Holiday Events for Families in Western MA: 2016

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.

Holiday Events for Families in Western MA: 2015

Holiday Events for Families in Western MA: 2014

Holiday Events for Families in Western MA: 2013

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.



22 Community Highlights: Boreal Forest to Kitchen Science. Symphony to Contra Dance.

Looking for a non-commercial gift to give your kids? One that promotes creative-free play while offering lessons in chemistry and math… and doesn’t cost that much? Why not put together a box of kitchen ingredients with directions on how to make gak, slime, play dough, bubbles,  paint and chalk?! Check out the July post of, “Let’s Play: Tactile Play” by Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Carrie St. John. She includes recipes to print out for all of these, and your kids will have a blast getting icky, goopy and gloppy in the kitchen!

Boreal Forest to Kitchen Science. Papercrafts to Winter Crafts. Symphony to Contra Dance… 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!


Volunteer as a Citizen Scientists this Saturday, Dec. 15th as a participate in the annual Mass Audubon Christmas Bird Count! The event relies on citizen scientists to locate and count species of birds – and the data collected is used to assess local bird populations. Kids can learn to identify and find species of birds, practice using field guides, and learn how to draw conclusions from their own data. Contact a CBC facilitator nearest you.

Explore Notchview’s Boreal Forest with Aimee Gelinas and the Trustees of Reservations this Saturday too. Learn to identify trees such as spruce, fir, and Christmas fern, and search for signs of intrepid winter-battling mammals. Happens in Windsor.


Inspiring interest and encouragement in reading and writing can come to children in many ways. Having a themed celebration inspired by a book, storytimes, reading to dogs or even meeting authors, all have the potential inspire a love for reading and writing.

On Saturday morning, Community Action is hosting Snow Day, centered around Ezra Jack Keats’ well-known children’s book, The Snowy Day. Celebrate winter by making snowflakes and ornament, and enjoying a storytime in Greenfield. Every child will receive a free copy of their very own book!

Later in the day on Saturday in Westfield, young readers can Read with Rover at the Westfield Athenaeum. Specially trained therapy dogs will be at the library to serve as patient, calm, non-judgemental reading buddies for kids who are working on reading aloud.

In Stockbridge at the Red Lion Inn, also on Saturday afternoon, families can meet four local authors! Sarah Sedgwick Genocchio (A Stockbridge Childhood), Pat Pope (Johanna’s Gift), Janet McKinstry (Rosie and Friends, Unleashed in Berkshire County), Susan Geller and Susan Merrill (I Live in Stockbridge) will all share their books. Older children can find inspiration in writing short stories by hearing these authors share what it takes to be a published author and by asking them questions about their experiences as a writer.


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) based learning opportunities can be found in simple play, papercrafts and even in the mixing of ingredients found in your kitchen. For example, basic math, physics and engineering skills can be practiced with LEGOs. Several libraries offer their youth patrons a chance to participate in free LEGO clubs, including: Sunderland Library on Saturday morning; Ramsdell Library in Housatonic, also on Saturday morning; and the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 19th

Origami and papercrafts are a way to practice geometry. The Arms Library in Shelburne Falls hosts Paper Capers on Saturday afternoon, a free event that includes papercrafts of all kinds. Families can make accordion books, ornaments, beads, and more!

Get a taste of chemistry as a mad scientist at Kitchen Kaboom! at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield on Saturday morning! 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.


We’ve mention a couple of ways recently to explore history at two ongoing December events, including Old Sturbridge’s Christmas by Candlelight and Historic Deerfield’s Heritage Holiday. Another opportunity is by learning about the origins of the holiday carol, 12 Days of Christmas. On Saturday afternoon, find out about the possible symbolism behind the carol at the Jones Library in Amherst, where Dr. Thomas Bernard (professor at Springfield College) will share his ideas.


There’s still time to make your own holiday gifts! Sunday, Dec. 16th, is the Make-and-Take Craft Fair with fun and interesting holiday crafts at the Montague Grange! The fair will include activities for crafters of all ages, including beeswax candles, miniature terrariums, jewelry, and ornaments.

Then on Wednesday evening, visit Art Party Studio in Easthampton for an evening of wintry holiday crafts. There will be all sorts of special holiday materials to use – experiment with unique media (like glittery twigs, bells, and more!), and create a holiday masterpiece to give or decorate with.

