Reading a good book by a fireplace with a child in your lap is one of the best winter vacations we know, but you can make it even better by bringing that book to life.
We love the winter holiday season because it’s one of the few times of year that lights are used to tell stories. Dark nights, bare tree branches, crisp air and cold breezes force visitors to quickly grasp an exciting, abstract light display and understand its message.
In Massachusetts, many towns have taken their winter lights display seriously by incorporating favorite, classic children’s books from Dr. Seuss, Louisa May Alcott, C.S. Lewis, and others. By sharing these wonderful stories with kids prior to the holidays, families can turn a fun weekend adventure into the start of a lifelong love of reading and learning.
And because most of these literary sights are located in small towns off the beaten tourist path, there are dozens of local B&Bs, small inns, roadside diners and public parks that contribute to making your visit very affordable. Here are some of the top storybook attractions.
Bright Nights at Forest Park, Springfield, Massachusetts
This is one of New England’s most popular holiday destinations and the state’s largest holiday lighting display. Historic Forest Park is illuminated with hundreds of spectacular Christmas lights. This year, the park pays tribute to its hometown children’s author Theodore Seuss Geisel. Seuss Land is a glittering panoramic light display featuring his beloved characters. Introduce your youngest children to the “Cat in the Hat,” “One Fish Two Fish,” “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Hop on Pop,” and “Fox in Socks” in a Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection. Young children and their parents will also enjoy the creative lighting used to create scenes such as Toy Land, a Victorian Village and the story of the Leaping Frog.
Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Nestled in the beautiful Berkshires, the town made famous by Norman Rockwell becomes an enchanting New England storybook setting. Just as in this review of a family weekend in Stockbridge, this town goes all out with holiday wreaths and festive lights. It’s really a storybook setting more than a story re-telling, but we agree that this village’s long-ago feel, complete with vintage automobiles and stunning holiday decorations. Fun-filled family activities include holiday house tours, horse drawn carriage rides, caroling, concerts and visits with Santa.
Asa Waters Mansion, Millbury, Massachusetts
This beautifully preserved Victorian mansion—once an integral part of the Underground Railroad—now offers families the chance to step into footsteps of another era. Plan for your visit by reading about “American Girl” Samantha Parkinson, whose Samantha’s Story Collection (American Girl) is the most popular of all the American Girl books (and she’s also the most popular of the doll figures). Samantha lived with her wealthy grandmother in 1904 and Millbury’s carolers, tree lighting and a Christmas tea event is sure to evoke those days for fans of the wonderful “American Girl” series.
Higgins Armory Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts
Celebrate the season with the revelry of the Middle Ages and recreate the fantasy world of The Chronicles of Narnia, another fun read (available as a 7-book set with audio CDs so you can listen during the drive there!) to prepare kids for this museum visit. Featuring arms and armor ranging from ancient Greek Corinthian helmets to suits of armor crafted during the Renaissance, this one-of-a-kind museum displays artifacts and more than 35 suits of armor amidst tapestries, stained glass and soaring ceilings. The museum’s Holidays at the Higgins event offers young and old the make a gingerbread castle or festive ornaments.
Santa’s Magic Playland, Lowell, Massachusetts
Your tiny travelers will love the chance to join Arthur, the adorable aardvark featured in Marc Brown’s best-selling children’s books, for a tour of Santa’s magical world. Grab a copy of Arthur Helps Out, one of our favorites, then watch elves help out by preparing the reindeer for their Christmas Eve journey, sample holiday treats as you see Santa prepare Christmas candy, visit the Teddy Bear Factory and even catch out-of-this-world aliens as they watch Santa get ready for the big day.
Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts
This authentically-preserved historic house was home to Louisa May Alcott and her family, and is sure to inspire the budding author in the family. See Louisa’s bedroom, with her sleigh bed, inkwell and desk where she wrote Little Women) and other stories that would captivate children. Feel transported back to the world of Louisa and the other March sisters as your tour each of the nine period rooms, some featuring the drawings done by the girls. The Orchard House features a Christmas shop brimming with terrific gift ideas, including handmade ornaments, fairy dolls, stocking stuffers and books.
Our thanks to the Massachusetts Tourism office for sharing some of these favorite vacation destinations; learn more about B&Bs and other local attractions at Mass Vacation.com.
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