30 Ways to Get Into the Spirit
From neighborhood strolls to seasonal concerts to live reindeer on the Avenue, when it comes to holiday time, there's no place like home
Music in the Air
Choral Society Christmas Concert
Celebrating its ninetieth season, the Choral Society will present “A Christmas Tapestry” in December. Music Director Paul Mueller describes this year’s concert: “‘A Christmas Tapestry’ features Benjamin Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas, along with Geoffrey Bush’s hauntingly beautiful ‘In Praise of Mary.’ For Britten’s cantata, three boy sopranos and the Christ Church Singers will join the Choral Society for a piece that presents a bold portrait of the saint’s character as a protector of the poor and oppressed. Geoffrey Bush created contemporary settings of medieval English carols that capture the awe and reverence of Christmas. The concert will include traditional carols and opportunities for audience participation, and is a wonderful way to usher in this glorious season.”
Dates & Times: December 7, 4:30 p.m.; December 8, 2:30 and 5 p.m.
Place: Christ Church, 254 East Putnam Avenue
Information and tickets: 203-622-5136, greenwichchoralsociety.org; $23 to $38
First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich, Messiah
This will be the second annual Messiah here. Randall Atcheson, minister of music, has been conducting the Messiah in the area for twenty-seven years, so it’s certainly a longstanding personal tradition. He conducts the choir, soloists and chamber orchestra, while also accompanying on the organ. “Listening to Handel’s Messiah is comfort food for the soul,” says Atcheson, who has performed eleven solo concerts at Carnegie Hall. “Audiences love it because it is familiar and traditional. The Messiah helps one focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Our Messiah is known for being highly spirited with the world’s fastest tempos.”
Date & Time: December 15, 4 p.m.
Place: 1 West Putnam Avenue
A Caroler’s Christmas at St. Barnabas Church
More than your typical Christmas concert, the St. Barnabas Choir and Music Director J. Michael Roush engage in costuming, choreography and audience participation. “Each year is fresh and I think exciting,” says Roush. There is even an element of suspense for the choir, as Roush saves a surprise each year for the singers. The concert includes carols drawn from various backgrounds. Roush comments: “As we know, the lovely traditions that we think of as an ‘American Christmas’ have actually come from other cultures and countries.”
Date & Time: December 15, 5 p.m.
Place: 954 Lake Avenue
Information: 203-661-5526, stbarnabasgreenwich.org
Rob Mathes Christmas Concert
Legendary musician Rob Mathes, an Old Greenwich native, kicked off this annual tradition twenty years ago. His first Christmas concert in 1993 was the subject of the documentary I Want to Hear the Bells and another PBS-TV special, Christmas Is Coming: Rob Mathes and Friends. “The Christmas Concert is the centerpiece of my year every year,” comments Mathes. “I come home from my madness working with whoever it may be, the Kennedy Center Honors, Sting or Bruce Springsteen (I’m so grateful for those gigs), and I get to make music with my friends and family, some of whom happen to be the best musicians on the planet, including Will Lee on bass and a horn section to die for…It is because of the audience’s enthusiasm that we are able to have so much joy playing this music, which is a particular blend of searching originals and vibed-out groove versions of classics. Being able to put the concerts on is the community’s gift to me and it is both moving and humbling. I hope to do the concert until my dying day.” Musicians from the recent Rolling Stones tour as well as Aretha Franklin and James Brown’s band will be playing with Mathes at the twentieth anniversary concert. Among his many projects, Mathes recently co-produced Sting’s album, “The Last Ship,” and is the music supervisor and orchestrator for the upcoming Broadway show of the same name. His Christmas concerts will benefit the nonprofit Through the Eyes of Children: The Rwanda Project, a cause that is close to Rob Mathes’ heart.
Dates & Times: December 20 and 21, 8 p.m.
Place: The Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, New York
Information & tickets: 914-251-6200 (box office), 203-698-0444 (The Music Source), artscenter.org, themusicsource.org; $40 to $75
First Congregational Church Messiah
This performance, in its forty-seventh year, combines the talent of a twenty-piece professional orchestra, professional soloists and a community chorus of 100 singers. “Many of our singers and instrumentalists have been participating in our Messiah concerts since they began in 1966,” says Director of Music Craig Scott Symons. “Having such a long history makes our Messiah very special. Over the years, Messiah performances have gone in and out of fashion with conductors, but First Church continues to present this holiday tradition as an outreach and gift to the community because we realize it is important to performer and audience alike.”
Dates & Times: December 14 and 15, 4 p.m.
