28 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Holiday Lights to Wreath Making. Theater to Singing.

Have you ever thought about why we decorate our Christmas trees with strands of light? Ever think about the origin of this tradition? Find out about the history of Christmas lights, then take in a community tree lighting ceremony and a drive through Forest Park in Springfield or Look Park in Florence for contemporary displays of holiday lights.

Tree Lighting to Wreaths. Consumerism to Holiday Strolls. Pastry Arts to A Christmas Carol. 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:

As the temperature drops and the skies become increasingly more grey, towns across Western Massachusetts are beginning to look more and more festive by the minute!  Leafless trees now don coats of twinkling lights, streetlights are wrapped cozily in strands of deep green garland, and bright red bows decorate wreaths – welcoming both visitors and the holiday season.  Celebrate the holiday season this year by bringing your family to one of the many holiday strolls that happen this month! your family’s holiday season this weekend by visiting one of the holiday strolls being offered!

Literary Adaptation ♦  Singing ♦  Gingerbread Houses ♦  Breakfast with SantaPlacemaking ♦  ConsumerismRadio TheaterPastry Arts  ♦ Gift SwapHoliday StrollsLiving HistoryTransportationCarolingLocomotionWreathsCommunity MealCraftsTree Lighting

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Literary Adaptation

Learn about the origin of Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas, commonly known as A Christmas Carol, then take in a literary adaptation this holiday season.

A big part of the holiday traditions centers around the stories we tell- from traditional religious tales, to classic movies, to books and plays. The Silverthorne Theater Company’s rendition of A Christmas Carol will be performed as a 1930s live radio broadcast, by six actors with standing microphones voicing multiple characters – 31 in all. Learn about the early days of sound production and broadcasting through this family-friendly performance at several locations (<$; children 9 and under FREE):

  • Friday, December 9, 7pm: The Arts Block. 413-774-0150. 289 Main Street. Greenfield, MA.
  • Saturday, December 10, 7pm: The Centennial House. 94 Main Street. Northfield , MA.
  • Sunday, December 11, 4pm: The Deerfield Inn. 81 Old Main Street. Deerfield , MA.


The holiday season offer a number of opportunities for community members to come together in song. “Tania de Jong AM makes the case that people singing together can change the brain. Pushing the idea that creativity is the strategic tool of the 21st century, she says how our voices have been silenced and that it’s not doing us any good. She explains how singing is a survival mechanism, how it makes our hearts beat together and can help heal strokes and depression.” – TEDx Talks

Saturday, December 3, 10:30am-12pm
Christmas music lovers are invited to the Berkshire Athenaeum for a free performance of holiday and winter themed music performed by the Berkshire Music School. Singing along is encouraged! No registration required. 413-499-9480. 1 Wendell Avenue. Pittsfield, MA. (FREE)

Saturday, December 3, 7:30pm; Sunday, December 4, 4pm
Do you enjoy hymns and Christmas music? Come be a part of the Hilltown Choral Society’s Christmas Concert as the group celebrates their 60th year! The Choral Society will be singing under the direction of Jeffrey Hunt, at the First Congregational Church of Williamsburg. You have two chances to see them, on December 3 and December 4. 413-268-7557. 4 North Main Street. Williamsburg, MA. (DONATION)

Sunday, December 4, 4pm and 7:30pm
The holiday season is never complete without singing! This year, the annual Amherst College celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Christmas Vespers. Families are invited to participate in lessons and carols, culminating in traditional carols and the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah to be performed with the congregation, the community, and various choral groups from Amherst College. The event will take place in Johnson Chapel. 413-542-5000. Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Thursday, December 8, 6:30pm-8:30pm
There is a rich, musical community in the pioneer valley including choral groups of all ages and ability levels. You can hear eight local choral groups perform at the 14th annual holiday choral festival at Helen Hills Hills Chapel on Smith college campus. The event brings choirs from schools as well as the larger community. Proceeds to benefit the Northampton Community Music Center’s scholarship fund. 123 Elms Street. Northampton, MA. (DONATION)

Pastry Arts

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. Learn how to make gingerbread houses at home and then make plans to check out the community-based opportunities happening this week!

