We know our winters in Western Massachusetts. As the last of the color fades from the leaves, the realization sets in that it’s going to be a while before the warm and colorful days of spring. But winter doesn’t have to be all about darkness and cold. Winter is a time of roaring fires and warm soups and teas. The colorful twinkle of holiday lights are already brightening the longer nights and the New Year offers a chance for a fresh start. Outside activities abound in the winter, and the cold can be a great excuse for indoor fun, as well. Hunkering down in a storm can become a family activity. And winter has no shortage of events to get out and see friends and neighbors. Here’s a guide we put together at the Advocate to help you get the most out of the season.
-Dave Eisenstadter, editor
By Meg Bantle
Don’t let the cold weather keep you cooped up inside. Getting outside is one of the best ways to stay active in the winter while getting some much needed vitamin D!
Head for the hills
I’m from the Berkshires, which have a ton of options for amazing winter adventures. My family and I have a tradition of doing a hike up Mount Greylock on Christmas Day, which is always worth the frosty views. You can snowshoe or cross country ski at Notchview in Windsor any time, but there is also a Moonlight Ski and Snowshoe planned in February that includes beer, wine, and cheese in the visitors center afterwards! The Clark Art Museum in Williamstown boasts beautiful art and a beautiful landscape, including a network of walking trails that would make the perfect finish to a morning at the museum.
Fake it till you make it
Alright, so technically these aren’t outside, but they are indoor spaces that make you feel like you’re outside when it’s negative 10 degrees, so I call that a win. There are two local botanical gardens, one at Smith College and one at Mount Holyoke. Step inside the Lyman Conservatory or the Talcott Greenhouse and get transported to the tropics. You could also head to Magic Wings in South Deerfield for the added wonder of live butterflies. If you’re not a cold weather person but you need a little bit of outside time, these conservatories are just the ticket.
Ski Ski Ski
If you need a little thrill in your life, the Pioneer Valley is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from several great ski mountains. Out in the Berkshires there are a bunch of smaller mountains including Jiminy Peak, Butternut, and Berkshire East. Up in Vermont there is Mount Snow and Stratton Mountain, which are both really popular with folks from Western Mass. Even though it might mean a drive, what’s the point of living in the Northeast in January if you can’t have a little downhill fun?
It’s lovely weather for a sled ride together
The most important outdoor activity of the season is sledding. Get a jug of cocoa ready, put on some layers, and head out to a local sledding hill near you. Make sure to remember good sledding etiquette, always wait for the path to be clear and avoid runs that have obstacles like trees. Here are a few across the Pioneer Valley that people seem to like: behind the Stop and Shop in Belchertown, Crocker Farm Elementary in Amherst, Greenfield Community College, behind Mary Dryden Memorial Elementary school or Cathedral High School in Springfield, Clark School for the Deaf and Hospital Hill in Northampton, Agawam High School, and John J. Lynch Middle School in Holyoke.
Light up the Dark
There are two big holiday light shows in the Pioneer Valley that are now traditions in many people’s families, Bright Nights at Forest Park in Springfield and Look Park’s Winter Wonderland Lights Display. Both are a really great opportunity to spend time with family or friends as you drive through the magical landscapes in the two parks. Bright Nights includes Dr. Suess themed lights, including characters like the Grinch from the famous Springfield-native’s children’s books. If these two parks aren’t on your list of Christmas traditions, you’re missing out!
By Meg Bantle
This winter, take advantage of the incredible local restaurant and bakery offerings in the Valley and let them do the cooking for you. Love to host? Stop by your local bookstore to get some cooking inspiration from local authors! Here are some ideas to get you started:
If you thought that you could get away with not eating your vegetables because it’s winter, think again. There are so many great farmers markets in the Valley, you have no excuse to get scurvy! The Amherst Winter Market moved this year to the Hampshire Mall and runs on Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Up north at Four Corners School in Greenfield, the Greenfield Winter Market runs on the first Saturday of the month through March from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. The Northampton Winter Farmers Market is Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and just moved to a new location in the Senior Center, and the Springfield Winter Market will be held on the second and third Saturdays in November and December, and then on the second and fourth Saturdays in January, February, and March, and the second Saturday in April from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. There is also a second market at Mason Square Library in Springfield from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month December – April.