What grandmother won’t love a hand-knitted scarf from their grandchild, dropped stitches and all?! Kids ages 7-11 can spend Thursday afternoon, Dec. 20th, knitting away at the Monson Library. Instruction will be available for casting on and off and doing basic knit and purl stitches. Kids who are ready to move on to more difficult projects can get support, too!


Hear the Pioneer Valley Symphony play holiday favorites at the annual Family Holiday Concert in Greenfield on Saturday evening. The show will also feature performances by the Pioneer Valley Symphony Chorus and the Greenfield High School Chorus.

Go contra dancing on Saturday evening in Lenox. Dances are a great way to get exercise, learn about rhythm, and gain better balance and movement skills. Contra dancing provides a friendly intergenerational environment in which people of all ages can contribute and participate equally.

Sing along to songs for the holidays at the Hubbard Library in Ludlow on Tuesday evening, Dec. 18th. David Polansky will share songs for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the entire winter season.


Join the Berkshire Natural Resources Council in exploring the Clam River in Sandisfield on Wednesday morning. The evergreen-filled property bumps up against the river – explore the area, search for animal signs, and enjoy the winter air.

Hike Chapel Brook with the Trustees of Reservations in Ashfield on Thursday morning. The easy to moderate hike will include lots of opportunities to spot animal signs, enjoy the crisp winter air, and get some great exercise.

Northfield Mountain celebrates the solstice this year with a hike on the cross-country ski trails on Friday evening, Dec. 21st. BYO headlamp to light the way! The trek will be filled with facts and quotes about (and celebrating!) the winter solstice.

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.


[Photo credit: (ccl) Mike Allyn]

31 Community Highlights: Victorian Crafts to Holiday Traditions. Winter Yule to The Nutcracker.

9 Chanukah events are featured for the next week in our post, Chanukah Highlights in Western MA. Families of all backgrounds are welcome and many events can serve as a celebration for Chanukah or a family exploration of Jewish history and traditions.

Quarry Hikes to Animal Adaptations. Victorian Crafts to Holiday Traditions. Winter Yule to The Nutcracker… 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!


On Saturday morning families can preregister for one of two hikes. The first hike takes place at Peaked Mountain in Monson where participants can learn to search for signs of animals who are still around for the winter. The Trustees of Reservations – and local naturalist Kevin Kopchynski – will guide the exploratory hike.

Also on Saturday morning, Connecticut River Valley Sanctuaries will sponsor a hike at the historic Becket Quarry. Families can look for moose tracks and industrial archaeology at the 300-acre Historic Becket Quarry and Forest Preserve. Located high atop the Berkshire Highlands and preserved by the Becket Land Trust, this former granite quarry offers a feast of fauna, glacial erratics and rich helpings of cultural history. This site features artifacts of the former Hudson-Chester Company that was in operation for almost a century until the 1960s and is often called a “ghost quarry” for its spooky, abandoned appearance. Best for ages 10yo and older.


Historic Deerfield continues their celebration of the holidays with traditional decorations, open hearth cooking demonstrations, silhouette making (a historic craft), and craft making for visitors all weekend.

In the afternoon on Saturday, the Wistariahurst Museum invites families to make Victorian crafts at their Holiday Crafts for the Family event in Holyoke. Learn how to make Christmas crackers, beautiful beaded ornaments, lanterns and more.

In the evening, families can celebrate the holiday season the old-fashioned way at Old Sturbridge Village while learning about the history of many holiday traditions. The historic village’s Christmas by Candlelight series offers families a chance to enjoy non-commercial, relaxed holiday festivities and activities and takes place Fri-Sun through Dec. 23.

Other opportunities to explore local history this weekend is at the Lenox Historical Society‘s annual Holiday Open House, a tour and lecture at the Shaw-Hudson House in Plainfield, and a tour of Arrowhead, home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield.


This week there are a number of holiday theater and dance performances happening throughout Western MA to get your family into the holiday spirit! On Saturday evening in Northampton, the Northampton High School presents their Fall One-Act Festival and Smith College students present Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and on Sunday, Ventfort Hall in Lenox hosts a Christmas handchime concert.

On both Saturday and Sunday, Mill City Productions in North Adams presents, “Fireside Yuletide,” a theatrical reading of classic family holiday tales, and the Shea Theater in Turners Falls hosts “Welcome Yule,” a performance of stories, songs, and dance to drive away the dark of winter.

