New England New Year Traditions: First Night & First Hikes

New England New Year Traditions: First Night & First Hikes

Many family-friendly New Year’s celebrations offer a range of opportunities to not only celebrate, but also to explore by inviting families to visit many locations or landmarks in their local communities.  These celebrations includes performances, art shows, hands-on activities, ceremonies and sometimes food!  Such events encourage Western Massachusetts residents to engage their local community and experience it from new perspectives.  The exploratory aspect of such events provides a place-based element to the cultural learning that New Year’s celebrations foster.  Participants can solidify their sense of place as they learn about and become a part of a local culture, tradition and heritage.  Moving through the local landscape offers insight and understanding of home, place and the meaning of local identity and culture.

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First Day Hikes for the New Year

Setting Intentions on the First Day of the Year with a First Day Hike

The New Year is often seen as a moment of reflection and intention-setting.  While on your first hike, consider taking your journal with you.  Nature can be inspiring and provides a place for contemplation and meditation.  A few writing prompts to help you get started:

  • What is a new skill you would like to learn this year?
  • Describe one of your favorite memories from last year.
  • Make a list of the favorite places you visited in your community last year.
  • Make a list of places you would like to explore further this year.
  • What is a new skill that you learned last year?

Check our list of Weekly Suggested Events to discover first day hikes to select for the first day of the year!

[Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield]

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Literature & Exploring the Winter Solstice through Storytelling

Winter: A Time for Sharing Stories and Connecting with Community.

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year.  From this day forward the days become longer, offering more light as the months continue.  Earlier in the season we explored old Norse traditions which are connected to the celebration of the winter solstice.  This time of the year was known in old Norse as Yule – sound familiar? The expression “yuletide” refers to this season and has been adopted to signify the holiday season.

The winter solstice is an introspective celebration for reconnecting with nature and community. As we begin to stay indoors more and spend time with families and friends, the winter season is an opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect with neighbors and family.  Storytelling fosters this connection through intergenerational dialogue and shared experiences.  Read the rest of this entry »

Winter Solstice Community Events

Museum Explorations of Christmas

Museum Explorations of Christmas

Local museums are an experiential way to explore the history of New England holiday traditions and how our present customs were influenced by the cultural practices of the past. Whether you’re interested in learning about food traditions from the past, historic decorations or customary festivities, museum exhibitions and demonstrations provide us with tangible examples in their exploration of history and culture. Specifically, living history museums and events are engaging ways to witness firsthand how holidays were celebrated in early New England. Hands-on activities and demonstrations create unique experiences for visitors to learn about different holiday festivities. It’s also a great opportunity to see how the season was celebrated in a non-commercial way; many decorations and gifts were handmade!

Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover winter holiday traditions being celebrated across the region.  Read the rest of this entry »

Community Celebrations of Hanukkah

Celebrate Hanukkah

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday known as the Festival of Lights. For eight days, Jewish families light one more candle of the eight that create the menorah each evening. In Western Massachusetts there are many places to explore the traditions of Hanukkah and Jewish culture through community events and local museums. Bring your family to celebrate while participating and learning about customs of the holiday.

Here in this video is a brief history of Hanukkah and the origin of many customs:

Find community events for celebrating and discovering the traditions of Hanukkah in our list of Weekly Suggested Events.


Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover winter holiday traditions being celebrated across the region.

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50 Years of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa: Celebrating 50 Years!

In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga established an African American and Pan-African holiday, Kwanzaa, based on traditional African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Organized around seven principles (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith), Kwanzaa aims to preserve, continually revitalize, and promote African American culture. A week-long celebration observed from December 26 to January 1. During this time, look for annual community-based celebrations in which to participate.

Share this video with your kids, discovering the history and tradition of this celebration:

The Malcolm X Cultural Center at UMass in Amherst hosts an annual Kwanzaa Celebration. Other annual Kwanzaa celebrations take place in Springfield and Pittsfield. Learn more about the symbols, values, and history of Kwanzaa online at www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org.


Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover winter holiday traditions being celebrated across the region.

Three Kings Day Customs: Food, Giving & Celebrating

Three Kings Day Customs: Food, Giving & Celebrating

The intersection of food and culture are great ways to make learning connections! Make Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings Bread) at home and discover this delicious food tradition!

