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Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, is a recreated colonial village that teaches visitors about life at the time of the birth of the United States. On a normal visit costumed staff will lead you to visit various shops and homes while hands-on activities teach you about life in the 1700s. It is a popular place for school field trips in Southern New England and it is totally worth spending an afternoon here any time of the year.
But on December weekends candle light begins to glitter through the trees, and you get to experience one of the best Christmas activities in the region.
At Christmastime Sturbridge Village puts on Christmas by Candlelight, and you are transported to Christmas in the 1700s. All of the shops and homes that normally have everyday activities shift to Christmas activities. Our family has been 3 times, and it is one of our Christmas favorites. Sturbridge does a great job at catering their offerings to kids of all ages.
Horse drawn carriage-
This is a big favorite with my kids! A horse-drawn carriage complete with candle lit lanterns makes a loop around the village. The driver encourages passengers to sing Jingle Bells and other Christmas carols on the 10-minute ride.
I recommend doing this as soon as you get there. It gives you a great way to get the lay of the land, and you avoid long lines later in the evening.
Make icicle ornaments at the blacksmith
This is the favorite craft of the event, at least for my boys. Using thin strips of aluminum, the blacksmith will help your kids hammer the metal around a circular rod and make a hole in the top. This makes a shiny, lightweight ornament to hang on your tree. I think we have a couple of dozen of them on our tree each year!
Every year that we have gone to Christmas by Candlelight we have seen the same magician…. and he is fabulous! He has three shows each night, so you have more flexibility in how your night goes, but make sure to catch one of his shows. My oldest has been called up to hep 3 years running!
Carols in the barn-
This is my favorite, but my kids could take it or leave it. Three or four times per night there is carol sing-along in the barn. Sometimes it is combined with traditional dance, sometimes fiddlers and pipers, and one year a larger group of musicians.
There are model trains set up in Gallery Row, which is decorated to be the North Pole. The trains are constructed near the line for Santa, and when my boys were small this was a much bigger attraction than Santa!
In the very center of the village is a roaring bonfire. With seating around the perimeter you will be able to warm up between buildings! Roaming carolers sing near the fire to make it all the more enchanting.
To help our kids last longer on cold nights we try to stop here between every building we visit.
Gingerbread house contest
Dozens of gingerbread houses are lined up for your viewing pleasure. Some are incredibly intricate while others are simple and beautiful. We love to vote for our favorites and check online to see if our favorites won!
Tip: If you plan ahead you can enter the gingerbread house competition and receive two free tickets to Christmas by Candlelight. Entries are due by mid to late November. Check the website for details.
Sample goodies from Christmas Past
In various homes in Sturbridge Village you will find costumed craftsmen baking up Christmas goodies. You can sample gingerbread, breads, cakes, and apple cider among other items that change yearly. The recipe is also printed out for you to take home.
My kids favorite stop is the apothecary where they hand out hard black candies called horehound. It tastes like a cross between licorice and root beer. We always end up buying a few bags at the gift shop before we leave.
Singing groups from around the region
In the church at Sturbridge Village choirs and carolers from all over New England put on multiple performances nightly. There is plenty of seating inside and the acoustics in this old church are spectacular.
If your kids will sit through this you are super lucky! But if you have kids like mine, this might be something you sit in on while your spouse chases the kids.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things to do at Christmas by Candlelight. After you arrive you will get a schedule of events to allow you to plan your own activities. You can stop by the post office and make postcards, dip candles (for an small fee), make Christmas crafts that change yearly, and see artisan displays throughout the village. I tried to highlight the things that our family particularly loves, but your list could vary from ours and still be fabulous!
- Arrive a few minutes before Sturbridge opens for the night. It gets very busy as the night goes on. You will certainly want to spend your time enjoying Christmas by Candlelight and not standing in line.
- Plan on buying your tickets early as this event does sell out especially on Saturday nights.
- Local hotels often have discounts that coincide with Sturbridge Village Christmas by Candlelight, so look on the Sturbridge website. Since the event takes place in the evening, it might be nice to not have to drive home late.
- Check the weather before you go! December weather can vary widely in New England. It is much better to be overdressed than under dressed.
- Bring a baby carrier and not a stroller. We have made the mistake of taking a stroller and between snow, mud and deep ruts in the ground it was totally useless.
- Plan on spending 3-4 hours for the evening.
For more Christmas destinations visit Quebec City at Christmas- The Ultimate Planning Guide
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