24 Community Highlights: Beneski Museum to MASS MoCA. Hansel & Gretel to Stone Soup.

The holidays are a great time to share family stories and legends from different cultures and traditions. One such story is that of the Christmas Spider. Check out this post from our archives, The Christmas Spider & the Legend of Tinsel, to read about one child’s own personal legend of the Christmas Spider, and how the legend of the Christmas Spider is told in other cultures too. You can also learn to make your own Christmas Spider holiday cards in our archived post, DIY: Christmas Spider Holiday Cards. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Beneski Museum to MASS MoCA. Storytelling to Marionettes. Hansel & Gretel to Stone Soup. Classical Music to Chemistry… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play!  And be sure to check our list of supporting book titles to supplement the learning on the different topics highlighted each week. Purchase them for your family library, or check them out from the public library!


There’s still a lot of holiday cheer to be had before December 25th! There are several opportunities for kids to visit with Santa before Christmas Day. He will be making appearances at the Pelham Library, Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Look Park in Florence, Buttery Brook Park in South Hadley, Lord Jeffrey Inn in Amherst, and Yankee Candle in South Deerfield. There’s also time to take in a couple of holiday classics, like performances of A Christmas Carol with PaintBox Theatre in Northampton and Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, or a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life at the Amherst Cinema and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.


The holiday season is a great time to share stories with friends and family. In this month’s column, “What to Play? Play Ideas for Family & Community,” Carrie St. John writes about how stories can lead to hours of pretend play and how they can encourage children to create images in their minds bringing the story to life. She also shares great games to help spark storytelling with friends and family.

If you enjoy storytelling at home, be sure to check out Cheli’s list of recommended children’s picture books for stories on the many of the holiday traditions she wrote about last year in her monthly column, “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews.” If you’d like to get out into your community, there are several storytelling events to take the family to.

Celebrate the season by sharing stories about holding onto light and love during the darkest part of the year at the solstice storytelling celebration at the Magical Roundhouse in Colrain on Saturday evening. On Sunday evening, a special Luminarium Storytime takes place at the Hatfield Library.

During school vacation week there are several stories being told at area museums using puppets and marionettes. At the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, CactusHead Puppets presents, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” on Wednesday morning, Dec 26th in Amherst. Later in the afternoon, puppeteer Carl Sprague will present a marionette production of the classic Brothers Grimm tale, “Hansel and Gretel” at Ventfort Hall in Lenox, then again on Thursday, Dec 27th & Friday, Dec. 28th. Then again at the Carle Museum on Friday, Dec 28th, Tom Knight Puppets presents, “Stone Soup and Other Tales,” a collection of songs and skits for all ages.


After Christmas Day, many museums will be holding special hours and offering additional programming for school vacation, Dec. 26th-30th.

Kids get free admission at Old Sturbridge Village during the school break (and in Jan. too!), and families can enjoy a host of historic and seasonal activities, including (weather-dependent) sledding and skating! There will also be indoor performances, craft demonstrations, and hands-on activities. Families can learn about life in early New England, and the many different skills and resources that 1830s life required.

Historic Deerfield in South Deerfield continues to celebrate the holidays during winter break with traditional decorations, open hearth cooking demonstrations, and craft making. Visitors will learn about holiday celebrations in early New England, as well as the sweeteners and spices used in baking (and where they came from!) in Deerfield’s early days.

Lions and Tigers and Museums, Oh My!, will be on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute’s Stone Hill Center in Williamstown, utilizing video, hands-on activities, taxidermy, and innovative displays. Bring the kids while off from school to be a part of this exciting learning environment for all ages!

The Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College is offering special hours for school vacation! Families can visit the museum for free to learn about everything from dinosaur bones to how the Pioneer Valley was shaped – the museum is home to hundreds of plant and animal fossils, taxidermic animals of numerous species, and lots of exhibits on geology and mineralogy.

MASS MoCA in North Adams is open and offering lots to see and do for families during school vacation (as well as on Christmas Eve)! The KidSpace will be open, and there will be museum tours (for older students), as well as a special tour of the Sol Lewitt exhibit. Families can explore the museum galleries and learn about the many different pieces on exhibit.

The Springfield Museums have activities happening each day during the holiday vacation week. There will be a combination of planetarium shows, science demonstrations, activities to accompany their Gingerbread Fairy Tales Exhibit, and daily performances. Performances through Dec. 30th including Charismatic Comedy Magic, The Realy MCoy Show, Dinoman Dinosaurs, and BubbleMania.