There are a couple of ballet productions of The Nutcracker all weekend too. The Pioneer Valley Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at the Academy of Music in Northampton, and the Albany Berkshire Ballet present “The Nutcracker” at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.

Later in the week on Wednesday & Thursday, Dec. 12 & 13, the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Academy presents an annual Holiday Jubilee Winter Showcase, also at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

Looking for a Parents’ Night Out? Shakespeare and Company presents David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries at the Bernstein Theater in Lenox, every Friday-Sunday through Dec. 30.


The 7th annual holiday celebration, “A Special Day in Northfield,” happens all day on Saturday. This non-commercial community holiday celebration offers families an opportunity to explore, be creative, and enjoy what Northfield has to offer! Local artists and antiques stores will be open, too, so if you want to do any holiday shopping, you can shop locally and/or handmade. Another holiday stroll that happens on Saturday is the 4th Annual Dickens Days Village Stroll happening all day in downtown Westfield.

Later in the day on Saturday, explore downtown Great Barrington during their Holiday Stroll – the town is decorated for the holidays, the air is cool and crisp, and the town is alive with holiday spirit. Visit locally owned shops to get a jump start on shopping locally (and potentially handmade!) for the holidays.

On Thursday evening, Dec. 13th, downtown Turners Falls comes alive for the holidays for, “It’s a Wonderful Night!” The town will be filled with festive storefront displays, roving musicians, caroling, a tree lighting, and a free screening of, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” at the Shea Theater at 8pm. Some shops will have extended hours for the evening, in order to encourage visitors to shop locally for the holidays.


The annual Lenox Caroling Festival takes place this weekend – and competition will take place on Saturday at numerous locations throughout the town. Visit one – or all! – of the locations to hear a variety of beautifully performed holiday music.

On Sunday afternoon in Northampton, the Whole Children Chorus and the Florence Community Band perform Songs of the Season at Northampton High School, and in Pittsfield, Berkshire Lyric presents, “Deck the Halls,” at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, featuring the Blafield Children’s Chorus, the Monument Mountain High School Chorus, the Spartones, and Guademaus.

The Northampton Community Music Center brings together choral groups from all over the Pioneer Valley for an evening Holiday Choral Festival for all ages on Monday, Dec. 10 at the Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton.


On Monday evening, the Northampton Parents Center is hosting a free workshop titled, “Talking To Your Kids About Sex: A Workshop for Parents of Young Children,” at Bridge Street School in Northampton.

The Collaborative for Educational Services host a free Active Child workshop on Tuesday evening at the South Hadley Family Center for parents to get advice and learn strategies for parenting a spirited child.


Archaeologists must often apply a skill set similar to those used by forensics experts – they look at remnants of lives (caves, basements, stone walls, etc.) and use tiny clues in order to deduce the use of the place, item, etc. On Monday evening, Dec. 10th, older students and their parents can learn how archaeologists have used these skills to determine information about the history of the earliest European settlers in New England at Greenfield High School, where Central Connecticut State professor Ken Feder presents, “Monk’s Caves, Sacrificial Altars, and Wandering Celts.”


Whole Foods Market in Hadley is hosting a cooking class for 8-12yo kids on Tuesday evening, Dec. 11. Participants will make whole-grain cookies and bread while learning about making healthy choices for eating and developing healthy eating habits.


Visit Art Party Studio in Easthampton on Wednesday, Dec. 12th for an evening of wintry holiday crafts. There will be all sorts of special holiday materials to use – experiment with unique media (like glittery twigs, bells, and more!), and create a holiday masterpiece.


How do New England animals survive the winter? They all have unique adaptations that allow them to deal with the cold temperatures and changing food landscape. Learn about these adaptations and the creatures that you may see in the winter at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Friday morning, Dec. 14th.

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.


[Photo credit: (ccl) Jordan Chark]

Chanukah Highlights in Western MA, 2012

Chanukah Celebrations & Performances

The National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst hosts a Chanukah celebration for all ages on Sunday, Dec. 9th from 10am – 4pm. The day’s events include The Magic Dreidel, a theatrical and musical presentation of the story of Chanukah by the nationally touring Grumbling Gryphons. Also featured are hands-on music, dance and art workshops prior to the performance.