On January 6th in many Hispanic countries, the Day of the Three Kings, or Los Reyes, is celebrated. This day marks the biblical adoration of the magi or the three kings that came to visit the newborn baby Jesus. Each king comes bearing a gift. Traditionally on this day gifts are exchanged and, on the island of Puerto Rico, another sweet and interesting tradition occurs with children writing a letter to los reyes asking for gifts. Then, on the night before the Day of the Three Kings, children gather cut grass and place it in a box underneath their bed. The grass is meant for the kings’ camels to eat. In exchange for the grass, and in gratitude, the kings leave a special little gift for the children!

Learn about the extended holiday season and the traditions and celebrations that accompany Three King’s Day through reading, baking, crafting, and celebrating in our post, Three King’s Day Offers Multi-Cultural LearningRead the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Holiday Traditions

Holiday Strolls: Getting to Know the Places Around You

Holiday Strolls

During the holiday season, many communities and neighborhoods host special events that gather everyone together in the spirit of friendship, community and wonder. It’s a great way to discover the unique identity of a place and its traditions. In Western Massachusetts, each community has a distinct character and its own way to commemorate the holiday spirit. By participating in these events, not only do you have the opportunity to engage your community, but you also help to preserve local history and culture.

Towns across the region host an extended evening of activities with shops open late to encourage support of local merchants while connecting with neighbors as the days get shorter, including Amherst, North Adams, Northampton, Northfield, Turners Falls, Shelburne Falls, Stockbridge, and Williamstown. Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover more about these annual events.

 

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Everyone Can Sing: Holiday Music Brings Community Together in Song

Caroling & Chorus Music During the Winter Holidays

Singing together with family, neighbors and friends is one way of enhancing children’s language learning. Read more in our archived post, “Christmas Singing for Language Skills.”

A fun holiday tradition, caroling events are wonderful intergenerational events that explore choral music with your family and friends. With many songs sung during the holiday seasons rich in history, there is much to learn, plus it’s good for your health and wellness! Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover more about these annual events.

It’s no secret that music is good for your brain. A Chorus America study found that, while participation in a chorus has benefits for everyone, it seems to have a particularly meaningful effect on children. Children who participate in a chorus were found to achieve more highly in school compared to classmates who weren’t involved in chorus – a statistical representation of the deep learning that chorus participation promotes.

In addition to the learning-based benefits of singing in a chorus, being a part of a singing group helps to ward off chemicals that can cause depression and loneliness. Generally seen as a major benefit for adults, the natural production of extra endorphins and oxytocin (a chemical that decreases stress and anxiety) as a result of singing certainly has benefits for children, too. A singing child is likely to be calm and happy more often than not thanks to the chemicals that choral singing helps to release in their bodies.  Read the rest of this entry »

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…

Non-Commercial Gift Giving: The Art of Sharing

Non-Commercial Gift Giving: The Art of Sharing

Craft fairs and open studios happen across the region during the holiday season. [Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield]

During the holiday season, gift-giving is considered a traditional aspect of our seasonal celebrations.  Instead of purchasing a gift, gift givers can also look to the domestic arts, crafts, and visual arts for inspiration in making handmade gifts that encourage originality and thought. This week in Learning Ahead we are featuring ways to give gifts that are value-base (non-commerical & creative-free play), support learning and accessible through community-based events, resources and opportunities!


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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Traditional Crafts & Artisan Skills: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Shop Local: Craft Fairs & Open Studios

Take the challenge this year by shopping local and non-commercial during the holiday season. The abundance of craft fairs and open studios happening in the area featuring handmade products by local artists and artisans make it easy to find that special something when looking for a gift of any kind. Handmade wood or glass ornaments, hand-knitted scarves, upcycled accessories, one-of-a-kind prints and stationery… our region is filled with a strong creative economy filled with amazing artisans!

While browsing an artisans studio or booth, take the time to stop and talk with them. Be curious and ask them questions. Discover how they learned their craft skill, what the history is behind their craft, how long they have been making their art, and where they find their inspiration. A purchase not only supports the artist and artisan, but your gift now comes with a story to share with the person with you will give your gift.  Read the rest of this entry »

Language Arts & Creativity: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Handmade: Write a Zine or Make a Journal

Zines (short for magazine or fanzine) are self-published books that include different media forms: collage, illustrations, comic strips, and words.  A zine can be a book of poetry or a story, it can be a guide book or a collection of fairy tales – the sky’s the limit!  Zines can also be photocopied and bound so that you can produce multiple copies.  Here’s a short documentary on Zines…

Making a zine is a rewarding, creative process and can certainly be a part of your gift giving plans for the holidays. Need some inspiration for your zine-making adventures? Check out the Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton, MA.  The Flywheel Arts Collective has a community Zine library and cafe with over 3,000 zines, featuring many from Western Massachusetts!  Flywheel is a collective of art and poetry that allows people to share their work with others in their local community.  It’s a great community resource for those looking to feel inspired through grassroots art and literature that aims to inspire, provoke thought and engage the community.  Read the rest of this entry »

Science & Art: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Go to a Makerspace!

