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Celebrating the Holidays in Greenwich

Though our town may be known for its sophistication and opulence, when it comes to the holidays, our traditions are straight out of a storybook

Music in the Air

Choral Society Christmas Concert

In a tradition that dates back some eighty years, this season’s Choral Society Christmas concert, Nativitas, features a wealth of music from the British Isles plus some Greenwich flavor. “We are very excited to be doing the world premiere of a new work by local composer Rob Mathes,” says Choral Society singer Sandra Lundgren. Fellow singer Anne Marie Hynes commissioned Mathes to write the piece as a fortieth anniversary gift to her husband. Also notable is the concert opening: “The sanctuary is dimmed and hushed, and we process in carrying candles and hand bells and then sing a piece
a cappella in the round, surrounding the audience with music. It’s a unique way to begin and help the audience feel the same joy we feel from the music.”

Dates & Times: December 3, 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.; December 4 at 4:30 p.m.
Place: Christ Church, 254 East Putnam Avenue
Information and Tickets:
622-5136, greenwichchoralsociety.org; $25–$35

Stanwich Congregational Church, Messiah

This will be the sixth annual Messiah here, thanks to the spacious new church built a few years ago to replace the one built a few hundred years ago. “The old church was just too small. Sometimes modernizing fosters tradition,” says Randall Atcheson, director of music. Atcheson has conducted the Messiah in the area for the past twenty-five years, so it’s certainly a longstanding personal tradition. He conducts the choir, soloists and chamber orchestra, while also accompanying on the piano. “My hands are flying, my feet are flying,” says Atcheson, who has performed ten solo concerts at Carnegie Hall. “I love it! We probably do the world’s fastest Messiah, so it’s highly spirited. The instrumentalists play with smiles on their faces, in disbelief of the exceedingly fast tempos!”

Date & Time: December 3, 3 p.m. (followed by a Christmas tea)
Place: 202 Taconic Road
Information: stanwichchurch.org

A Caroler’s Christmas at St. Barnabas Church

This year, for the first time, the youth choir at St. Barnabas joins the concert choir in “A Caroler’s Christmas”—a concert that embraces all levels of singers, with carols drawn from various backgrounds. Conductor and Music Director Michael Roush explains: “As we know, the lovely traditions that we think of as an ‘American Christmas’ have actually come from other cultures and countries.” Roush promises that the concert will be “fresh—as best one can put a fresh spin on Christmas!” Come, participate, and, if this is your first St. Barnabas concert, incorporate a fresh tradition into your holidays.

Date & Time: December 11, 5 p.m.
Place: 954 Lake Avenue
Information: 661-5526, stbarnabasgreeenwich.org

Rob Mathes Christmas Concert

Rob Mathes has made his Christmas concert an annual tradition for eighteen years. A documentary of the 1993 event, I Want to Hear the Bells, and another PBS-TV special, Christmas Is Coming: Rob Mathes and Friends, contributed to the Old Greenwich native’s reputation as a legendary musician (not to mention his role as music director of the inaugural We Are One concert for President Barack Obama). Mathes has been a tad busy this year, directing Sting’s 60th Birthday Concert, producing three records for him and serving as his Symphonicity tour producer/director. But Mathes always finds time to bring his unique musical magic home for the holidays. T. D. Ellis, Rob’s cousin, and owner of the Music Source in Old Greenwich, says, “It will be a fabulous mix of music, new and old. It’s really hard to describe a Rob Mathes Christmas concert. You have to go and experience it.” The world-class musicians playing with Mathes include Will Lee on bass; Billy Masters on guitar; Joe Bonadio on drums; Rick Knutsen on keyboards; and vocalists James “D-Train” Williams, Ian Cron and Tabitha Fair. The concerts will benefit World Vision.