Place: 108 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich
Information: 203-637-1791, fccog.org
Carols by Candlelight at Christ Church
Since its founding almost eighty 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 staring in 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 a Cambridge alum, says, “This unique celebration of Christmas, in which choirs and congregation re-create the birth of Jesus, is one of the jewels in the crown of our Anglican musical heritage. To hear children’s voices proclaim the incarnation through music is particularly poignant and moving.” Music for 2013 includes traditional carols and a new setting of “In Dulci Jubilo” by Philip Moore, Visiting Artist at Christ Church and Organist Emeritus of York Minster. The service is followed by a festive reception.
Date & Time: December 22, 5 p.m. (bell prelude at 4:30 p.m.)
Place: 254 East Putnam Avenue
Information: christchurchmusic.com, 203-869-6600
For two decades, the town of Greenwich has presented an annual children’s Christmas show. The Hampstead Stage Company will share the message of the true meaning of Christmas again this year with the Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. “The children and parents love it,” comments Frank Gabriele, recreation supervisor. “The children get to ask questions after the show is over, and the actors show them how they make the play happen.” The play is recommended for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, and some may be chosen to participate.
Date & Time: December 5, 4 to 5 p.m.
Place: Bendheim Western Civic Center, 449 Pemberwick Road
Information & tickets: $5 at the Civic Center or greenwichct.org
“Bully! For the Three Wee Pigs” at the Historical Society
In one of the Historical Society’s most beloved family holiday events, No Strings Marionette Company presents a modern version of “The Three Little Pigs.” A talented singer, a prolific painter and an industrious architect must figure out how to deal with the nonstop taunting of a bully in this “hilarious romp through an opera stage, an artist’s studio and the problem-solving mind of a designer of buildings.” Craft activities and refreshments will be available between performances.
Dates & Times: December 8 at 2, 4 and 6 p.m.
Place: Greenwich Historical Society, Vanderbilt Education Center, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob
Information & tickets: 203-869-6899, ext. 10, greenwichhistory.org; members $10, nonmembers $15; reservations strongly suggested as space is limited
Annual Bird Count
In the past century, this tradition has evolved from an event in which birds were tallied by shooting them to one in which a database is compiled by counting. It is crucial to protecting wildlife and their habitats. Patterns in bird populations can help us identify environmental issues that affect human beings as well. The new center director for Audubon Greenwich, Dr. Michelle Frankel, comments, “The Christmas Bird Count is a great way to have fun outdoors while helping scientists collect vital information about birds that guides our conservation strategies. And because it’s something that families and students can become involved in, it’s a great way to inspire the next generation of conservationists.”
The Christmas Bird Count is one of the largest bird surveys in the country. Last year, 102 species were counted in this area, less than the average 112 of recent years. Audubon naturalist Ted Gilman notes, “The rainy day made for poor flying conditions, so the birds were harder to spot.” Participants can join a field team or just observe their backyard feeders. Different shifts accommodate both early birds and night owls.
Date: December 15, from midnight to midnight
Information: 203-869-5272, greenwich.audubon.org
Greenwich Reindeer Festival and Santa’s Workshop
The day after Thanksgiving, Santa and his live reindeer arrive in downtown Greenwich to kick off this fun four-week event. For the fifth year, Santa will relocate from the North Pole and set up his workshop at McArdle’s Florist & Garden Center. Despite being a very busy guy this time of year, Santa kindly will make 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 29 to December 24. Feedings: 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Photos: Monday to 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: 203-531-3047, greenwichreindeer-festival.com
Greenwich Holiday Stroll Weekend
Greenwich magazine is pleased to sponsor the fifth annual Greenwich Holiday Stroll Weekend. Come enjoy live music, specialty foods and refreshments, not to mention free parking on Saturday courtesy of the town and Greenwich magazine. One hundred stores participate, helping to make holiday shopping a joyous affair. There also will be an ice sculpture competition, horse-drawn carriage rides, bouncy castles, and music broadcast throughout downtown. “It’s a weekend to shop, dine and be merry!” comments event coordinator Tamara Kettler.
Dates & Times: December 7, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; December 8, noon to 5 p.m.