Makerspaces inspire creativity!  These community places provide the space to combine science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM!) in order to make and create.  They are like an artist’s studio but also include digital making as well as physical making.  Activities include woodworking, electronics, computers, 3D printing, knitting, screen printing, sewing, and more!  Western Massachusetts has a number of community maker spaces to start brainstorming your do-it-yourself gift giving ideas.  Read the rest of this entry »

Fiber Arts, Math & Mindfulness: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Knit Something!

Remember the knitted items you saw during the Agricultural Fairs towards the end of the summer? Get ready for next September’s aggie fairs while working on gifts for others this season! At www.ravelry.com, you to search for free knitting patterns that can help you come up with your next project gift idea.  Perhaps a one-skein hat? A pair of mittens?  Or a hand-knitted cowl?  Knitting is not only a fun activity and great way to hand-make a gift, but it’s also a wonderful way to get together with fellow knitters of all ages and knit together!  Who knows what new stitches you’ll learn and the new friends you’ll meet!  Read the rest of this entry »

Culinary and Pastry Arts: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

The Gift of Food!

Bûche de Noël from Bread Euphoria in Haydenville, MA. [Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield]

Tis the season to pay special attention to spreading kindness to those around us! Families can spread kindness by sharing homemade foods with neighbors, and can expand this activity to include studies of world cultures by baking foods enjoyed internationally!

We explored food preservation earlier this month – now it’s time to put those skills to use!  Pumpkin or apple butter make great holiday gifts and are something the recipient can enjoy for the entire season! Jams and jellies are also a nice gift idea! Want to help the gift recipient get ready for sugaring season in the late winter?  How about preparing a ready to go pancake mix in a jar? Finally, freshly baked cookies and pies are always a great gift idea. Read the rest of this entry »

Living History Museums Bring the Holiday Season Alive!

Living History Museums Bring the Holiday Season Alive!

Step back in time to a simpler day when holiday celebrations involved cooking over an open fire and illuminating homes with candlelight – the holiday season offers opportunities to experience celebrations of the past at three different living history museums! Families can explore, watch demonstrations, and engage in hands-on activities in order to learn about the ways in which the holiday season was honored in early New England.

Modern technology has certainly had an impact on the ways we decorate for and celebrate the winter holidays – early winter in New England now involves strings of lights and blow-up snowmen rather than windows lit by candles and evergreens adorned with cranberry strings.

This holiday season, families can take a step back into the past, to a simpler time when holiday celebrations involved candles and open hearth cooking. By taking advantage of upcoming holiday-themed living history events, families can dive into the history and culture of western Massachusetts’ holidays past while adding a new tradition to their own celebrations! Read the rest of this entry »

Thanksgiving: Through the Lens of Poetry, Art & Literature

Thanksgiving: Through the Lens of Poetry, Art & Literature

As mentioned in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of Learning Ahead, food connects us. The gathering of community, family, and friends around the table for a shared meal is a meaningful way to spend time together in the spirit of sharing and collaboration through food. The Thanksgiving season is one that inspires us to reflect on the people and places for which we are thankful. It’s an opportunity to express gratitude collectively.

Today, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is a celebration of the harvest season. The dinner table features the autumn bounty produced by local farms. Customary foods often included in Thanksgiving meals include corn, turkey, cranberry sauce, and fall vegetables such as squash and pumpkin pie. In fact, the traditional New England dishes often included at the Thanksgiving table have even inspired poets in their literary musings.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Thanksgiving

Exploring Military History through Music

Exploring Military History through Music

The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps in the armed forces is a part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). It is stationed at Fort Myer, VA. This unique military unit performs in uniforms based on those worn by the musicians of General George Washington’s Continental Army.  Uniforms from this time included black tricorn hats, white wigs, waistcoats, colonial coveralls, and distinct red regimental coats.

