Keeping Holiday Traditions Alive in the Berkshires
Currently my living room looks as if Christmas threw up all over it. Boxes of old decorations, more stockings than we have family members and pets combined (and that includes the three fish, cat and new puppy, Murphy), tree ornaments, Christmas villages, holiday-themed books, empty cookie tins and more lay strewn on top of couches, countertops, hardwood floors and coffee tables making it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand — writing this column. But as all three of my children have continued to remind me since the first day of December, it’s all about tradition!
The first holiday tradition I attempted to tackle this month was our unique (or maybe not so unique) way of counting down the days until Santa Claus arrives. Each year (preferably prior to Dec.1, but often occurring sometime within the first week of December) my husband drags the bags of nearly 50 holiday-themed books from the attic for me to peruse and wrap. I browse the titles, rescuing our favorites from the piles until I have 24 in front of me.
This year, I separated the books into two piles: one for my niece, Kylee, and one for us. Yearly favorites such as Olivier Dunrea’s Bear Noel, Elise Primavera’s Auntie Claus series, a version of E.E. Cummings Little Tree written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, and Patricia Rae Wolff’s A New Improved Santa made it into our pile, while extra copies of The Polar Express, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Twas the Night Before Christmas were tossed into Kylee’s, along with other 2-year-old appropriate stories that had long since been abandoned by my kids.
Then I wrapped each present in Christmas wrapping, each dated with the day of the month Dec. 1-24, each one ready to be unwrapped on its given day and read at bedtime. This tradition used to require my husband and I to take turns reading. Now McKenna, Max and Shea (ages 12, 12, and 10) alternate with Mark and I, either reading a page at a time and then passing it to the next family member, or claiming an entire book for themselves.
On Christmas Eve, the last book is always the same, though the version and illustrations may change. Twas the Night Before Christmas completes our holiday advent, and as the kids sit in their holiday pajamas, just opened a few hours earlier, all five of us (and at times it has been 20 of us, depending on which friends and family members join us for the evening) sit around the fire, candles burning and tree lights sparkling, where we recite the book (known almost by heart at this point), before sprinkling reindeer food in the backyard and heading off to bed where “visions of sugarplums dance in our heads.”
The Sheffield Historical Society will be sharing in a storytime tradition of its own this year with residents of the town on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m. when Mrs. Santa Claus will read stories by local authors to visitors at the Old Stone Store on Route 7 in Sheffield. For more information visit www.sheffieldhistory.org.
Reindeer food is simply a handful or two of dried oats and one’s favorite color of glitter thrown into a Ziploc bag with a note attached that reads: “On Christmas Eve, sprinkle this Reindeer Food on your lawn or on the entrance to your apartment. The shiny glitter will sparkle in the moonlight and the smell of oats will guide Rudolph and the other reindeer to your home.” It’s a wonderful tradition that the kids enjoy doing long after the magic of Santa Claus has faded.
Another McIlquham family tradition is cramming as many holiday movies into the 24-day period as possible. Of course, that includes the classics like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but now thanks to the stations like the Hallmark channel, Lifetime and ABC Family we also have a few new classics of our own, including but not limited to, Holidays in Handcuffs, The Santa Clause, A Dog Named Christmas, and Sundays at Tiffany’s.
Want to get out of the house to see some holiday favorites? Many local venues are offering special showings of classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life, and Polar Express.
If you head to the Spectrum Playhouse tonight, Dec. 15, at 7:30 p.m., on Franklin Street in Lee, MA you can catch a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life for a small fee. The playhouse is located at the former St. Georges Church and is in the process of being transformed into the Spectrum Playhouse, Community Center and Joyous Studios, with a portion of all income generated from the center benefiting the not-for-profit Student Educational Development Fund (SEDF).
The Spectrum Playhouse will be a multipurpose performance space hosting professional performing artists, theater productions, concerts, lectures and more, developing the performing and visual arts talents of young adults who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and other learning differences, while the community center will be available for continuing education seminars, health and wellness classes, and more. Joyous Studios will be an artist-in-residence studio/mentor program
The movie is part of the playhouse’s soft opening this month along with a family concert featuring Berkshire family favorite performer Terra A La Berry and Friends for a holiday concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18. The concert is free with a suggested donation recommended. For more information about the schedule of events and the Spectrum log onto www.sedfund.org.
OTHER AREA MOVIES
On Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA will present The Nutcracker from the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia.
Then on Friday, Dec. 23, at 7 p.m. families can catch It’s a Wonderful Life at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington and on Wednesday, Dec. 28, at 6 p.m., the venue will be showing The Polar Express.
If you want to catch something a little more current you might want to try downtown Pittsfield’s Beacon Cinema on Tuesdays. The venue is offering $5 Tuesdays. Yup, just $5 for any movie, and with new Christmas releases like Hugo, Arthur’s Christmas, and The Muppets showing, this won’t only be one the most affordable trip to the movies ever, but if you’re like me and rarely take your kids to the movies, you just might be considered one of the coolest moms or dads ever.
Usually our Christmas Eve tradition involve friends and family gathering at our house for appetizers and chocolate martinis for the adults, and snacks and, probably way too much, soda for the kids (hey, this is one of the few times we don’t monitor their carbonation consumption).