Dates & Times: December 16 and 17, 8 p.m.; December 18, 3 p.m.    
Place: The Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, New York
Information & Tickets: 914-251-6200 (box office), 698-0444 (The Music Source), artscenter.org, themusicsource.org; $35–$75

First Congregational Church Messiah

This performance, in its forty-fifth year, combines the talent of a twenty-piece professional orchestra, professional soloists, and a community chorus of 100 singers. “This Messiah draws talent from seven or eight towns in the area. Singers come back year after year, and the orchestra and chorus have become like a family,” says Craig Symons, director of music. “For many people, this tradition signals the beginning of the holidays. It wouldn’t be the holidays without it.”

Dates & Times: December 17 and 18, 4 p.m.
Place: 108 Sound Beach Avenue
Information: 637-1791, fccog.org

Carols by Candlelight at Christ Church

Since their inception, over seventy-five years ago, the choir has carried on this tradition, which was first introduced in 1918 at King’s College Chapel at Cambridge and broadcast live by the BBC since 1928. (So cherished was the concert that it went on even during World War II, in the chapel that had neither glass in the windows nor heat.) Jamie Hitel, director of music and Cambridge alum, says, “This unique celebration of Christmas, in which choirs and congregation recreate the birth of Jesus, has a special significance for me since it was first celebrated at my alma mater. Since then it has gained in popularity and spread across the globe.” Music for 2011 includes works by Handel, Wilberg, Gardner, Stanford and Hassler. “Arrive early to hear a special prelude by the Christ Church bell choir,” suggests Hitel.

Date & Time: December 18, 5 p.m. (prelude at 4:30 p.m.)
Place: 254 East Putnam Avenue
Information: christchurchmusic.com, 869-6600

Staged Fun Town Production

For almost two decades, the town of Greenwich has presented an annual children’s Christmas show. The Hampstead Stage Company will warm hearts again this year with the Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. “It’s a timeless classic that all children should know and see,” comments Frank Gabriele, recreation supervisor. The play is recommended for children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Date & Time: November 29, 4 to 5 p.m.
Place: Bendheim Western Civic Center, 449 Pemberwick Road
Information & Tickets: $5 at the Civic Center or greenwichct.org

“Handsome and Gretel” at the Historical Society   

In a tradition that has become one of the Historical Society’s most beloved family events, No Strings Marionette Company brings to life fifteen handcrafted marionettes in “Handsome and Gretel”—an updated version of the classic, with a contemporary theme. Children will be enchanted by the performance and learn about finding their voice and true potential. Refreshments will be served. Families can combine the show with a historical tour of the Bush-Holley House and gallery.

Dates & Times: December 11 at 2, 4 and 6 p.m.
Place: Greenwich Historical Society, 39 Strickland Road
Information & Tickets: 869-6899, ext. 18, greenwichhistory.org; members $10, nonmembers $15

Audubon Festivities

Annual Bird Count

In 1911, the year this tradition began, counters tallied birds by shooting them. “Whoever brought in the biggest pile of dead birds won the competition,” says naturalist Brian O’Toole at Audubon Greenwich. The seventy-five counters who saw or heard 26,439 birds in twenty-four hours last year were into assessing—not advancing—the decline of species. “We counted 108 species, which is close to the 112 average of recent years,” says O’Toole. The Christmas Bird Count is one of the largest bird surveys in the country. Participants can join a field team or just observe their backyard feeders. Different shifts accommodate both early birds and night owls.

Date: Sunday, December 18, from midnight to midnight
Information: 869-5272, greenwich.audubon.org.

Reindeer Games

Greenwich Reindeer Festival and Santa’s Workshop

This fun four-week event kicks off the day after Thanksgiving, when Santa and his live reindeer arrive in downtown Greenwich. For the second year, Santa has set up his workshop at McArdle’s Florist
& Garden Center and will kindly be making himself available for photos every day until Christmas. Individuals, families and even pets are invited to pose and get a gift bag of coupons for local stores along with their photo package. Bring the kids to watch Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Blitzen enjoy feedings twice daily.

