Paraphrasing a famous Tolstoy quote, all happy families are rich in traditions. Here in Boston, with the abundance of natural and cultural resources, it is easy to create your own family traditions for each season. (Read about our Fall and Summer favorites; spring list will be my new challenge next year).
Here is my list of things to do in Boston during winter holidays.
The Nutcracker at the Boston Ballet
In my family, we transition into winter holidays season by attending The Nutcracker at the Boston Ballet. The celebration starts the moment you enter a festively decorated Boston Opera House and continues with Tchaikovsky’s timeless music, magical sets and spirited dancing.
Besides being perfectly themed for the holidays, The Nutcracker is a perfect “starter” ballet for young kids (recommended for ages 2+). It is based on a fairy tale by Hoffman (full synopsis here) and is easy for kids to follow. First act almost feels like a “play” with lots of young actors from the Boston Ballet school.
When a “heavy” dancing starts in the second act, you are still “inside” the fairy tale as you follow the Nutcracker in his battle with the Mouse King, and on a journey through a magical forest to the palace, where a massive celebration with dances from the foreign lands ensues.
To my surprise my six year-old daughter remembered the story in detail from past performances: “It is going to snow on the count of 10,” she said, and the snow flakes started falling on the swirling dancers dressed in white in the Snow Scene.
She whispered her favorite parts to me: “Mother Ginger hiding little clowns under her skirt”, and during the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Grand Pas de Deux: “This is the prettiest, mama, it reminds me of Swan Lake”. (I personally can’t help but always tear up with the first notes of the Waltz of Flowers).
The current production by Mikko Nissenen (Boston Ballet’s Creative Director) of Tchaikovsky’s 1891 classic premiered in 2012, this year’s run in Boston Opera House is until December 31 (two-hour with an intermission).
For tickets, go to Boston Ballet website (Tel. 617-695-6955; Use code DEWDROP for $60 prime seats on select weekday performances; offer ends Dec 6! Be sure to check the group rate for groups of 10+; discounted tickets are also offered through www.bostix.org.)
Eight Nights of Hanukah.
Our family celebrates Jewish Hanukah. It’s an 8-night holiday with many opportunities to celebrate with friends and family. The first night falls on Sunday, December 6th this year.
You may want to check out Hanukah in the Museum of Fine Arts on December 9, 5 to 9:45 (free) for festive musical performances and arts and crafts sessions. (Full schedule here).
In my family, we love to mark the first night of Hanukah by making holiday treats (latkes and donuts) for the kids from scratch.
The grandparents created another tradition for our extended family by throwing a “cousins” Hanukah party (you can read about our family celebration here).
Christmas at Sturbridge Village
For families interested in Christmas traditions, historical Sturbridge Village (about an hour drive west of Boston) presents Christmas by Candlelight celebrations on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 4 to 9 pm, December 4 through 20. The program promises music, dancing, sleigh rides (weather permitting), Father Christmas and Santa Claus appearances, and traditional delights of gingerbread and roasted chestnuts. (Tickets $10-$18).
Taking Festive Strolls in Boston Common and Faneuil Hall
We love to celebrate the season by going for a walk in downtown Boston to admire festively decorated Christmas trees. Two of the biggest trees in Boston are to be found in Boston Common (America’s oldest public park) and in historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
One of the newer Boston traditions is a Faneuil Hall’s holiday lights and music show called Blink! The show will run continuously every evening from November 22 through January 3. (full info here) starting at 4:30 pm daily. The first show starts on the Main Tree at Marketplace Center and on the trees in South Market at 4:30 pm and runs every hour on the half hour. The North Market show begins at 5:00 pm and runs every hour on the hour.
Holiday Pops and Holiday Pops Kids Matinees
Boston Pops Holiday performances at the Boston Symphony Hall (December 2-31) will delight you with holiday music, traditional sing-alongs and Santa visits. While children younger than 4 are not allowed to evening performances, they are welcome at Holiday Pops Kids Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 am, December 5-20. (with children’s sing-alongs and post-concert photos with Santa and special treats).
For tickets, Check out 50% off Mayor’s Special here. Full price tickets and schedule via Boston Symphony’s website.
Take a note of Holiday Pops touring events in the concert halls throughout New England on Friday nights in December – for an opportunity to hear the famous orchestra at the concert halls near you at a more affordable rate. (Goldstar discounted ticket offers here.)
Skating on the Frog Pond at Boston Common
Skating on Frog Pond in Boston Common is a traditional family winter must for local and visiting families (even if some family members only watch from the boards). Check the website for schedule, rentals, lessons and birthday party bookings.
The lessons on the Frog Pond are provided by Boston Skating Academy, a learn-to-skate school with locations in Boston, Brookline, Dedham, Endicott, Foxboro, Frog Pond, and Somerville (kids can start taking classes at the age of 4).