Celebrate and learn about Chanukah with the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst!  On Sunday, December 9th, the Center is hosting a day full of music, dance, theater, and art, all centered around teaching and learning about the story of Chanukah and the traditions that accompany the holiday.  The most exciting part of the event, however, is that participants in the day’s workshops will learn songs, dances, and maybe even some lines and will be able to participate in a performance of The Magic Dreidel later in the day!  The show, directed by Leslie Evans, features a live Klezmer band and, while it includes a full cast of professional actors, will be performed as a collaborative community show with lots of audience participation.

Kids ages 3-7 can take part in a workshop (from 12:30-1:30pm) on music and dance which will teach them basic songs and accompanying dance steps,  while kids ages 8+ (and grown-ups, too!) will learn lines and stage choreography (from 12noon-1:30pm).

The curtain rises at 2pm, and visitors wishing to be audience members rather than participants are more than welcome!  Families of all backgrounds are welcome at the Yiddish Book Center, and the event can serve as a celebration for Chanukah or a family exploration of Jewish history and traditions.  For more information, contact the Yiddish Book Center at 413-256 4900 or visit  ($)

Other Chanukah Highlights in Western MA:

Saturday, Dec. 8th

Recording artist Mama Doni will be the guest DJ for a “Heart of Chanukah” radio rebroadcast of Hilltown Family Variety Show on Northampton radio station WXOJ-LP 103.3FM (Valley Free Radio) from 9-10am. Encore airs on Sunday, Dec. 9th from 7-8am. Podcast available at immediately following Saturday’s broadcast.

Celebrate Hannukah at Temple Israel! Starting at 6:30pm, the Temple will host a community celebrate with latkes, dreidel-playing, donuts, games, and songs.  All are welcome – bring a menorah to light if you wish.  27 Pierce Street.  Greenfield, MA.  (FREE)

Sunday, Dec. 9th

Felicia Sloin, a Jewish “Entertain-ucator” uses music, percussion, and movement to engage all ages in a celebration of Jewish holidays and culture.  She will be giving two performances with puppeteer Kate Holdsworth joining her.  The first performance will the at 11:30am at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire (270 State Road) in Great Barrington.  The second performance will be at 3pm at the Berkshire Mall Macy’s Court (Old State Road) in Lanesboro.  (FREE)

The Congregational B’Nai Israel is celebrating Hannukah from 4-6pm with an all-ages community event!  There will be a bonfire (and fire dancing!), live music, latkes, candles, and more.  Families can extend their celebrations of the holiday, or learn about Jewish traditions.  253 Prospect Street.  Northampton, MA.  (FREE)

LYA hosts Chanuka Wonderland from 11am-2pm, an afternoon filled with Chanukah activities and crafts.  There will be face painting and interactive Chanukah games. The program will end with the Magic of Joe Bongio.   Chanukah Wonderland is sponsored by Beis Medrash Lubavitch and is open to the entire community. 413-567-8665.  1148 Converse Street.  Longmeadow, MA. (FREE)

Monday, Dec. 10th

LYA hosts a celebration for Hannukah from 5:30-7:30pm.  The event includes dinner (featuring latkes and donuts, of course!), a menorah lighting, a performance by the LYA choir, and – as a special event! – a visit from Bubble Trouble with Jeff Boyer!  Reservations suggested.  413-567-8665.  1148 Converse Street.  Longmeadow, MA.  ($)

Wednesday, Dec. 12th

The Jewish Community of Amherst celebrates Hannukah from 5-7:30pm with a community party!  There will be live music, holiday food, games, and a celebration of light for all.  BYO candles and menorah if you have one.  742 Main Street.  Amherst, MA.  (<$)

‘Tis the Season for Stories: 20 Picture Books for Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Holiday Books

Open Sesame (photo credit: Cheli Mennella)

‘Tis the season for stories. And what better way to share a story than snuggling up with your favorite kids and turning the pages of a beloved holiday book. Here are twenty suggestions for Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Some are brand new books and some are not-so-new favorites, but all are sure to get you and your kids into the holiday spirit.

