To get into the proper holiday spirit early, the place to be the first weekend in December is the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. Festivals galore start the season right in this region that is always as pretty as a Christmas card, and there are numerous opportunities to check off your holiday shopping list in scenic settings. The only dilemma is where to go first.
Bethlehem New England's Christmas Town
One good place to start is Connecticut's own little town of Bethlehem, a quaint, village that is transformed each December, when it becomes New England's favorite Christmas Town. Thousands of visitors arrive to mail their Christmas cards with a Bethlehem postmark and to enjoy the 31st annual gala Christmas Town Festival, set this year for Friday night December 7 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a tree lighting at 6 p.m. and Saturday, December 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The town green is transformed for the occasion with some 70 vendors offering crafts and good food. Bring the family for musical entertainment, hayrides and the chance for a photo with Santa. Find the complete schedule at www.christmastownfestival.com
Bethlehem's historic Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden will be festively decorated for the weekend, with themed decorations in each of the first floor rooms. Children will enjoy games, prizes and surprises and refreshments in the Visitor's Center. This house will be open during festival hours, December 7 and 8 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. For details, phone (203) 266-7596. For details, phone (203) 266-7596 or visit www.ctlandmarks.org
Bethlehem also offers the chance to visit a rare museum-quality 18th century Neapolitan Crèche housed in a barn at the Abbey of Regina Laudis. Check the hours at abbeyofreginalaudis.com
The Bethlehem Post Office is also offering extended hours. Bring your holiday cards and stamp them with a special cache. There are 76 stamp designs to choose from as one new design is added each year. The post office will be open with extended hours for the festival. The post office is open on Fri. Dec. 7 from 8 am to 8 pm; on Sat, December 8, 15, & 22 from 8 am to 3 pm and Mon.- Fri. 8 am to 5 pm the month of December
For area information on where to stay, shop and dine, please visit www.litchfieldhills.com.
Kids will love the Grinch Festival a the Imagine Nation Children's Museum in Bristol on December 7 from 5 pm to 8 pm, where the Dr. Seuss world of Whoville, complete with crafts, sing-alongs and special visitors--including the Grinch. www.imaginenation.org
December 1-16 marks the opening of the Winter Indian Arts & Craft Market at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, and from noon to 4 p.m. parents can shop in the holiday tent that offers items for up to 70% off. The market continues the whole month of December. www.iaismuseum.org.
Holiday ornament-making for kids will take place at the Sharon Tree Lighting on the green and Sharon Historical Society Open House starting at 4:30 on December 1. Everyone is invited to enjoy hot chocolate and homemade cookies furnished by Sharon residents at the society's headquarters, the historic Gay-Hoyt House, which is beautifully decorated for the occasion. www.sharonhist.org
The Merwinsville Hotel and Museum is transformed into a winter wonderland every year for Christmas in Gaylordsville, a world of snow villages, model trains around the Christmas tree, caroler's displays of snow globes, nutcrackers and music boxes. The event takes place Nov. 30, 6:30- 930 and Dec. 1-2 from 10 to 5 pm. Art, crafts, jewelry, weavings, birdhouses, and photography by local artists are among the tempting items for sale. A special Story Time for children will take place on Saturday and Sunday at 11AM. www.merwinsvillehotel.org.
This will be the 23rd year for St. John's Bazaar in Washington November 30 and Dec. 1 and 2. A live auction will take place at Friday night's preview party, with offerings such as a week in Tuscany or a Nantucket getaway. The Bazaar continues on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with festive gift shopping and delicious treats from the famous St. John's Larder. www.stjohnwashington.org
Another favorite historic celebration is the annual Holiday Festival at the Glebe House in Woodbury, also Friday, December 2 and Saturday, December 3. Free tours will be offered of the museum house, beautifully decorated for the holidays with wreaths, holiday lighting, and garlands, all for sale. A bazaar offers many original gift ideas. www.theglebehouse.org
The Holiday Tea at the historic Rider House is a happy tradition presented by the Danbury Museum and Historical Society from noon to 1:30 p.m. on December 1. A variety of teas and an assortment of sandwiches, savories and sweets will be served and the Danbury Museum's Holiday Bazaar will be open with a host of gift ideas. Reservations are required--space is limited. Call (203) 723-5200 for further information.
The Bethel Holiday Craft Festival at The Stony Hill Inn on November 24 will be another opportunity to find unique gifts made by many talented artisans. Phone (203) 261-2414 for hours.
There's still wonderful shopping to be had the following weekend at the Newtown Holiday Craft Festival at the Edmond Town Hall gymnasium in Newtown, on December 9th where over 36-juried vendors will be offering their handcrafted wares. Information is available at (203) 261-2414.
Or plan to have Breakfast with Santa on December 15 and 16 at Wood Acres Farm in Terryville. Eggs, pancakes and sausages are on the menu, there will be horse-drawn hay or sleigh for all and young visitors will enjoy a visit with Santa and story time with Mrs. Claus. For advance tickets, phone: (860) 583-8670.
For more information about these and other December events in the Litchfield Hills and to receive a free copy of UNWIND, a 112-page color guide to lodging, dining and other attractions, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, www.visitwesternct.com.