The corps features two historical music ensembles.  Watch this video and listen to The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps play historical music:

This interesting regiment recalls New England’s historic past through its music. As mentioned earlier, our state and region were a central part of the United States’ early formation. Massachusetts was one of the original colonies and many of the patriots that participated in the Revolutionary War were from Massachusetts. The music that the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps plays is the same music that once inspired the patriots serving in the Revolutionary War. As you participate in Veterans Day ceremonies, take a moment to listen to this early music and remember those who served this nation.

Learn more about this interesting regiment at www.fifeanddrum.army.mil.

[Photo Credit: Sienna Wildfield]


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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Literary Lens: Walt Whitman and the Civil War

Literary Lens: Walt Whitman and the Civil War

During the American Civil War, poet Walt Whitman spent time visiting hospitalized soldiers wounded on the battlefield.  He traveled with soldiers from one hospital to another and visited wounded soldiers daily.  As the war continued, Whitman resolved to stay in the Union and serve the wounded as they recovered from their injuries.  It was a critical moment in his life and greatly affected his poetry later.

Lifelong learners and self-directed teens are invited to read Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser along with Bart Wolffe’s reading of the same in this video file:

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Historical Re-Enactments Bring History to Life

Historical Re-Enactments Bring History to Life

Reenactment at Historic Deerfield.

Living history programs and events in Western Massachusetts happen all year round and include local historical re-enactors portraying the life of New Englanders centuries ago at encampments and school programs.  They often showcase the skills and activities of people during war time periods such as the American Revolutionary War or the Civil War.  Participating historians help to preserve the heritage of our region’s past and the study of American history.  In addition to encampments, some units engage in battle reenactments which are rehearsed recreations of actual battles.  Read the rest of this entry »

Featured Events: Veterans Day & Military History

Featured Events: Veterans Day & Military History

November 11th is Veterans Day, a national holiday that honors American veterans of all wars. The original date has great historical significance – the armistice that ended World War I was on November 11th, 1918.

Today, Veterans Day honors all of those who have dedicated themselves to serve our country in the armed forces. Given Massachusetts’ rich history and role in the formation of the United States from colonial and Revolutionary War times to our contemporary society today, this is a day to remember the soldiers from the past as well as those today who serve our nation. As a result, there are many ceremonies and parades that happen on Veterans Day in Western Massachusetts, such as the Springfield Veterans Day Parade as well as parades and ceremonies in Greenfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Pittsfield. The celebration and recognition of Veterans Day is a reminder of our local history, our region’s historic past, and all of the women and men who served and continue to serve our nation.

Many towns host annual ceremonies and parades. Check your town web site and our list of Weekly Suggested Events for upcoming opportunities.

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Volunteer & Cultural Opportunities to Honor Veterans on Veterans Day in Western MA

Volunteer & Cultural Opportunities to Honor Veterans on Veterans Day in Western MA

November 11th is the perfect chance to honor our Veterans, and there are many opportunities to do so.

When someone has lots of experience in a profession, we call them a veteran in their field – veteran teachers likely have years and years of experience, and veteran nurses have spent decades in healthcare. When we hear the word “veteran” without the name of a profession attached to it, however, it usually means only one specific thing – military veterans. While the term “veteran” is frequently associated with those former military members who have fought in wars, it actually applies to all honorably or medically discharged former military members who served for at least two years – regardless of whether or not they engaged in combat.

Veterans Day, a national holiday celebrated every year on November 11th, provides communities with the opportunity to learn about and offer appreciation for the service provided by military veterans. While many veterans fought in wars, many others served during times when the United States wasn’t engaged in combat and supported the country by participating in community projects, offering assistance during national disasters, and offering security to important government officials and locations. Regardless of your views regarding US participation in wars, Veterans Day serves as a time to thank those who have dedicated a part of their lives to serving their country.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Late Fall Community-Based Learning through Engagement

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: November Segment
Late Fall Learning with Hilltown Families Cultural Itinerary

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, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, 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 Tuesday, November 1, 2016. This month Sienna and Seth talked about ways to engage in our community in the late fall. Reviewing the newest edition of Learning Ahead, Seth and Sienna talk about learning through the lens of the food, habitat and culture found in the Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

Click on the video to watch.
Download a copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA. (38 page PDF) for the holiday season.


Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be the week after Thanksgiving.

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