  1. The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Published by Houghton Mifflin, 1985. A boy takes a magical Christmas Eve train ride to the North Pole.
  2. Chanukah Lights written by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by Robert Sabuda. Published by Candlewick, 2011. Follow the Festival of Lights through time and place from Herod’s temple to an Israeli kibbutz, by way of poetry and exquisite pop-ups.
  3. Seven Candles for Kwanzaa written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 1993. Describes the festival of Kwanzaa, its origins and practices, while pictures follow a family through the seven-day celebration.
  4. The Longest Night written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Ted Lewin. Published by Holiday House, 2009. On the longest night of the year, a crow, a moose, and a fox think they can bring back the light, but it is the song of the chickadee that wakes the sun.
  5. The Third Gift written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Clarion Books, 2011. A boy and his father collect the tears of myrrh trees, then bring them to market, where they sell them to three men who need a special gift for a baby.
  6. The Jolly Christmas Postman Written by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Janet Ahlberg. Published by LB Kids, 2001. As the Jolly Postman delivers holiday letters and gifts to fairytale characters readers can join in the fun by finding messages tucked into pocket envelopes.
  7. Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Published by Holiday House, 1994. Clever Herschel of Ostropol uses pickles, eggs, and a dreidel to outwit the hill-dwelling goblins and save Hanukkah.
  8. The Little Tree written by E. E. Cummings and illustrated by Chris Raschka. Published by Hyperion books for Children, 2001. A little tree from the country and a little family from the city find each other at Christmastime.
  9. Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story written by Angela Shelf Medearis and illustrated by Daniel Minter. Published by Albert Whitman & Co., 2000. When given the task of turning thread into gold, seven Ashanti brothers embody the principles of Kwanzaa to attempt the impossible.
  10. The Money We’ll Save written and illustrated by Brock Cole. Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011. When Pa brings home a turkey poult to raise in the family’s 19th century New York City tenement, hilarity and problems arise, but the family pulls together and saves Christmas from being ruined.  Read the rest of this entry »

Music Trekking: Games and Music for Hanukkah

Watch a Little Dreydl Spin!

December is such an exciting time of year as folks prepare for holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. For those who are celebrating Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, there are goodies to prepare, a menorah to light with it’s eight special candles, relatives to greet and a wonderful little game to play based on a top that spins, called the dreydl (or dreidel).

So why is it called a dreydyl? The word “dreyen” in Yiddish means “to spin” so the name makes perfect sense. The dreydyl song talks about a toy made out of clay and it is certain that the first dreydls were made this way. If you have one today – it is probably made from either wood or plastic. And it will have four Hebrew letters on it. What does each letter mean? Well, it tells the tale behind Hanukkah, how a very small bit of oil that should have lasted only a short time was miraculously able to burn in the Temple for 8 days! It spoke volumes to the Jewish people about how God was able to provide for those who were faithful. If you watch the video, the letters will appear and you can see their meaning as well as how they relate to playing the game.

If you’d like to play the dreydl game at home, you’ll need a pile of goodies. You can use walnuts, candies, pennies or special chocolate coins called Hanukkah gelt (literally, Hanukkah money). Everyone takes a turn spinning the top and they either pass their turn, add a treat to the pot, take half of the pot or take it all. What fun!

Is this a custom your family does around the holidays? If so, why not share it with some friends and teach them about the things you do. If not, what are the special customs that mean the most to your loved ones? Can you share them with your neighbors or friends so they can enjoy them as well.

Whatever holidays you celebrate – may they be bright, beautiful and full of love!


Award-winning children’s performer, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) has created 7 cd’s that have won national honors. She has the most awesome job of traveling the world to sing for kids and peace. Her “world music for kids” website,, was given a 2009 Parents Choice Award for its musical and cultural content.  She has also created a multicultural kids video site as well as My Favorite Multicultural Books.

A free copy of this month’s song can be downloaded on Daria’s Monthly Song Page.

The Heart of Chanukah Comes to the Hilltown Family Variety Show

Mama Doni Brings The Heart of Chanukah
to the Hilltown Family Variety Show
On Saturday, Dec 17th, 9-10am

Chanukah is about hope and spiritual light, and it's a time to be with friends and family and celebrate the light in our lives. We eat lots of fried food on this holiday, like latkes (pictured here) and jelly donuts (called sufganiyot) to remember the miracle that happened with the oil, and we play a game called dreidel with Chanukah gelt (small coins, either real or chocolate)!! So much fun!'

