Lighten up, sing out, greet winter

A parade in traditional holiday costume is among the events of Wassail Weekend in Woodstock, Vt. A parade in traditional holiday costume is among the events of Wassail Weekend in Woodstock, Vt. (Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce)
By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / December 6, 2009

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It’s easy to embrace the holiday spirit in New England. Twinkling lights entwine lampposts, windows, and the spindly branches of trees, brightening the cold, dark days. Homes are bedecked in holly and bows. Snowflakes swirl, carolers sing, and hot chocolate appears on every menu. Pity the poor Floridians. Santa in sunglasses? Not our style. Whether you commemorate the season with latkes or sugar plums, or by howling at the moon, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate with light and song. All together now: Let it snow!

Messiah Sing at Wassail Weekend, Woodstock, Vt. Enthusiasts of all ages head to Woodstock for the mother of all weekend extravaganzas, otherwise known as Wassail Weekend. The entire town participates in the ho-ho-holiday spirit. Many events are free, such as a crafts fair featuring local artisans, a reading of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales’’ at the library, ice skating at Union Arena, “A Child’s Magical Wonderland’’ at Woodstock Little Theatre, and the Wassail Parade, where horses and riders in traditional costume march around the Town Green. A carol sing accompanies the lighting of the yule log and memory tree.

The weekend festivities conclude on Sunday afternoon with the popular Messiah Sing, held at Our Lady of the Snows Church. This annual sing-along of Handel’s grand oratorio allows audience members to join the chorus, accompanying professional soloists and musicians. Singers are encouraged to bring their own scores, non-singers to listen.

Wassail Weekend, Dec. 11-13; Messiah Sing, Dec. 13, 4 p.m. at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church, South Street (Route 106), 888-496-6378, Prices vary. Many events free.

54th Annual Community Carol Sing, Mystic, Conn. Join almost 4,000 revelers at Mystic Seaport for possibly the largest community sing-along in New England. In fact, you can spend the entire day enjoying the museum’s historic ships and exhibits for free, as long as you bring a nonperishable item of canned goods to donate to a local food pantry. Also free this year: the planetarium’s “Star of Bethlehem,’’ which studies the winter sky in relation to science, mythology, religious observance, winter traditions, and music. In the afternoon, the Mystic Carolers perform in the Greenmanville Church, and the day concludes with the outdoor Carol Sing.

“People make this their tradition,’’ said Michael O’Farrell, who works at the Seaport. “It’s a chance to forget about shopping, baking, and wrapping presents, and it gives the community center a chance to stock their shelves with food for the winter.’’

Dec. 20. Mystic Seaport opens at 10 a.m.; Carol Sing at 3 p.m. 75 Greenmanville Ave., 888-973-2767, Free with donation of nonperishable food.

Chanukah Night of Music, Andover Latkes, dreidels, Chanukah gelt, and . . . doo wop? Why not? For a Shabbat service you won’t soon forget, head to Andover for Temple Emanuel’s annual Chanukah Night of Music. This year’s featured guests - “directly from New York City’’ - are Nu Millennium, performing “A Cappella Doo Wop Soul.’’

“Each year at Chanukah we try to do something a little different,’’ said Carrie Lavoie, executive director of the temple. “We’ve had gospel choirs and klezmer bands. We’re hoping it’s going to be great fun this year.’’

The children’s and adults’ choirs begin the performance. Afterward, stick around for coffee and pastry, especially jelly donut holes that represent “sufganiyot,’’ a traditional Chanukah sweet that Lavoie describes as “something fried with sweet jelly in the middle.’’

At the end of the evening, white and blue light sticks are passed to the congregation as the lights are dimmed, and “America the Beautiful’’ is sung by all.

Dec. 11, 6 p.m., Temple Emanuel, 7 Haggetts Pond Road, 978-470-1356, Free.

Tufts Jumbo Knish Factory; Wassail! A Tufts Choral Holiday, Medford/Somerville ’Twas the week before Chanukah, and not a creature was stirring except those doing the Yiddish tango. Say what? OK, so this isn’t an event specifically about Chanukah. But who can resist a night of tango and klezmer performed by the Tufts Jumbo Knish Factory?

