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Holidays in the East Bay

25 celebrations to keep your days in the Bay merry and bright all through December


1. Kick off the month in style at Mistletoe Madness at Glen Manor House in Portsmouth on December 1. The festive cocktail party has food, dancing and cheer for days. 

2. Hop on the Neverland Express on December 1-2 to see kids perform holiday songs at Kickemuit Middle School in Bristol.

3. Linden Place, a grand home in Bristol, has nine designers creating gorgeous tablescapes for different rooms for Christmas at Linden Place all month long, plus holiday events like Michael DiMucci’s Fireside Christmas Concerts on December 8 and 10, and the Robbie O’Connell Celtic Christmas Concert on December 15.

4. When is a Christmas tree more than just a Christmas tree? When it’s part of the Christmas Tree Sale at Bristol’s Audubon Society on December 2, which also includes photos with Santa, seasonal crafts and activities.

5. Have Breakfast with Santa in a totally different way – on a train! The Newport and Narragansett Bay Railroad Co. offers morning weekend rides leaving from the Portsmouth Junction Station.

6. Blithewold Mansion is known to put on one of the most glittering holiday spectacles in the East Bay and work begins way before the holiday season even starts. This year’s theme is the roaring ‘20s, so there will be lots of sparkle, gold, white and jewel tones, party decor, Coco Chanel influences, jazz instruments, and flapper and pearl accents scattered throughout the rooms. And it doesn’t stop there: Blithewold’s holiday offerings also include sumptuous afternoon teas, a live music series and family “Sparkle sessions” with marshmallow roasting, free hot chocolate and carol singing.

“Decorators start thinking about the following year as soon as they finish this year’s decor,” says Sue Gimblet, co-chair of Christmas at Blithewold. The process starts with decorators formulating their ideas and getting approval, then shopping for new ornaments and decor during after-Christmas sales. Starting mid-October, the installation process begins with help from 75 to 85 volunteers who work diligently over five weeks to decorate 14 rooms, all with different themes and drawing on the archives of the Van Wickle family. There are 49 trees of all sizes, 60 candles in the windows and 22,000 twinkle lights, which are strung on trees and fireplace mantels. A 22-foot tree stands in the house’s front hall. Created by Joanne Murrman, who begins planning a year in advance, the tree is decked with 3,600 lights and hundreds of shiny ornaments. “I think, for most of the decorators, this holiday tradition is an extension of their creative lives, a chance to relive a time of wealth and elegance,” says co-chair Evelyn Monea.

7. For a stylish holiday season full of lavish trees, garlands, gingerbread houses and poinsettias, there’s no better place than the Newport Mansions. Through January 1, The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House – three national historic landmarks – are covered in holiday cheer and sparkles and open their doors to visitors. Led by Jim Donahue, curator of historic landscapes, and hundreds of volunteers, the whole design process takes about a month, which includes decorating 30 trees with hundreds of ornaments, 24 fireplace mantels each with its own theme, and lots of garlands, wreaths and candles illuminating the windows. “In January, we start planning and shopping for the year ahead when it’s all fresh in our minds,” says Donahue. “After the holiday season, we go from room to room to see what works and what doesn’t, and try to do something completely new in each house every year.” One house gets worked on at a time and every room has its own color scheme that goes with the historic decor. At the Breakers, a 15-foot-tall poinsettia tree made up of 150 individual plants sits in the Great Hall; 2,000 more poinsettia plants are scattered throughout the three mansions. “We are around the decor all the time,” says Donahue, so some of the novelty can wear off. But “when visitors see it for the first time and are impressed, it is so rewarding.”

8. Discover St. Nick’s Sinister Secret at the Newport Art Museum’s holiday version of Mystery at the Museum, running December 2-30, where murder – with a stake of holly through someone’s heart? – is afoot, and it’s up to the guests to solve the mystery.

9. Swansea celebrates Christmas in the Village on December 2 with a tree lighting, carolers and streets lit up with hundreds of luminaria.

10. Jingle all the way to Mount Hope High School for Bristol’s annual Breakfast With Santa on December 3.

11. Experience an 18th century holiday by candlelight on December 3 at Christmas at Whitehall Museum House in Middletown, with wassail and Christmas treats.

12. The Newport Holiday Stroll runs December 3-4 and 10-11, and includes festivities, food and the Bowen’s Wharf tree lighting.

13. The Seekonk Kiwanis Tree Lighting and Santa Visit on December 7 will feature holiday songs, treats and a visit from the man in red himself.