Hot on the heels of a tremendously successful summer tour, the fall/winter Mama Doni National Tour has begun! Parents’ Choice Award winner, Mama Doni is thrilled to come home for the holidays, highlighting the Chanukah season with a number of festive concerts in December, and she’ll also be “Guest DJ” for a  special “Heart of Chanukah” radio broadcast of Hilltown Family Variety Show on Northampton radio station WXOJ-LP (Valley Free Radio)  on Saturday, December 17 at  9am and Sunday, December 18 at 7am. 

Looking forward to conveying the joyous spirit of Chanukah in a fun and warm-hearted way on her Hilltown Family Variety Show segment, Mama Doni explains, “The Jewish holiday of Chanukah literally lights up our homes! Chanukah is also called ‘The Festival of Lights,’ referring to the flames that we light on our menorahs on each of the holiday’s eight nights. The story of Chanukah is a celebration of the victory of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. It also commemorates the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days when there was only enough for one day.

Mama Doni plans a lively program of songs and stories for Chanukah, including musical selections from Sha Na Na, The GrooveBarbers, and Woody Guthrie, along with Mama Doni Band originals, including “Chanukah Fever,” “Latke Man,” and “Honey. This Ain’t Money.”   She’ll also read a Chanukah story,  offer some great family activities for the holiday, and share some of her favorite Chanukah recipes, such as Judah Mac-N-Cheese and Choco-latkes.

Podcast and playlist will be posted to immediately following Saturday’s airing on Valley Free Radio at 10am on Dec. 17th, 2011.


Doni Zasloff Thomas, a.k.a. Mama Doni, is the lead singer/songwriter of The Mama Doni Band, honored with a 2011 Parents’ Choice® Award for their recent release, Shabbat Shaboom, and winner of the Simcha Award for “Inspiring Joy Through Music” in competition with more than 100 bands from 15 different countries at the 2008 International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam. The band celebrates Jewish culture with irrepressible zest in its interactive family rock concerts filled with catchy pop songs that break the mold of traditional Jewish music. Quirky, offbeat, and unpredictable, The Mama Doni Band offers up a contagious and unexpected blend of reggae, rock, disco, Latin, klezmer and “Jewgrass” – all woven together with a hip Jewish sensibility. Enthused the Miami Herald, “Not since Woody Allen’s Radio Days has American Jewish youth culture been celebrated with such a sublime mix of silly and substantive.”

Mama Doni’s recordings are available nationwide, as CDs and digital downloads.  Find out more at

[Photo credit: (ccl) Joshua Bousel)]

Hanukkah in Western MA

Not Your Grandparents' Shtel: Exploring Jewish Culture in Western Mass by Amy Meltzer

Hanukkah in Western MA

One way we celebrate is by displaying all our menorahs, from the fancy one we received as a wedding gift to the ones made by our children in preschool and kindergarten, and lighting at least two each night. (Photo credit: Amy Meltzer)

If you aren’t Jewish, Hanukkah may be the only Jewish holiday you’ve ever heard of. But in fact, it’s a relatively minor holiday. It falls into the surprisingly large category of Jewish holidays which can be neatly summarized as follows: someone tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.

In this case, the “someone” refers to  Antiochus, a ruler in ancient Israel who prohibited the practice of Judaism. A small and unlikely group of Jewish rebels, known as the Maccabees, stood up to the tyrant and ultimately defeated Antiochus in battle. When they retook possession of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life at the time, they discovered that it had been defiled with idols and pigs. According to tradition, when the Maccabees sought to rededicate the Temple (the word Hanukkah means dedication) they could only find one day’s worth of pure oil to light the menorah, the everlasting light in the Temple. Miraculously, that oil burnt for eight days, long enough for new oil to be prepared. (Looking for a good picture book version of the story? Try David Adler’s new book The Story of Hanukkah.)

Most Hanukkah traditions are connected in some way to the story of the miracle of the oil. In the United States we eat latkes, or potato pancakes fried in oil; in Israel, families make sufagniyot, or jelly doughnuts, also fried in oil. The menorah, or chanukiyyah, is lit each night for eight consecutive nights with candles or, more traditionally, olive oil. And the presents? Well, they don’t really have much to do with the story of Hanukkah. In fact, exchanging presents is a relatively recent phenomenon, most likely popularized because of the holiday’s proximity to another, slightly more well known, solstice-time celebration. One that typically features lots of presents.

