders, paper makers, paper marblers, and fine letterpress publishers from Western Massachusetts and beyond. 413-588-8011. Smith College Student Center, 100 Elm Street (Route 9), Northampton, MA. (FREE)

Saturday, December 5, 12:30pm
Hervé Tullet’s Press Here is a simply stunning children’s book that invites readers to interact with each page from start to finish. Meet the author and get your favorite Tullet book signed during his visit to the Eric Carle Museum from his home in Paris. 413-658-1100. 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, MA. (FREE with museum admission)

Saturday, December 5, 1pm-5pm
Enjoy food, drink, readings, a book sale, and art at Collective Copies‘ Holiday Open House. Taste Equal Exchange coffee and chocolate and other co-op produced treats. At 1pm, Steve Strimer of Levellers Press will talk about making books. Give scratch foam, a simple printmaking technique, a try from 1pm-2pm. All Levellers Press books 25% off. 413-256-6425. 71 South Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Thursday, December 10, 4pm-5:30pm
Jan Brett’s The Mitten, is a Ukrainian folktale about a boy’s lost mitten and the woodland animals that take shelter in it. Enjoy this classic book, and two other versions of the same tale, then color and fill your own mitten, at the Meekins Library. 413-268-7472. 2 Williams Street (Route 9), Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)

Pastry Arts/Architecture

Saturday, December 5, 10:30am
Gingerbread houses first appeared in Germany in the early 1800s, perhaps inspired by the edible house in Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” Kids can build their own fairy tale abodes out of graham crackers, white icing, assorted candy, and a milk carton base at the Westhampton Public Library. Please bring a bag of candy for decorating and sharing; all other supplies provided. Sign up in advance. 413-527-5386. 1 North Road, Westhampton, MA. (FREE)

Saturday, December 5, 1:15pm-2:30pm
Also happening at the Mason Library from . Ages 6 and up (with caregiver help as needed). All supplies included. 413-528-2403. 231 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA, (FREE)

Saturday, December 5, 1pm-4pm
What candy would you use to make realistic foliage for a gingerbread house yard? What could you do with a Lifesaver? Watch as teams of four compete to build the best gingerbread house at Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity‘s Fourth Annual Gingerbread Build at Eastworks. See if you can guess who will win judges’ awards such as “Best Use of the Color Green,” “Most Resembling a Sea Creature,” and “Most Resembling a Famous Landmark.” Intergenerational fun! Raffle for local prizes drawn at 3:30. 413-586-5430. 116 Pleasant Street, Easthampton, MA. (FREE)

Tuesday, December 8, 6pm-7pm
The first recorded instance of gingerbread shaped like human figures is from the 16th century, when Queen Elizabeth I of England had likenesses of some of her esteemed guests made from biscuits. Whom will your gingerbread cookie look like? Come to the Sunderland Public Library to decorate pre-made gingerbread figures. Advance sign-up requested. 413-665 2642. 20 School Street, Sunderland, MA. (FREE)

  • See the ultimate gingerbread house be made… at the White House! Watch professional pastry artists collaborate and combine their enthusiasm in art, architecture, food and history:

Colonial History

Saturday, December 5, 11am-4pm
Sunday, December 6, 11am-4pm
Celebrate the holidays at Storrowton Village’s Yuletide! This winter festival brings the community together with traditional Yuletide activities, shopping, and entertainment. There will be traditional music, storytelling, craft demonstrations, ice sculpting, a Sweet Shoppe, kids’ crafts, Santa, and more. 413-205-5051. 1305 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, MA. (FREE)

Wednesday, December 9, 6pm-8pm
What was Christmas like before electricity? Find out during “Yuletide by Lantern Light” at historic Storrowton Village. Guests can tour the buildings and watch live 19th-century demonstrations of fireplace cooking in the Gilbert Farmstead and blacksmithing in the stone Blacksmith Shop, all by the light of lanterns and candles. The Village will be adorned with festive décor by several area garden clubs, florists, and designers who have donated their time, expertise, and materials to create a winter wonderland. 413-205-5051. 1305 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, MA. (<$)

Collaborative Consumption

Saturday, December 5, 1pm
A food swap is a recurring event where members of a community share homemade, homegrown, or foraged foods with each other. Food swaps act as barter markets or gift economies: direct exchanges are made by bartering one’s goods for another’s, and no money is involved. Experience this alternative marketplace with Valley Food Swap at The Bower Studio in Pelham. Bring your jams, baked goods, ferments, root veggies, vinegars, and other homemade or homegrown foods to swap with your neighbors. Perhaps you can swap for some holiday gifts! Please RSVP. 378 Daniel Shays Highway, Pelham, MA. (FREE, with items to swap)