This year we are changing it up a little as a few of our guests have moved away, others are skiing for the weekend, and one is attending a Giants NFL football game. Instead of snacks, we are going to have a four-course sit-down meal, with a roast, yummy potatoes, a fancy pallet cleanser and more, and if my daughter wasn’t participating in a weekend-long basketball tournament, I would probably be heading to the Berkshire Grown Holiday Farmers Market on Saturday, Dec. 17, to purchase some of my ingredients.
The market highlights produce, cheese, eggs, meat, poultry, bread, pies, and more produced by local farmers and food producers in the region. It will take place at from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Muddy Brook Elementary School in Great Barrington, with a second venue in North County at Williams College’s Towne Field House in Williamstown. For more information visit www.berkshiregrown.org.
While Berkshire Grown encourages Berkshirites to eat locally in a effort to help preserve farmlands and open space that “encompass a patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, streams, and ponds that provide essential habitat for wildlife,” (among other reasons), there is another group that gathers at Flavours restaurant in Pittsfield to discuss the environment.
On Dec. 20 the McKay Street restaurant will host another informal gathering of Pittsfield Green Drinks where anyone, including parents, with an environmental interest is encouraged to attend. Pittsfield Green Drinks is sponsored by the Center for Ecological Technology and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team each month to discuss interesting ideas such as; solar, wind, clean water, wildlife conservation, green building and waste prevention. Occasionally a film will be shown or a speaker will present. The evening begins at 5:15 p.m. For more information call 413-445-4556, ext. 14, or 413-230-7321, or visit www.greendrinks.org,
Each year our family tries to attend at least one holiday event where caroling will take place. Sometimes it’s via Dalton’s local Light Up the Holidays Walk, a few years ago it was at a Matt Cusson concert at Barrington Stage Company, and sometimes we get our musical fix by attending our kids holiday concerts at their schools.Looking for a holiday music fix of your own? Here are a few upcoming concerts around the area in the upcoming weeks:
On Saturday, Dec. 17, at 1 p.m. the Berkshire Lyric Chorus and the Blafield Children’s Chorus will present a holiday concert to benefit the Sheffield Kiwanis Club’s “Warm the Children Fund” at the First Congregational Church on Main Street in Stockbridge.
Also on Saturday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough the Eagles Band will perform holiday music in front of Macy’s, so if you are out shopping or just feel like listening to some festive music to get you into the holiday spirit, just head to the mall.
Then on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 3 p.m. the Eagles Band will present a free holiday concert featuring “The Eighth Candle,” “Nutcracker Suite,” “Celtic Carol” and “Sleigh Ride,” at the First United Methodist Church on Fenn Street, Pittsfield. For more information call 413-499-2071 or log onto www.eaglesband.org.
Every year we celebrate Chanukah with our Jewish friends, exchanging presents, lighting the candles on the menorah, and playing a rousing game of dreidel. On Friday, Dec. 23, Temple Anshe Amunim on Broad Street in Pittsfield will be continuing a tradition of its own to celebrate the Jewish holiday with the sixth annual Community Crib and Chanukah Dinner, featuring the lighting of the menorah, Shabbat service with a story and songs for all ages, a dinner of brisket and latkes (the latkes are another favorite at our Chanukah celebration), and more. The evening runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Children under 10 are free. For more information call 413-442-5910 or www.templeansheamunim.org.
Another local Chanukah tradition is the lighting of the giant menorah at the Berkshire Mall in Pittsfield, MA. This year the lighting and Chanukah celebration sponsored by Chabad of the Berkshires will take place Tuesday, Dec. 27, at 4 p.m. The afternoon will feature live music, hot potato latkes, donuts, face painting, dancing, a grand raffle, dreidels and, of course, the giant menorah lighting 4 p.m. For more information call 413-499-9899 or visit www.jewishberkshires.com.
As part of our advent tradition, I usually come up with 24 activities for our family to do together and the kids pick one a day out of the pockets of our special calendar. This year I didn’t write the activities down because I knew that we get too busy to them all on the specific days, and the kids are not happy. I assured them that we are still doing many of these annual activities, but I know they are missing choosing the actual activities themselves.
Some of our favorite activities include the annual holiday stroll, making gingerbread houses, getting our tree, each child purchasing a new ornament for said tree, holiday movies, partaking on a Giving Tree shopping expedition, cookie making and more.
We have done many of these activities already, but I’ve always wanted to try and get to another tradition in our town of Hinsdale, the annual Holiday Cookie Swap. This year it will take place on Saturday, Dec. 24th from 9 a.m. to noon, and will feature a variety of baked good for sale. This might be a must-do if we don’t get around to baking our own cookies this year. The proceeds will benefit the Hinsdale Dayz Committee, which puts on a number of free events each summer for the community, and will be held at the Town Hall on South Street in Hinsdale. For more information visit www.hinsdaledayz.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kelly Bevan McIlquham
Kelly Bevan McIlquham writes our bi-monthly column, Berkshire Family Fun, sharing update, events and activities for families in the Berkshires. Kelly is a freelance writer living in Hinsdale with her husband, Mark, and three children — 12-year-old twins, Max and McKenna, and almost-10-year-old, Shea. She has had her work published in The Advocate, The Family Beat and Berkshires Week out of Berkshire County, and the former Wee Ones E-magazine. She also authors a new blog and Facebook page titled “Renaissance Mom.” firstname.lastname@example.org — Check out Berkshire Family Fun every other Thursday.