Saturday, December 3, 1-4pm
Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity hosts the fifth annual Gingerbread Build  at the Eastworks Building in Easthampton. Join them for a family-friendly afternoon filled with frosting and fun! Gingerbread and icing will be provided — bring any decorations you want to build your inspired creation to be entered into one of their whimsical prize categories! Raise funds online and register your team of up to four by making a minimum donation of $100. For more information or questions about registration, call 413-586-5430 or email mariah@pvhabitat.org. Help to provide decent, affordable homes for qualified families in the Pioneer Valley. Easthampton, MA. ($$)

Wednesday, December 7, 5pm-6pm
Gingerbread house decorating is a fun activity for people of all ages. This gingerbread house event is just for teens! Bring your teen to the Sunderland Public Library for this creative craft. Graham crackers and candy will be provided. 413-665-2642. 20 School Street. Sunderland, MA. (FREE)

Wednesday, December 7, 5pm-7pm; Friday, December 9, 5pm-7pm
Gingerbread houses combine two festive, kid-friendly things: candy and crafts! Bring your kids to Atkins Farms County Market to decorate a miniature or small gingerbread house. All supplies will be included in the price. A limit of two children can work on a single gingerbread house. Space is limited. No registration is necessary. First come, first served. 413-253-9528. 1150 West Street. Amherst, MA. ($ – $$)

Saturday, December 17, 10:30am-11:30am
S.T.E.A.M. refers to the important subjects of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. STEAM programs encourage an interest in both creativity and scientific topics, bringing together kids with an interest in either or both. This STEAM craft program at the Meekins Library will combine scientific learning with the craft of designing a miniature gingerbread house. 413-268-7472. 2 Williams Street. Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)

Community Meal

Throughout history, community has been built through the sharing of food. Shared throughout the world as a universal human need, food provides a common thread through which all people can be woven together. Community meals offer much to families in terms of learning opportunities, supporting intergenerational engagement, storytelling and establishing a shared history. An additional benefit of community meals is that the theme of food serves as a common interest for all those involved, providing a foundation upon which for further connections to be built. During the holiday season, breakfast with Santa brings community together over pancakes and a cup of joe! Here are a couple of upcoming events that include community breakfasts, opportunities to dine with friends and neighbors, across generations, bridging connections…

Saturday, December 3, 8:30am and 10:30am
Community meals are great intergenerational opportunities to sit down with neighbors of all ages, making connections and nurturing relationships across the generations. Participating in a community pancake breakfast does more than fill your belly… it strengthens the social fabric of community by developing a sense of place in our children! Westfield State University’s 33rd annual Breakfast With Santa event combines a community meal with entertainment, giving, and pictures with Santa! Connect with your community while engaging in cultural traditions, and supporting local charities! The event will be held in Scanlon Banquet Hall. 413-572-5300. 577 Western Avenue. Westfield, MA. (<$)

Sunday, December 4, 8am-11:30am
Bring your kids to breakfast with Santa! Breakfast will include pancakes, eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, coffee, juice and more. Join Santa and other families at the Berkshire Lodge of Masons. 63 Center Street. Adams, MA. (<$)


As the temperature drops and the skies become increasingly more grey, towns across Western Massachusetts are beginning to look more and more festive by the minute!  Leafless trees now don coats of twinkling lights, streetlights are wrapped cozily in strands of deep green garland, and bright red bows decorate wreaths – welcoming both visitors and the holiday season.  Celebrate the holiday season this year by bringing your family to one of the many holiday strolls that happen this month! your family’s holiday season this weekend by visiting one of the holiday strolls being offered!

Saturday, December 3, 9am-7pm
The 32nd Annual Williamstown Holiday Walk offers families opportunities to learn, engage in crafts, get some exercise, socialize, shop, listen to local music, and more. The community tag sale offers an alternative, collaborative gift buying opportunity. There will be carols and community meals, with the event culminating in the evening tree lighting ceremony. Visit the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce website for a full schedule of events. Downtown. Williamstown, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, December 4, 6pm-9pm
Want to give back to your community this year? Visit Millside Park for the 4th Annual Easthampton Holiday Whobalation! Participants are asked to bring a new, unwrapped to to be donated. Toys will be distributed to low income families in the Pioneer Valley by the Easthampton Community Center. There will be live music, caroling, and free hot chocolate. 2 Ferry Street. Easthampton, MA. (DONATION)

Friday, December 9, 3-9pm
RiverCulture presents “It’s A Wonderful Night in Turners Falls.” Holiday activities for the whole family are planned throughout downtown: art exhibitions, live music, restaurant specials, performances and unique gift buying opportunities. Learn how to build a bird feeder, create a holiday card for an elder in your community, join your neighbors for the annual lighting of the town evergreen, and shop local for the holidays! 413-835-1390. Turners Falls, MA (FREE)

Friday, December 9, 5pm-8pm
Don’t let the cold keep you inside! Explore downtown Northampton with friends and neighbors for the Holiday Stroll. Downtown streets will be closed to vehicular traffic from the Academy of Music down to Strong Avenue (Local burger) to make way for visitors. Programming will include live music, face painting, hot chocolate, food, crafts, a fire pit, and sleigh rides! Main Street. Northampton, MA. (MARKET/SALE)