Make your own comic book art at drop-in workshops at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge during school vacation! The museum is currently hosting an exhibit of comic book art by Alex Ross, and the activities included in the workshops will give kids a chance to create their own comic book-style artwork. Superheroes will be roaming the museum, too – be sure to visit the galleries to find them!


On Thursday afternoon, Dec. 27th, kids can be mad scientists at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. Along with the help of the museum’s very own crazy chemist, kids can learn how to do exciting and surprising (and safe!) experiments with regular household materials.

Richard Perlmutter presents Beethoven’s Wig at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield on Friday afternoon, Dec. 28th in a free performance. Hailed as opening the door to classical music in a way that’s fun for kids, Beethoven’s Wig is now honored as great family musical entertainment. Here’s an award-winning animated video of Beethoven’s Wigs version of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony:

List of Weekly Suggested EventsFind out about these events and over 100 other events & activities happening all next week in our List of Weekly Suggested Events. All of our listed events are “suggested.” Please take a moment to confirm that these events are happening as scheduled, along with time, place, age appropriateness and costs before heading out.



DIY: Christmas Spider Holiday Cards

How To Draw a Christmas Spider
By Sienna Wildfield

For the Kids-Made Holiday Bazaar, my daughter (age 5) drew Christmas Spiders for her holiday cards to be sold during the event. Here she gives a video tutorial on how to draw the Christmas Spider:


Christmas Spider design by Persphone (age 5).

  • 3″ x 3″ squares of white card stock
  • black (non-toxic) ink pad
  • Thin black Sharpie (or something comparable)
  • Red marker


Christmas Spider design by Persphone (age 5).Step 1

Take your thumb and press it onto a non-toxic black ink pad. Then press your thumb into the middle of a piece of paper, making the body of the spider. (Try to get your kids to wipe off their thumb before proceeding or smudges will most certainly happen).

Christmas Spider design by Persephone (age 5).Step 2

Take a thin black Sharpie and draw four dots down each side of the spiders body. Then draw “L’s” or “7’s” out from each dot to create eight legs.

Christmas Spider design by Persphone (age 5).Step 3

Draw a triangle just above the spiders body as a hat, then add a circle to the top for a pom-pom.

Christmas Spider design by Persphone (age 5).Step 4

Color the triangle in with a red marker, leaving the pom pom white.

TAD-DA!!! You now have a picture of the Christmas Spider that can be tacked onto a blank greeting card. But before adding it to the card, a holiday greeting can be written (by hand or with your printer) on the bottom of the front. We wrote “Holiday Greetings from the Christmas Spider.” On the backside of the card we printed the legend of the Christmas Spider. There are several variations that can be found on-line, including here and here.

Photo credits: Sienna Wildfield


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The Christmas Spider & the Legend of Tinsel

By Sienna Wildfield

For the Kids-Made Holiday Bazaar my 5yo daughter made holiday cards using the Christmas Spider as her motif.

Why the Christmas Spider? Well, last year she decided that the Christmas Spider would be coming to our house instead of Santa Claus. She explained that the Christmas Spider was Santa’s southern counterpart who gave out presents when Santa was busy. The Christmas Spider wears a hat like Santa, she explained, and likes to give out squishy pretend spiders that hang on the wall, along with books, pencils and sea marbles … Something to look forward to!

I asked her if the Christmas Spider had a sleigh and flying reindeer like Santa and went down chimneys to get indoors. She said that the Christmas Spider actually climbs up houses and then down the chimneys to get inside. Then she (the Christmas Spider is female, evidently!) crawls on towards the next house with her fast skinny legs.

My daughter then proceeded to run around and around the house in her stocking feet at top speed saying that her legs were skinny too, so she could run as fast as the Christmas Spider. That was before she wiped out on the kitchen floor. With a bruised elbow and a tear-stained face she snuggled up on my lap. She looked up at me and told me that the Christmas Spider wasn’t allowed to snuggle with me when she came to our house. I reassured her that she was the only spider I’d ever snuggle.

A friend of the family made a Christmas Spider hat for her to wear last year, and the Christmas Spider quickly became her obsession. So I did a little research and discovered that there were several legends about the Christmas Spider, often explaining the origin of tinsel or lace. And last year we discovered the perfect book to read to her, Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel by Shirley Climo & Jane Manning. You can also read about the legend on a variety of sites, including over at myteacher.net.

Other books available on the Christmas Spider include:

The Legend of the Christmas Spider A Wondrous Tale: A Magical Christmas Tale from Finland

    by Nancy Valois.

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