Dates & Times: November 25–December 24. Feedings at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Photos: Monday–Friday, noon to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Place: McArdle’s Florist & Garden Center, 48 Arch Street
Information: 531-3047, greenwichreindeerfestival.com

Greenwich Holiday Stroll Weekend

GREENWICH Magazine is pleased to sponsor the third annual holiday stroll. With 100 stores involved, this event makes tackling your gift list easier than ever. Add live music, specialty foods and refreshments, not to mention free parking on Saturday courtesy of the town and GREENWICH Magazine, and shopping becomes a joyous affair. There also will be an ice sculpture competition, horse-drawn carriage rides (free with a receipt from any participating retailer), and music broadcast throughout downtown. “Kind of like Disney World!” comments event coordinator Tamara Kettler. Combine these festivities with a visit to Santa and his reindeer at McArdle’s (see above). Check out Shopper on the Go, a free mobile application, for details about Holiday Stroll promotions.

Dates & Times: December 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; December 4, noon to  4 p.m.
Place: Downtown Greenwich   
Information: 531-3047, greenwichreindeerfestival.com/holiday-stroll-weekend/

Home Sweet Home

HSTG Holiday House Tour

The Historical Society’s twenty-sixth annual Holiday House Tour features five impeccably designed homes from backcountry Greenwich to the shore. The tour is part of Antiquarius, a fifty-four-year tradition that also includes the Greenwich Antiques Show, art/design events and a holiday boutique. New this year: a limited number of premier parking passes that allow holders to drive and park at the houses, rather than riding the shuttle bus.

Date & Time: December 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Information & Tickets: 869-6899, ext. 14, greenwichhistory.org; $100 per person; $400 for premier parking pass; country club buffet $45; grab ’n’ go box lunch $20. Advance ticket and lunch purchase required.

Bush-Holley Candlelight Tour

Since 1987, the candlelight tour of the circa-1730 Bush-Holley House has been taking visitors back to a time of simpler Christmases. The house is decked out in its holiday best; holiday treats are served in the Storehouse Gallery shop. “There’s nothing like a historic house in candlelight,” says Barbara Freeman, former program coordinator. “It glows. It touches everybody.”

Date & Time: December 9 and 11, every 15 minutes between 4 and 7 p.m.
Place: Storehouse Gallery at Historical Society, 39 Strickland Road
Information & Tickets: members free, nonmembers $10, students and seniors $8, children under 6 free; greenwichhistory.org

Bells Will Be Ringing

Threads and Treads Jingle Bell Jog

“We started this tradition in the late ’80s, when the running boom was in full swing,” says Mickey Yardis, the owner of Threads and Treads. “It’s a low-key community gathering and a jolly time. It’s also good for burning off some holiday stress.” The store provides jingle bells, long-sleeve T’s and post-race refreshments. The Jingle Bell Jog has never been canceled; if roads are icy, Mickey calls the highway division and they graciously run a spreader around the three-mile course.

Date & Time: December 11, 9 a.m.
Place: starting and finishing at Peabody Garage, 23 Church Street
Information & Tickets: 661-0142, threadsandtreads.com; pre-entry $15 or $20 on race day

Light It Up!

Town Hall Tree–Lighting Ceremony

“Let there be light!” That’s the proclamation that used to accompany the lighting of the Christmas tree in town, an annual tradition that dates back over half a century. Even those who don’t illuminate their living room with an adorned evergreen should come out for this cheery event. Rumor has it that in the past a rabbi sometimes spoke before what is now called the “Tree Lighting” (not Christmas Tree Lighting). Religious figures no longer play an official role, but the young set will be thrilled to find Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and Frosty offering free candy canes and mechanical reindeer rides. As always, the Greenwich High School Choir will fill the wintry air with holiday melodies.