Saturday, December 3, 10am-1pm
Rather than buying new or frivolous items this holiday season, consider swapping while connecting with your neighbors and friends! The 10th annual Hill Town Hob Nob will be held at the Village Church.  Come hob nob with your neighbors at this community holiday gift re-exchange. It can even help you clean out your closets and save money. Come with gift quality items that you already have but do not need, are not using, or just plain don’t want. Books, toys, games, music, art gadgets, clothing, etc. are welcome. They don’t have to perfect or in a box, you just have to know that they could make a great gift for someone else. They will be displayed for others to choose as a gift that they would like to give for the holidays. And of course, while you are there, pick out anything that you might like to give as a gift. All items are given and taken freely. Please feel welcome to bring a small plate of goodies to share if you like. Hot cider and good company will be served.  If you have any questions or want to leave items for re-giving in advance email thestormcrows@yahoo.com to make arrangements. Main St. Cummington, MA (FREE)

Allowing for lots of creative free play and gift-giving that comes from the heart, handmade gifts get at the heart of the season! Families can engage in DIY projects at home, attend upcoming workshops, or utilize resources offered by local arts organizations to craft handmade gifts with love. Read more in our post, DIY Holiday Gifts Promote Creative Free Play and Non-Commercial Holiday Celebrations.

Living History

Saturday, December 3, 11am-4pm
“Yuletide” at Storrowton Village Museum offers families a chance to celebrate the winter season and holidays with activities, entertainment and shopping in the historic Village. Gather inspiration from the village’s decorations. There will be lectures and live music. Demonstrations will provide the opportunity to learn about blacksmithing, ice sculpting, and 19th century crafts. 413-205-5051. 1305 Memorial Avenue. West Springfield, MA. (<$; children under six FREE)

Some of our holiday traditions today are a result of folklore and myth.  For example, the contemporary Christmas tree has an interesting past with a story and history that has been passed down from generation to generation.  From its original form with the ancient Norse pagans to its present day form in the houses of those who celebrate Christmas, the Christmas tree, like many folktales, has changed shape and meaning as it has been adapted to new cultures, people and places.

Saturday, December 3, 1pm-4pm and 6pm-8pm
Add a dose of history to your holiday celebrating! The historic William Cullen Bryant Homestead will be decorated for an old-fashioned hilltown Christmas celebration, complete with carolers in the parlor, a lighting of the Christmas tree, holiday treats, and an artisan gift shop. Christmas themed celebrations will take place December 3 and 4, and December 10 and 11. For information call The Trustees at 413-628-4485 x3 or email acaluori@thetrustees.org.. 207 Bryant Road. Cummington, MA. (Members <$; Non members $; Children FREE)

Friday, December 9, 3pm-9pm
Celebrate Christmas this year with food, community, music, and historical learning at Old Sturbridge Village. Christmas By Candlelight will include lots of New England holiday traditions such as festive foods, sleigh rides, a bonfire, storytelling, and strolls around the decorated Village Common. Kids can participate in a holiday craft workshop and everyone can gather for the tree lighting. 800-733-1830. 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road. Sturbridge, MA. (Adults $$; ages 4-12 $; 3 and under FREE)


Have you ever wondered why some families place model trains under their Christmas tree? Where did this holiday tradition come from? Does your family have a holiday tradition that you could share with friends and neighbors. Take  a field trip to the Sheburne Falls Trolley Museum to see model trains in action, visit the Pioneer Valley Hobbies in West Springfield to discover a hobby that can support interests and education, and mark your calendars for the Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show in January! Then head out to holiday events at train museums this holiday season.

Saturday, December 3, 3pm, 5pm and 7pm
This holiday season you can ride the brand new Christmas themed train ride, The Tinseler. This one hour trip from Berkshire Scenic Railway will emulate Christmas in 1955 – the year the railway’s Budd Rail Diesel Car was built. Celebrate the holiday season with family fun and some historical learning. 10 Willow Creek Road. Lenox, MA. (Adult $; child under 4 FREE)

Saturday, December 3, 5pm-9pm; Sunday, December 4, 5pm-9pm; Friday, December 9, 5pm-9pm
Kick off the holiday season with a ride at the Connecticut Trolley Museum! This winter, the museum will feature a “Tunnel of Lights,” Christmas themed ride. You can choose to ride in a closed car the “electric sleigh.” There will be traditional Christmas carols and a Winter Wonderland full of decorated model trains. Families can enjoy hot cocoa and kids can pose for a picture with Santa. Visit the Connecticut Trolley Museum website for more information. 860-627-6540. 58 North Road. East Windsor, CT. (<$; under two FREE)

Though the possibility of train travel in western Massachusetts feels new and exciting, railroads have been an important part of the region’s history. By visiting museums, exploring local landmarks, and following the former paths of trains, families can dig deep into the history of the development of communities across western Massachusetts! Read more in our post 6 Community-Based Resources: Train Travel with Local History.