“Tango took over Europe in the early 1920s and infiltrated Yiddish songwriting culture, as well as Yiddish theater in New York,’’ said Michael McLaughlin, director of the Klezmer Ensemble. He promises festive tangos from Argentina and the cabarets of Eastern Europe from the late 1920s and early ’30s.

For an ecumenical afternoon, arrive early and get your holiday groove on at Wassail! A Tufts Choral Holiday, directed by Andrew Clark, and featuring popular jazz and pop standards for the season, world music carols, and classical masterpieces performed by the Tufts Concert Choir and Chamber Singers.

Dec. 6, 3 p.m.: Wassail! A Tufts Choral Holiday; 6 p.m.: The Jumbo Knish Factory, both performances at Distler Performance Hall in Granoff Music Center, 20 Talbot Ave., Medford. 617-627-3679,; both events free.

Pawtucket Winter Wonderland, Pawtucket, R.I. For a little jolt of holiday spirit, head to Slater Park in Pawtucket and go walking through a Winter Wonderland. The city goes all out for this two-weekend celebration, with horse-drawn hay rides, train rides, a miniature village, lighting displays, choral groups, puppet shows, dance performances, craft activities, and face painting for kids. Take the young ones for a visit and photo-op with Santa and Mrs. Claus, then ride the park’s carousel for 25 cents. Hungry? A heated tent offers food for sale. With over 400 decorated Christmas trees, and a giant talking snowman, only a Scrooge wouldn’t have a merry time.

Held Saturdays and Sundays, Dec. 5-6, 12-13, 4-8 p.m. Slater Memorial Park, Newport Avenue, 401-726-3185, Free admission to park.

Christmas by the Sea, Ogunquit, Maine “Deck the halls with shells and seaweed . . .’’ Well, perhaps not. But the Ogunquit Chamber of Commerce embraces the spirit of the holidays by sponsoring Christmas by the Sea, a three-day celebration with music, crafts, and tasty treats for the family. This year, listen to a bell choir from Kittery perform seasonal tunes, then head outside and warm your hands at the Friday evening beach bonfire. Other freebies include a barbershop quartet performance, caroling at Perkins Cove and in the center of town, a Saturday parade, tree lighting, a craft show, and oodles of activities for children.

“The chowder fest and the chocolate fest are both very popular,’’ said Frances Reed, chamber vice president.

Dec. 11-13, 36 Main St., 207-646-2939, Many events are free.

Victorian Christmas, Tamworth, N.H. Ever wonder how Christmas was celebrated in Victorian times? You can peer into the past at the Captain Enoch Remick House and the Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm in Tamworth. These two historic houses are part of a working farm that was formerly owned by a country doctor and his son. In addition to seeing Victorian Christmas decorations, crafts, and vintage toys, you can sample traditional holiday treats such as gingerbread, sugar plums, and syllabub, a frothy dairy drink made with cream, lemon, and spices that was popular with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

“We’ve done a lot of research to make everything as authentic as possible,’’ said Robert Cottrell, museum director. Depending on the weather, horse-drawn wagons or sleigh rides are available, as well as walking trails where you can view the farm’s cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, and goats.

Dec. 12, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 58 Cleveland Hill Road, 800-686-6117, Admission $5.

Winter Solstice Lantern Walk, Topsfield Don’t think of it as the shortest day of the year; think of it as the longest night. Come celebrate with Mass Audubon at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary’s first annual Winter Solstice Lantern Walk. No lantern? No problem. The event begins with creating your own wind-proof lantern constructed with glass jars, colored paper, and florist wire.

“We’ll gather in the barn and talk about why it’s dark on this night,’’ said Kim LoGrasso, youth education manager. “We’ll bring together folklore stories and science stories and then go out in groups along the trail.’’

Afterward, the groups will return to a bonfire where cocoa and hot cider will be served.

“It’s a simplistic celebration,’’ said LoGrasso. “It should be very peaceful.’’

Dec. 19, 4-6 p.m., Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, 87 Perkins Row, 978-887-9264, Adults $7 members/$9 nonmembers; children $6/$7.

Necee Regis can be reached at