Our family’s observance of Hanukkah is fairly modest. Don’t get me wrong – we’re really into holidays, but we make a much bigger fuss over Sukkot and Passover, which are traditionally more significant holidays.  We celebrate by displaying all our menorahs, from the fancy one we received as a wedding gift to the ones made by our children in preschool and kindergarten, and lighting at least two each night (the girls choose which ones). We make these potato latkes (usually only once – way too messy and well, too oily) and play dreidel with M&M’s. We also borrow and bend some traditions from our non-Jewish neighbors, decorating our house with blue lights and homemade decorations and decorating star-shaped cookies (Jewish stars, that is). The kids receive one present each night, with a few annual traditions – one night of  puzzles and/or games that we can do as a family, and one night of art supplies to share. The other nights’ gifts are small items like books and socks.

Some Jewish families feel a little threatened by the enormous appeal of Christmas, and find the need to sell Hanukkah to their children as being as-good-as-or-even-better-than Christmas. I understand the sentiment, but I’m not in favor of  the “we get eight days and they only get one!” refrain.  From my perspective, Hanukkah can’t possibly compete with Christmas, for the simple reason that Christmas is a major Christian holiday (what could be bigger than the birth of Jesus?) and Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday. Rather than trying to turn our holiday into something that it isn’t, we take time to enjoy the beauty of our friends, community’s and extended family’s Christmas festivities. We ooh and ahh over the holiday lights, watch the Christmas specials, and attend the Nutcracker. And with a non-Jewish set of grandparents, the girls even get a chance to do something I always wanted to do as a child – help decorate a Christmas tree. Of course, we also invite others to join in our Hanukkah celebrations. After all, what could be better for all of us than more opportunities to add light to our dark winter days? (The answer: more opportunities to add light AND a chance to learn about other cultures.)

There are a lot of wonderful pre-Hanukkah and Hanukkah events this month, including puppet shows, menorah lightings and festive meals. I’m especially looking forward to the conversation about Christmas and Hanukkah with award winning author Anita Diamant (see the December 4 listing below.) This month I’d also like to personally invite you to a party to celebrate the release of my new-(ish) picture book, The Shabbat Princess. Scroll down to December 10th for more details.

UPCOMING HANUKKAH EVENTS IN WESTERN MA (Dec 2nd-23rd, 2011):  Read the rest of this entry »

Eco-Friendly Holiday’s (Web Reviews)

Eco-Friendly Holiday’s (Web Reviews)

Hanukkah: Let There Be (Renewable) Light: A New Look at Hanukkah

This site considers “the connection between Hanukkah [Festival of Lights], energy use, and the environment,” and provides “holiday tips and resources for families, schools, and congregations to infuse Hanukkah celebrations with additional meaning,” and “tips for what you can do save energy in your congregation/school and at home.” Includes a “CFL installation ceremony,” an essay about the meaning of the darkness of winter, and more. From the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL).

FamilyFun: Have a Happy Green Holiday

Collection of children’s craft activities for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve that “give a gift to Mother Earth … [by turning] holiday and household surplus into festive decorations and eco-friendly packaging.” Includes instructions for a bubble packaging advent calendar, new uses for old greeting cards, fabric wrapping (inspired by Japanese furoshiki), and more. From FamilyFun magazine.

Eco-Friendly Kwanzaa

Craft ideas for making your own Kwanzaa celebration supplies. Includes instructions for making a Kwanzaa candle holder and mat. Also describes how to create other Kwanzaa symbols. From Care2, an activist organization.

Source: Librarians’ Internet Index,

Online Resources to Discover & Celebrate the Festival of Lights

19 Recommended Chanukka Books for Kids

Web Review: The Online Menorah

The Online Menorah

CCL (c) HeatherIntroduction to the meaning of Hanukkah and the Hanukkah menorah. Features background about why Hanukkah is celebrated, the basic rules associated with the use of the menorah (what one may use to light the candles, and how one lights the candles), and audio, with English translations, of three blessings that are recited when the candles are lit. Also includes links to more detailed material about Hanukkah. From a Jewish outreach and education group. [(c)]

Chanukkah E-Card

The National Yiddish Book Center has cooked up some e-cards, featuring images from Yiddish books in their impressive collection. Send a free e-card to your friends and family for with your own personal message for the holiday. They are offering three different designs:

  • Chanukka Menorah
  • Cooking Latkes
  • Dreydl

The National Yiddish Book Center is located in Amherst, MA.

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