Coming down the tracks and headed straight into the hands of young enthusiasts, are three picture books about trains previously featured in our monthly column, Open Sesame. If you have little engineers in your life, the ones who sleep with trains under their pillows, who hear the whistle from miles away, who build tracks from one end of the house to the other, then check out these exciting books. Featuring both modern and vintage trains, and artwork that transports the reader to railroads near and far, these books will have train lovers wanting to climb aboard. Read more in our post Railroads & Locomotives: Three Children’s Books About Trains.


Have you ever wondered why people place evergreen wreaths on their doors during the holidays? What are other wreaths we see in our society and what are their origins?

Saturday, December 3, 10am-4pm; Sunday, December 4, 10am-3pm
Teach your children about giving this holiday season by contributing to a toy drive. The 5th annual Christmas Tree and Wreath Festival at Palmer Historical and Cultural Center will provide this opportunity. Bring an unwrapped toy for the Lions Club of Palmer Toy Drive and you will receive one raffle ticket. The festival, taking place December 3-4 and 10-11, will feature musical entertainment, activities for kids and of course, trees and wreaths for raffle. On December 4, be sure to see Santa at the Three Rivers Common from 4-6 pm after visiting the festival. 413-289-9295. 2072 Main Street. Three Rivers, MA. (FREE)

Tuesday, December 6, 7pm-8:30pm
Wreaths, decorative rings of leaves, twigs, flowers or other natural elements, are used in various ceremonial events across the globe. Wreaths have historically been used as crowns, as memorial items, and as festive holiday decorations. You can participate in this tradition, this winter season, by creating your own wreath. Wreath making workshops will take place December 6, 9, and 11. All materials are included and experts will walk you through the process of creating a wreath to last until Valentine’s Day. Registration is required. Location will be given upon registration. Call 413-369-6016 and specify which evening you would like to attend. Montague, MA. ($$)

Tree Lighting

Have you ever thought about why we decorate our Christmas trees with strands of light? Ever think about the origin of this tradition? “The Christmas tree was adopted in upper-class homes in 18th-century Germany, where it was occasionally decorated with candles, which at the time was a comparatively expensive light source. Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. Around 1890, candle-holders were first used for Christmas candles. Between 1902 and 1914, small lanterns and glass balls to hold the candles started to be used. Early electric Christmas lights were introduced with electrification, beginning in the 1880s.” (Wikipedia)

Saturday, December 3, 11am-6pm
The Holyoke tree lighting ceremony will include a full day of events for families. Parents of young children who want to meet Santa should arrive early for pictures at City Hall, from 11am-1pm. Then hayrides will take place, followed by the arrival of Santa by train at 3pm and the tree lighting at 6pm. Visit the Holyoke town website for more details. 536 Dwight Street. Holyoke, MA. (FREE)

Saturday, December 3, 4pm
Kick off the holiday season with your family at the Whately Library’s 2nd Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. There will be music, hot chocolate, candy canes and homemade baked goods. 413-665-2170. 202 Chestnut Plain Road. Whately, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, December 4, 6pm
Bring your kids to see Santa in Lenox Dale! Santa will arrive by fire engine at Veterans Memorial Park at the intersection of Walker and Crystal Streets for the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting. Following the lighting, Santa will greet children at the Fire Station on Elm Street where gifts and refreshments will be distributed. Take a photo of your child with Santa and see your friends and neighbors. Lenox, MA. (FREE)

Does your family get an evergreen tree to put in your home for the holidays? Visiting a local tree farm, selecting a tree with your children, and in some cases, sawing down the tree together,  offer numerous learning opportunities! What are the different kinds of evergreen trees? What types of climates do they grow in. What is the history behind the tradition of erection evergreens in our homes during the holiday season? Why do we decorate them and how have these decorations evolved and changed over the years with the invention of new materials and electricity? What does the seed of an evergreen look like and what sort of animals and insects do they depend upon to reproduce? Discovering the answers to these questions can help curious kids feel connected to not only your holiday tree, but also to the flora and fauna (and history!) of Western MA!

[Photo credit: (cc) MOTT]

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Amherst, Blandford, Bernardston, Chesterfield, Erving, Holyoke, Montague, Montgomery, Pelham, Shutesbury, South Hadley, Springfield, Warwick and Williamsburg Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.


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