Winter Festivals: Living Seasonally through History, Culture & Art

Winter Festivals: Living Seasonally through History, Culture & Art

In 19th century New England, the winter season was a time for gathering and socializing with family, friends, and neighbors. As the fields lay dormant in anticipation off the agricultural season, rural New Englanders used the cold season as a time for meeting friends, having conversations, and visiting with one another. Before the telephone or telegraph, visiting a friend’s home was a way to share news, gossip, and stories.

Besides visiting a friend’s home, other common gathering places were the general store, taverns, and town meetings. Home visits, encounters with neighbors and local businesses allowed New Englanders to strengthen their community ties and reconnect during a time of year that was generally quiet.

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6 Winter Festivals in Western MA

Northampton Ice Arts Festival

This annual festival has brought temporary ice sculptures to the streets of  Northampton since 2010. Offered as a part of the Northampton Center for the Arts’  February installment of Arts Night Out, the Ice Arts Festival offers the chance to  explore the art of ice carving. Artists work away while passersby can check out the different techniques and tools of the trade. Spectators can watch the participants throughout the day and then enjoy the glistening sculptures at night Visit nohoarts.org to find out this year’s date, time and  sculpture locations.

Easthampton WinterFest

Since 2013, Easthampton has been bringing together wintry celebrations that explore local history and the local landscape such as ice harvesting on Nashawannuck Pond, nature walks with community partners, wildlife talks and demonstrations, and other festivities such as dance parties, horse-drawn wagon rides and more!  To learn about the latest program information for this year, check out:  www.nashawannuckpond.org/winterfest.

Holyoke Canal District Winter Festival

Holyoke’s Canal District Winter Festival offers a weekend of activities to bring to life the city’s historic Canal District neighborhood.  Visitors can explore this interesting part of the city where the canals are evidence of Holyoke’s once thriving industry. Usually in collaboration with Gateway City Arts, past activities have included a Luminaria Parade, dog show, artisan market, musical performances and the annual firefighters vs. police officers rivalry hockey game! www.gatewaycityarts.com.

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Sense of Place: Winter Social Calls

Think about this:

What are the tools used in sculpting ice? What are the challenges ice sculptors face that other sculptors of different media don’t?

How would families and neighbors gather in the winter before the invention of automobiles and highways? How did the inability to travel far distances impact communities and relationships?

How do winter festivals gather communities together? What types of activities do they host in order to foster connection and togetherness during the colder months?


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Winter Festivals in Western MA

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: February Segment
Winter Festivals in Western Massachusetts

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 Monday, February 8th, 2016 with Sienna and Seth talking about explorations of New England culture in February during the season of winter festivals while engaging in community-based learning opportunities:

View the video above to learn about upcoming winter festivals and check out our list in our post Winter Festival Season 2016 in Western MA!

This Saturday, February 13th during the Easthampton WinterFest, join us from 10am-12pm at Flywheel for a Saturday Morning Music Party!


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 Monday, March 14th, 2016!

Winter Festival Season 2016 in Western MA

It’s no secret that winter here in western Massachusetts can be tough on both body and soul. The daylight hours are short, the temperatures are low, and it’s tough to truly enjoy the outdoors. This year in particular, the lack of snow has made enjoying the wintry landscape more difficult than usual: many of our usual body-moving, energy-expending activities are less-than-ideal without at least a good six inches of the fluffy white stuff. Luckily, winter festival season is upon us! Throughout the upcoming month, communities all over western Massachusetts will rally for celebrations of all kinds, both indoors and out. Opportunities for play and learning will abound at these seven upcoming community celebrations! Read the rest of this entry »

4 Winter Celebrations to Shake the Cold Away

Winter Festivals Warm Up Western MA

Celebrates The coldest, bleakest stretch of winter upon us – and it’s time to celebrate! With the coming of February comes a host of community winter celebrations and festivals of all kinds, offering families a chance to enjoy time outside, try new foods, learn about cultural traditions, support local teams, and more!

The town of Greenfield will be celebrating all weekend – Greenfield Winter Carnival takes place from February 1st-3rd, and offers exciting events for all ages throughout town. Friday night kicks off the carnival with a bonfire and fire dancing performance at Beacon Field, ice skating at Collins-Moylan Arena, and ice carving, a cribbage tournament, art exhibits, and more downtown. Saturday brings the annual Sleigh Bell Run, and is Family Fun Day, too- meaning that the Greenfield Youth Center will host games, crafts, a family movie, and more throughout the day. Hockey fans can see two local teams – one women’s and one men’s – play exciting games on Saturday, too, and outdoors enthusiasts can take a snowshoe trek! Finally, Sunday brings fun snow-related activities like sledding, an outdoor community tug of war, a snowman village, snow sculptures, and a bonfire!

The following weekend, the town of Amherst’s annual Winterfest will take place at the Cherry Hill Golf Course on Saturday, February 9th from 1-6pm. The festival will have everything from sled races to chili! Families can enjoy an afternoon outdoors of cross country skiing or snowshoeing, sleigh rides, frisbee, hoola hoop games, sledding (including the annual Cardboard Classic sled race!), and more. Then, warm up inside and fill your belly at a cider donut eating contest, the chili cook off, a wine and cheese tasting for grown ups, and more! The event also includes dance and music performances, and the night will end with fireworks! The golf course is located on Montague Road in north Amherst. Tickets are available at the event.

For a celebration of cultural traditions from down south, look no further than Ashfield for this year’s Winklepicker Festival! Held from February 15-17th, the festival is the hilltowns’ own Mardi Gras party – there will be celebrations of the food, costume, dance, and music of Mardi Gras all weekend long! Highlights include a New Orleans-style dinner at Elmer’s Store, a cooking class with chef Carlos Neville, a kids’ Mardi Gras ball featuring live music from Primate Fiasco (as well as a Mardi Gras ball for big people, too), and live music from Eileen Jewell, Charles Neville, and the Salvation Alley String Band.

Finally, the Lee Cabin Fever Festival will add some excitement to school vacation week, and is filled with all sorts of events to help families shake off the winter blues. Held from February 15th-22nd, the festival includes events like the crazy (and annual!) bathing suit dash down Main Street, ice and snow sculpting competitions, the Taste of Lee restaurant event, a short film festival, special storytimes, and more – check the schedule to find fun events throughout school vacation.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Squirmelia]

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