Date & Time: December 2, 3:45 to 4:30 p.m.
Place: Town Hall, 101 Field Point Road
Information: greenwichct.org

Old-Fashioned Night

First–Light Festival, Old Greenwich

This fifteen-year tradition organized by the Old Greenwich Merchant’s Association is moving from Saturday to Sunday this year. “It’s more of a family day,” explains Rich Fulton, owner of Chilly Bear. Each store offers something different, from wine tasting at Sam’s Package Store to free roses at the flower shop. “It’s one of our favorite traditions,” says Old Greenwich resident Kim-Marie Evans, the mother of four. “The kids know exactly which shops have hot cocoa or magicians.” The event also features horse-drawn carriage rides and the lighting of the Christmas tree.

Date & Time: December 4, 5 to 8 p.m.
Place: Sound Beach Avenue

Shopping with Heart

Breast Cancer Alliance Holiday Boutique

First held in 1998, this event offers great Christmas finds with twice the feel-good potential—as shoppers will not only be filling their bags with gifts, but also giving 15 percent to the Breast Cancer Alliance. Forty to fifty vendors attend, selling everything from cufflinks to cashmere sweaters, sporting goods to stationery.

Dates & Times: November 29, 6 to 9 p.m., and November 30, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Place: Greenwich Country Club, 19 Doubling Road
Information: 861-0014, breastcanceralliance.org

Antiquarius Holiday Boutique

In its twelfth year, this holiday boutique benefits the Historical Society and promises “a fabulous array of one-of-a-kind gifts from exclusive specialty vendors.” Meet designer and author Katie Ridder for a book signing and informal discussion on Tuesday evening, and enjoy a cash bar and passed hors d’oeuvres while shopping. Those seeking a day of history mixed with holiday shopping can combine the Holiday House Tour with a visit to the boutique on Wednesday. Check out greenwichhistory.org for an updated list of vendors.

Dates & Times: December 6, 6 to 8:30 p.m. and December 7, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  
Place: Greenwich Country Club, 19 Doubling Road
Information: 869-6899, greenwichhistory.org

Shopping Night at Richards

To round out your Christmas shopping (or your personal wardrobe), add this special evening to your calendar. A percentage of every sale will be donated to the Breast Cancer Alliance.

Date & Time: December 8, 6 to 8 p.m.
Place: Richards, 359 Greenwich Avenue 

Greening the Holiday

Wreaths for St. Luke’s Lifeworks

Volunteers at this annual event arrange over 200 wreaths to donate to St. Luke’s Lifeworks residents, who otherwise would not have holiday decorations. No talent required, just bring “a good heart and some clippers and come for fifteen minutes or two hours.” A light lunch will be served.

Date & Time: December 7, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Place: Garden Education Center, 130 Bible Street
Information & Tickets: 869-9242, gecgreenwich.org; $20 donation requested

Tea Time

Garden Education Center Holiday Tea

In its tenth year, this event promises delicious holiday sweets, tea, champagne, kids, refreshments and a children’s holiday fashion show. Simon Teakle of Betteridge Jewelers will man the gavel at the live auction, and even kids can get in on the action (with mom or dad’s permission!). A silent auction will commence at the tea and close at noon on Saturday. “The Holiday Tea is a multigenerational event for mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmas and even sons,” says Karen Sadik-Khan, GEC president. On Saturday, enjoy breakfast with Santa and family craft workshops.

Holiday Tea/Auction: December 1, 3:30 to 6 p.m.
tickets: Adults $30; Children over 4, $10
Family Holiday Trimmings and Breakfast with Santa: December 3, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Tickets: Adults $8; Children over 4, $4. Workshop prices vary, pre-registration required.
Place: 130 Bible Street information & registration: gecgreenwich.org

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Greenwich Agenda

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     @ Stamford JCC

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     @ First Congregational Church of Greenwich

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     @ Bruce Museum

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     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

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     @ First Congregational Church of Greenwich

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     @ Bruce Museum

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     @ Hyatt Regency Greenwich

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     @ Greenwich Ballet Academy

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