Guided Walks

Saturday, December 5, 1pm-2pm
What tales can the Connecticut River and Turners Falls Power Canal tell? Join an interpreter at the Great Falls Discovery Center to find out. During the “River Rambles — Canalside Rail Trail Walk” you’ll leisurely explore level, paved bike trails and village sidewalks while listening to stories of industrialization, cultural and natural history, and resilience. Meet outside the main entrance. 413-863-3221. 2 Avenue A, Turners Falls, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, December 6, 1pm-3pm
Skip the shopping malls and head for the woods to find some serenity this hectic season. Instead of searching for deals, turn over a rock to see who might be sheltering underneath. Pause the holiday music and listen for bird calls. Naturalist Charley Eiseman will lead this walk and talk sponsored by the Kestrel Land Trust. RSVP by 5pm Friday, December 4, to learn the meeting location. Hot refreshments provided afterward. Rain/snow date: December 13. 413-549-1097. Belchertown, MA. (FREE)


Tuesday, December 8, 5:30pm-8pm
In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga created a new cultural holiday, Kwanzaa, based on traditional African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Organized around seven principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith), Kwanzaa aims to preserve, continually revitalize, and promote African American culture. The Malcolm X Cultural Center at UMass invites everyone to its annual community Kwanzaa Celebration to engage in celebration and reflection. 413-545-3042. UMass Student Union Ballroom, Amherst, MA. (FREE)


Sunday, December 6, 10am-4pm
Learn Yiddish holiday songs, hear readings of holiday-themed children’s books, make a seasonal craft, and go on a scavenger hunt exploration at the Yiddish Book Center‘s annual Hanukkah celebration. This fun day of Hanukkah-themed activities has something for visitors of all ages and faiths. 413-256-4900. 1021 West Street, Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, December 6, 3pm-5:30pm
The miracle of Hanukkah is that one vial of oil, enough for only one night, lit the menorah for eight. Start the Festival of Lights at the Springfield Jewish Community Center‘s First Light Community-wide Celebration. Play the eight games of Hanukkah, enjoy music and latkes, then go outside for the lighting of the largest menorah in Western Mass. 413-739-4715 x322. 1160 Dickinson Street, Springfield, MA. (FREE)

Monday, December 7, 2pm
Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight-day celebration which begins this year on Sunday, December 6th and ends Monday, December 14th. Join with other community members in a celebration of Hanukkah sponsored by West Springfield Park & Recreation. 413-263-3284. Elm Street Common, Elm Street, West Springfield, MA. (FREE)

Thursday, December 10, 6:30pm
The Deerfield Arts Bank invites the community to bring their menorahs and candles for an evening of lighting candles together on the 5th night of Hanukkah (they’ll have lots of extra menorahs too). All are invited to this interfaith gathering. Rabbi Ben Weiner, a Deerfield resident, will officiate and explain Hanukkah traditions and history. There will be singing and playing dreidel. 413-665-0123. 413-768-8917. Deerfield Arts Bank 3 Sugarloaf Street, South Deerfield, MA (FREE)

Choral Music

Saturday, December 5, 7pm
The Hilltown Choral Society presents its Christmas Concert, directed by Jeffrey Hunt, with accompanist Amy Renak and the Hilltown Ensemble, at the Berkshire First Church of the Nazarene. This intergenerational chorus, in its 59th year, includes singers from Northampton west to the New York State line. Fragrance-free. Dalton, MA. ($)

Sunday, December 6, 3pm
The Cantilena Chamber Choir presents “Christmas at Trinity,” with music of Bach and Anderegg and your favorite carols. This a cappella choir has received the prestigious Choral Arts New England’s Alfred Nash Patterson award twice. Featuring The Berkshire Children’s Chorus. 518-791-0185. Trinity Church, 88 Walker Street, Lenox, MA. ($$)

Sunday, December 6, 4pm
The Hilltown Choral Society presents its Christmas Concert, directed by Jeffrey Hunt, with accompanist Amy Renak and the Hilltown Ensemble, at the Village Church. This intergenerational chorus, in its 59th year, includes singers from Northampton west to the New York State line. Fragrance-free. Cummington, MA. ($)

Sunday, December 6, 4pm & 7:30pm
The Amherst Choral Society will perform at a “Festival of Lessons and Carols,” the annual vespers concert at Johnson Chapel. Members of the Amherst College community will do readings interspersed with the songs. 413-542-2195. Amherst College, Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Wednesday, December 9, 6:30pm
The Northampton Community Music Center invites you to its 13th annual Holiday Choral Festival, featuring performances by Rock Voices, Luna, the Northamptones, High Definition, the Ku’umba Women’s Choir, the Hartsbrook Choir, and the Hilltown Cooperative Charter School Chorus. Proceeds benefit the NCMC’s scholarship fund. 413-585-0001. Helen Hills Chapel, 123 Elm Street, Northampton, MA. ($ SUGGESTED DONATION)

[Photo credit: (cc) Carrie Stephens]

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Buckland, Colrain, Cummington, Deerfield, Hadley, Longmeadow, Montgomery, New Salem, Plainfield, Shelburne, Sunderland, Westhampton, and Worthington Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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