Place: Downtown Greenwich
Information: 203-531-3047, greenwichreindeerfestival.com/holiday-stroll.php
The Nutcracker, SUNY Purchase
The Purchase Dance Company lights up the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College with its twentieth annual production of this classic tale. The Nutcracker is a spectacular multigenerational treat that features about 140 children from the community, including eleven kids from Greenwich and Riverside. This year, Greenwich residents Grace Mertz and Sophia Tarbell-Arnaboldi, along with Coco Marriott from Rye, will perform the role of Clara. “Participating in the Purchase College Nutcracker gives children the unique opportunity to learn from distinguished faculty and guest choreographers and experience the excitement of performing alongside our super-talented dance majors in the Performing Arts Center’s 1,372-seat concert hall,” says Wallie Wolfgruber, director of the School of the Arts Conservatory of Dance. “This is truly an immeasurably valuable experience for them. I hope many Westchester and Fairfield families will come see their performances and share in the joy of the holiday season.”
Dates: December 13, 7:30 p.m.; December 14, 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; December 15, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Place: The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, 753 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, New York
Information & tickets: 914-251-6200 (box office), artscenter.org; $30 to $55 (parking fee included)
The Nutcracker, Stamford Center for the Arts (The Palace Theatre)
“We couldn’t conceive of a season of full-length ballets without the annual The Nutcracker at Stamford Center for the Arts,” says Brett Raphael, artistic director of the Connecticut Ballet. Two casts of principal dancers from American Ballet Theatre will be performing this year, plus local stars in the making. “The Greenwich young people who are participating are adorable, talented and pumped up with energy,” enthuses Raphael. A meet-and-greet with the principal dancers will take place following each performance in the Palace Theatre lobby.
Dates & Times: December 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 2 p.m.
Place: Palace Theatre, 61 Atlantic Street, Stamford
Information & tickets: 203-325-4466, scalive.org; $25 to $60; connecticutballet.com
The Nutcracker, Greenwich Ballet Academy
Greenwich Ballet Academy’s fifth annual The Nutcracker promises a wonderful performance by Artistic Director Yuri Vodolaga’s highly dedicated dancers. Seventy-one students will participate, with Amanda Kraus (Mount Kisco) as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Maria Jose Esquivel (Stamford) as the Snow Queen, Aiden Buss (Old Greenwich) as the Prince and Elisabeth Beyer (Rye) as Clara. Special guest Jon Tavares of the Pennsylvania Ballet will portray the Cavalier and Snow King. Former Sugar Plum Fairy Katherine Higgins of Wilton is now in her first year as a company member of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Greenwich Ballet Academy, a nonprofit organization, prepares young talent for careers in professional ballet but welcomes all devoted students of classical ballet.
Dates & Times: December 7 at 3 p.m., December 8 at 2 p.m.
Place: Greenwich High School, 10 Hillside Road
Information & tickets: 914-305-4377, greenwichballetacademy.org, $25 to $60
Fun at the Fair
Christmas on Round Hill
This holiday fair originated in the 1920s, when women gathered to knit, quilt and make various handcrafted items to sell at the fair. The Round Hill Crafts Studio revived this aspect of the fair in recent years. “It’s such an ongoing tradition that pulls the backcountry community together at holiday time,” says Suzy Simpson, who has been involved in the fair for two decades. This year’s handmade gifts include original hand-painted board games, frames and mirrors, as well as simulated antique Japanese Negoro Nuri lacquered pieces. Kids will love photos with Santa in his sleigh, crafts, and train rides on the Round Hill Express. “A clever former sexton built the train using a tractor engine,” says master crafter Alice O’Gorman. “It lasted thirty-five years and was refurbished a few years ago.” Enjoy early shopping, festive drinks and hors d’oeuvres at the preview party.
Dates & Times: Preview party on December 6, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. (call for reservations). Fair on December 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; magic shows at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Place: Round Hill Community House, 397 Round Hill Road
Information: 203-869-1091, roundhillcommunitychurch.org
Home Sweet Home
HSTG Holiday House Tour
The Historical Society’s twenty-eighth annual Holiday House Tour features five unique Greenwich homes: a Normand-inspired guest cottage, a post-Civil War jewel (don’t miss the barn addition, showcasing American scrimshaw and hot rod collections), a 1930s Georgian, a Hamptons-style seaside home and a Gustavian-style Federal-era home. The tour is part of Antiquarius, a fifty-six-year tradition that also includes the Greenwich Antiques Show, art/design events and a holiday boutique. A limited number of premier parking passes will be available; holders may drive and park near the houses, rather than ride the shuttle bus.
Date & Time: December 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Information & tickets: 203-869-6899, ext. 10, greenwichhistory.org; $100 per person; $400 for premier parking pass; Meli-Melo box lunches $25, available for pickup at Christ Church Parish Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 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 tour features costumed interpreters, period holiday decorations and “candle” lighting throughout Greenwich’s only National Historic Landmark. Enjoy live music, crafts and holiday treats in the Vanderbilt Education Center. “There’s nothing like a historic house in candlelight,” says Barbara Freeman, former program coordinator. “It glows. It touches everybody.” Tours begin at the Storehouse Gallery.
