Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Evergreens as a Catalyst for Learning

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal:
Evergreens as a Catalyst for Learning

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, community-based education specialist and Hilltown Families’ Founder, Sienna Wildfield, joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Monday, November 26th with Sienna and Danny talking about explore the changing seasons through the lens of evergreens

Click on the video below to view.


Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).

Sienna’s next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be Monday, December 31st, 2018!

The Mighty Evergreen

The Mighty Evergreen

Henry David Thoreau wrote:

Walked through that beautiful soft white pine grove on the west of the road in John Flint’s pasture.  These trees are large, but there is ample space between them, so that the ground is left grassy.  Great pines two or more feet in diameter branch sometimes within two feet of the ground on each side, sending out large horizontal branches on which you can sit.  Like great harps on which the wind makes music.  There is no finer tree.

– “A Beautiful Pine Grove” in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau


In Western Massachusetts there are many places one can explore the beautiful evergreens and winter pines that create our enchanting forests.  Like Thoreau, bring along a nature journal to jot down a few inspiring notes along the way. Read the rest of this entry »

Christmas Trees: History & Folklore

History & Folklore of Christmas Trees

What is folklore? Folklore includes the traditions and stories of a culture or community that are passed down for generations.  Typically, folklore is passed on through word of mouth in the form of a narration.  Over time, stories can change, morph, and transform depending on the place, culture, context and the storyteller.  That’s the beauty of a folktale; it has many added layers as the story moves from narrator to narrator, place to place.  Storytelling is an art, both the narration and the listening.

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.


Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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Origins of Christmas Traditions

Origins of Christmas Traditions

Where does the Christmas tree come from? Did you know that the origin of the Christmas tree has roots in ancient Norse paganism from Northern Germany?  Evergreens were seen as magical entities due to their ability to withstand the frigid, cold winter and stay green. During the winter solstice, Norse pagans, who celebrated the Norse god Jul (pronounced Yule) brought entire evergreens into their homes.  These trees were called Yule Trees and were believed to protect the home during the darkest times of the year.

Learn more about the origins of Christmas traditions and symbols…

Bet You Didn’t Know…

Learning Ahead: Nov & Dec Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for
Western Massachusetts
Seasons: November & December

Who am I? Where am I? These are the fundamental questions proposed by the humanities. Inquiries related to local history, literature, and education, inspire us to think deeply about the places where we live and how our identity fits into the context of our community and the seasons.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is a bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

With these downloadable seasonal itineraries, self-directed teens, lifelong learners, and families are encouraged to engage together in cultural opportunities that support similar interests, resulting in a shared history, strengthening sense of place.

Looking through a seasonal lens, our Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for November and December includes:

  • Learn about FOOD preservation: Harvest, Butchers & Museums
  • Veterans Day as a CATALYST for learning: Literature, History & Music
  • Looking through the LENS of Thanksgiving: Poetry & Painting
  • VALUE based engagement: Handmade &  Non-Commercial
  • Local HABITAT connects us to myth & nature: Christmas Trees
  • PLACEMAKING with annual events: Holiday Strolls & Caroling
  • Experience other CULTURES through the holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa & Three Kings Day
  • Mark the SEASON by sharing & connecting: Winter Solstice & Storytelling
  • Engage in New England TRADITIONS: First Night & First Hikes

Click here to download PDF (38 pages).


Mass Humanities This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Special thank you to sponsors of this issue, including: ♦ Montague BookmillNew England Air MuseumDowntown Northampton AssociationSpringfield Museums.

Local Christmas Tree Farms: A Lens Into Environmental Science

Do You Know Where Your Christmas Tree Comes From?

An examination of evergreen tree farming can help children learn about a non-food related form of sustainable farming. Tree farming contributes to oxygen production, provides food and habitat for variety of animal species, and doesn’t have a huge impact on the location in which it takes place.

As the weather gets colder and snow starts to enter the forecast, the holiday season is filled with opportunities for learning about all kinds of topics. The change of weather can support learning with activities like searching for nests and animal tracks in the snow, and participating as citizen scientists counting raptors and song birds.

Families can also explore the cultural roots of winter holidays, like Santa Lucia Day during Welcome Yule or reading about Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa while snuggled up before a long winter’s nap!

Most holiday-related learning has to do with history, culture, religion, literature, art, and music. Math can even be integrated with some creativity, but it’s harder to find a natural connection between the holidays and science – especially environmental science.

There is a link between the holidays and environmental science, though – and it’s a good one! Do your children know where your Christmas tree comes from? Here in rural Western MA, it’s possible that one of your annual holiday traditions involves a tromp out into your own woodlot to chop down a vaguely Charlie Brown-ish trunk to add to your living room, but it’s more likely that your tree came from a tree farm. Whether that farm was nearby or far away, a look at how your tree was grown provides a myriad of learning opportunities!

Read on to discover more…

The History of Christmas Trees

How It All Got Started

Balsam Trees for Sale in Williamsburg, MA

Balsam Trees for Sale in Williamsburg, MA.

Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.

READ MORE: The History of Christmas Trees

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