Having grown up in one of the Southern republics in Eastern Europe, we are by no means an avidly outdoorsy winter family, but we enjoy our “once a year” ski weekend in New Hampshire or Maine during winter holidays season. (Read my 7 Tips for fun ski getaway).
There are several ski resorts within 1-3 hour drive from Boston, so a day trip is a reality too. (We have done day trips to Loon and Gunstock Mountains in New Hampshire, and to Wachusett and a “very” local Blue Hill reservation in Massachusetts (when it snows, of course).
Edaville Festival of Lights
For lovers of trains and Christmas lights of all ages, Edaville Railroad in Carver, Massachusetts, offers a perfect combination in its Festival of Lights on November 20-January 1. Trains run on an hourly schedule.
Holiday at the Newport Mansions
Three of the famous mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, invite you to tour and admire holiday music and decorations. The three houses – Breakers, The Elms and Marble House–are National Historic Landmarks and icons of the Gilded Age in America. All three houses will be decorated and open daily for tours from Saturday, November 21, 2015 through Sunday, January 3, 2016. The Breakers and The Elms open daily at 9 a.m., Marble House opens at 10 a.m. The last tour admission at all three houses is at 4 p.m., and the houses & grounds close at 5 p.m. Here is the link for tickets and schedules.
New York City for a Day
If you willing to go on a road trip a bit further south, famous Radio City Christmas Spectacular and the Tree at the Rockefeller Center awaits the seekers of holiday experiences in New York City. (read about our three New York City Holiday favorites here).
Boston’s First Night
In my family, we traditionally spend the New Year’s night at home. (For years, we have put together a special kids’ New Year celebrations following our secular holiday traditions from the old country (read about it here). The kids may be too old for Father Frost this year, but New Years’ celebration will always have a special place in our hearts- along with the New Year Tree.
For families who like to venture out to celebrate the New Year, the First Night/Day Boston 2016 will feature not one but two fireworks as well as events and celebrations throughout the city. Watch the website for schedule.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAMILY’S FAVORITE WINTER ACTIVITIES?
We would like to thank Boston Ballet for inviting us to the opening media weekend. We received no compensation for including any of the activities in this post.
PIN FOR LATER:
This post is participating in a travel blog link-up #TheWeeklyPostcard at Travel Notes and Beyond. Check it out for your next vacation ideas.
14 thoughts on “Holiday Winter Traditions in and around Boston.”
Oh, I would so much like to see the Nutcracker at the Boston Ballet, Victoria. I visited the Newport mansions last summer, when my son was still living in Connecticut. I’d love to go back for some more. I’ve only see a couple of them.
We have many Nutcracker productions in the area, but the one by the Boston Ballet is the grandest, to my taste:)
Great list, I’m saving this for the winter! Happy Hanukkah!
Thank you, Tamara! You too!
There are so many lovely things to do at this time of year and Boston is clearly no exception! Happy Chanukah to you – we just finished the glut of latkes I made tonight. Delicious 🙂
What elegant and festive activities you do!! I love it!! We celebrate Christmas and my husband is all about tradition. I have never heard the quote you mentioned before but it rings completely true to me. We have five kids and a very happy household and we have tons of traditions. I guess its all that anticipation and comfort of things well known that makes it so much fun. Loved reading- thanks for sharing!
I was referring to the opening line from Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike…” Sounds like you are living it:)
Boston is magical during the holidays, isn’t it? I haven’t been for years, and I’ve never taken the kids (who are teens now). I guess I better remedy that. Thanks for sharing your tips!
I have really lovely memories of our annual Christmas visits to see The Nutcracker when I was a kid, it’s such a lovely family tradition! Boston looks beautiful festive and like a wonderful place to enjoy the holidays. I had no idea that you ski slopes so close. Lucky you!
Proximity of both the ocean and the mountains (for skiing in winter and hiking in summer) makes Boston extra special indeed and gives us lots of way to celebrate each season!
What a great list of diverse activities. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen The Nutcracker but you’re right that it’s a great way to start the holiday season. I’d like to see those Newport Mansions all decked out. I love all your traditions. Ours usually includes a Disney visit or ice skating at the beach (yes, it’s a thing in San Diego).
Mary, Ice skating at the beach is not on our list here in Boston, Mary (although we have some beaches in Boston)! I love it that there are different traditions on two coasts and in between:)
We haven’t been to Loon Mountain or Gunstock, but since my daughter keeps asking for ski lessons and we’re looking to go some place beyond our local Nashoba Ski Area, maybe we’ll check that out. Unfortunately I missed the Hanukkah celebration at the MFA, because I was too busy. Maybe next year. I really would like to see it. We’ll be going to Old Sturbridge Village on the 26th. Other than that, I have never even heard of Holiday Pops! Thanks for the tip! Hope to see you this winter break some time again if you’re around 🙂
I would love to meet up, Jolanta. Read my School Vacation post and see if you like any of the other ideas. I will email you to make plans.