Date & Time: December 15, 5 to 7 p.m.
Place: Greenwich Historical Society Storehouse Gallery and Bush-Holley House, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob
Information & tickets: 203-869-6899, ext. 10, greenwichhistory.org; members $10, nonmembers $15; reservations not required
Bells Will Be Ringing
Threads and Treads Jingle Bell Jog
This is a great tradition for anyone looking to burn off Christmas cookie calories. Runners (and speed walkers), age seven to seventy-five, came out for the Jingle Bell Jog last year. “We started this tradition in the late ’80s, when the running boom was in full swing,” says Mickey Yardis, 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 to several hundred participants who aren’t afraid to race through the crisp winter air. The Jingle Bell Jog has never been cancelled; if roads are icy, Mickey calls the highway division and they graciously run a spreader around the three-mile course.
Date & Time: December 8, 9 a.m.
Place: Starting and finishing at Peabody Garage, 23 Church Street
Information & tickets: 203-661-0142, threadsandtreads.com; $20 adults, $10 kids
Light It Up!
Town Hall Tree Lighting Ceremony
This annual tradition dates back over half a century. Evolving from a Christian tradition to a more secular “Tree Lighting,” the event kicks off with a welcome by Recreation Supervisor Frank Gabriele; and the first selectman will offer a holiday message to the multigenerational crowd this cheery event draws. 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 Chamber Singers will entertain with holiday melodies. Chocolate chip cookies and cider will be served.
Date & Time: December 2, 3:45 to 4:30 p.m.
Place: Town Hall, 101 Field Point Road
First Light Festival, Old Greenwich
For seventeen years, the Old Greenwich Merchant’s Association has organized this fun night of extended shopping hours, horse-drawn carriage rides, carols and much more. Each store offers something different, from wine tasting at Sam’s Package Store to free roses at the flower shop. Kids will scope out the hot cocoa, face painting, magic shows and, of course, Santa! “Last year’s First Light was extra special,” says Richard Fulton, owner of Chilly Bear. “We honored all town departments that protected Greenwich during Hurricane Sandy.” This year we also feature Family Centers’ fundraising event in Binney Park with the lighting of thousands of luminaries. Luminary kits will be sold in stores in advance.
Date & Time: December 7, 6 to 9 p.m.
Place: Sound Beach Avenue & Arcadia Road
Shopping with Heart
Breast Cancer Alliance Holiday Boutique
In its fifteenth year, this event offers shoppers the opportunity to do their holiday shopping, find great gifts for friends and family, and feel good about spending—
15 percent goes to the Breast Cancer Alliance. Over forty vendors attend, including Stella & Dot, Glory Cashmere, Bellin House Portraits, Peaceable Hill Paperie, Stanton Sweets and East End Foodies.
Dates & Times: December 3, 6 to 9 p.m.; December 4, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Place: Greenwich Country Club, 19 Doubling Road
Information: 203-861-0014, breastcanceralliance.org
Antiquarius Holiday Boutique
The Holiday Boutique, benefitting the Historical Society, moves to a new venue this year at Christ Church Parish Hall. Shoppers will enjoy exploring the wares of new vendors and perennial favorites, offering “a fabulous array of one-of-a-kind gifts.” On opening night, shoppers can enjoy a cash bar and passed hors d’oeuvres from Meli-Melo while shopping. Those seeking a historical outing mixed with holiday shopping can combine the Holiday House Tour on December 11 with a visit to the boutique. Meli-Melo box lunches can be ordered in advance for pick up at the Boutique.
Dates & Times: December 10, 6 to 8:30 p.m. and December 11, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Place: Christ Church Parish Hall, 254 East Putnam Avenue
Information: 203-869-6899, ext. 10; greenwichhistory.org; free admission; advance ordered box lunches, $25, available for pick-up from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Greening the Holiday Baskets of Greens for Inspirica
Volunteers at this annual outreach event arrange baskets of fresh evergreens to donate to Inspirica (formerly St. Luke’s Lifeworks) residents, who would not otherwise have holiday decorations. No talent or experience is needed, just bring “a big heart and help decorate. Your holiday will be enriched by your participation.” A light lunch will be served.
Date & Time: December 4, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Place: Garden Education Center, 130 Bible Street
Information: 203-869-9242, gecgreenwich.org; $20 donation requested