14. One-of-a-kind gifts and small-town holiday charm are in abundance at Tiverton’s annual indoor Arts and Artisans Festival on December 16 and 17. Fourteen local artists set up shop inside the Meeting House at Tiverton’s historic Four Corners, selling homemade items such as glass sculptures, pottery, bags, candles, jewelry, accessories, woodwork and paintings. “It’s never too early to begin thinking about the holidays,” says Alyssa Wood, co-chair of The Arts and Artisans festival. Wood and her sister, Brittany, begin planning the two-day festival towards the end of the summer, lining up artists to sell their wares, advertising and working with local merchants to make the event more seamless.

“It takes a lot of work putting the festival together,” Wood says, “but being able to offer an event like this in the heart of Tiverton Four Corners is very rewarding.” On the second day of the festival, Santa will read to children and take pictures, with proceeds going to Tiverton Food Bank. The festive environment at The Meeting House includes lights, lanterns, holiday greens and wreaths as well as hot cider and live music. -JI

15. On December 10, there will be a performance of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales at St. Michael’s in Bristol. The short story recalls the famed poet’s own holiday celebrations.

16. Tiverton’s annual Holiday Bright Night on December 8 is an evening of festivities when the shops stay open late and offer refreshments, with entertainment at Four Corners Meeting House.

17. Holiday shopping at local boutiques, hot chocolate, caroling and loads of twinkling lights are just a few of the things you can expect from Bristol’s annual Snowflake Raffle and Grand Illumination. The year-round planning process features multiple volunteers and merchants working together to put on the joyous events. It takes volunteers two to three weeks to install 35,000 lights on a 30-foot evergreen tree in front of the Burnside Building and 200,000 lights on Hope Street, including a 12-foot-by-12-foot illuminated snowflake for the Grand Illumination on December 2. Various local entertainers and choruses from the high school and elementary schools in town perform and Santa lights the big Christmas tree and all the lights downtown. “I love the feeling of being able to put on something that kids and spectators find so magical even if they’ve seen it before,” says Michael Reilly, chair of Bristol’s Grand Illumination. “It’s still a big deal.” If you love to shop, stop by the Bristol Merchant Association’s annual Snowflake Raffle on December 16, where thousands of people will show up for the chance to win up to $5,000 with tickets purchased at local participating stores.

18. You can’t have the most wonderful time of year without a town tree lighting. Barrington kicks off the holiday season with a one-day festival and lighting at Town Hall on December 2, from 11:30am to 5pm. “We start planning for this event up to three months ahead of time,” says Michele Geremia, recreation director for the Town of Barrington. With the help of hundreds of volunteers and performers and a dedicated staff, the one-day event includes an afternoon of live performances by Arts Alive, the Barrington Middle School A Capella Chorus and the Barrington High School Chorus, Santa arriving by fire truck, a magician, horse and wagon rides, hot chocolate, food trucks, letters to Santa, face painting and arts and crafts for the kids. It takes approximately three weeks to decorate for the season, which includes the lighting of several trees at Town Hall, including one 18-footer, and the adornment of snowflakes and holiday ornaments on the lampposts that line County Road (Route 114) and Maple Avenue. A total of 25,000 lights set the town aglow. “This event is all about seeing children’s faces light up with joy,” says Geremia. 

19. Glide into the season when the Newport Skating Center reopens on December 8, with a tree lighting, caroling and an appearance by Santa and his elves.

20. Living Literature performs A Christmas Story at the Tiverton Public Library on December 4. The two-person show is based on Jean Shepher’s short story that inspired the beloved 1983 movie.

21 See A Christmas Carol performed like you’ve never seen it before, on the Dickens Christmas Dinner Train, running from December 8-23 from Portsmouth Junction Station. The four-course dinner also includes a performance with music, laughter and Dickens’ classic characters.

22. Find great gifts and help support animals in need at the Potter League Artisan Craft Fair in Middletown on December 9, offering locally made art, crafts and treats.

23. There are traditions, and then there’s the Medieval Christmas Pageant at St. George’s School in Middletown, happening for the 106th year on December 13, which tells the Christmas story.

24. Run, run as fast as you can to Gingerbread Storytime at the Seekonk Public Library, which is a festive preschool and toddler storytelling hour complete with a snack and a craft on December 15.

25 Head to Common Fence Point for The Sweetback Sisters’ Country Christmas Swing-Along Spectacular on December 16, where hootin’ and hollerin’ – and BYO picnic baskets – are encouraged.