Cookbooks make a great gifts, and lucky for us Valley-ites there are several local cookbook authors. Amherst legend Betty Rosbottom has over a dozen cookbooks published, including her newest book Soup Nights that is the perfect inspiration for a chilly weekend. Last year, Jane Barton Griffith published a book that features local products and recipes called The Berkshire Cookbook. There’s also a great cookbook for the budding chef in your life called The Kids Multicultural Cookbook by Deanna Cook in Northampton. The book features recipes that Cook collected from children all around the world and is written to help introduce kids to international games and customs. Claire Hopley from Leverett wrote a cookbook in 2012 that focuses on Pioneer Valley produce called Valley Vegetables: Recipes for 40 of the Pioneer Valley’s Vegetables. Lastly, one of my favorite local cookbooks is by Conway resident Brittany Wood Nickerson. Her book Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen just came out this spring and I absolutely love it. I make her recipes all the time and would recommend her book to anyone!
Dog ate your Turkey?
If you have a Christmas Day cooking mishap or you don’t celebrate Christmas and are looking to eat out, there are a few options available for you. Hotel Northampton’s Wiggins Tavern is open on Christmas Eve with a holiday menu from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then again on Christmas Day from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Amherst’s Lord Jeffery Inn has Christmas Eve dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Christmas dinner on the the day itself from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Publick House in Sturbridge does a Christmas Day Buffet from 10:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Up in Brattleboro, Duo is open on Christmas Eve for a special prix fixe menu from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended for all!
Have a cookie swap but don’t want to bake? There are loads of specialty bakeries in the Pioneer Valley that could save the day. La Fiorentina has three locations in Northampton, Springfield, and East Longmeadow and offers over 20 different varieties of Italian cookies. Russo’s in Enfield, Connecticut, also has assorted cookies and cookie trays for sale, right next to their incredible cannolis. The cupcakes at Jasmine’s Bakery in Brattleboro, Vermont, would also be a great crowd pleaser.
By Chris Goudreau
Although the sunshine is lacking and the snow gods demand a tribute of back-breaking shoveling, winter is a golden opportunity to develop new skills that you’ve always thought about getting into. Forget Seinfeld’s “Summer of George.” This is the winter of you, whether you want to learn to play accordion, to start brewing lagers and ales, learn to speak a foreign language, or get on your dancing shoes.
Knitting, and Pottery, and Crafts, Oh My!
Whether you want to knit a scarf or a sweater, or you’re into molding clay into an artisanal stein, there are plenty of arts and crafts lessons and shops to hone or learn the art of crafting. For yarn and other knitting materials, there’s WEBS and and Northampton Wools, both located in Northampton. At WEBS, there’s practically a warehouse full of yarn and knitting materials to get lost in, while Northampton Wools specializes in natural fibers from around the world such as alpaca wool. Both offer lessons, whether you’re a seasoned crocheter or a fledgling knitter. For pottery, check out Northampton Pottery, which offers adult ceramic classes throughout most of the year. There’s also Potterville Pottery in West Springfield, your go-to studio for relaxing with clay by making your own animal figurines or working on a unique artisanal creation.
The First Chord is the Toughest
So you want to learn a musical instrument, but you don’t know where to start? Should you learn to play a trumpet, an electric guitar, or an accordion? Luckily, there’s no shortage of professional music teachers and music shops in the Pioneer Valley to find the instrument of your dreams. In Northampton, there’s a plethora of music shops such as Downtown Sounds, which sells everything from guitars to band and orchestra instruments, and Birdhouse Music where you can find schwanky vintage and unique electric guitars for sale. In Easthampton, there’s Luthier’s Co-op specializing in used and vintage instruments such as guitars, banjos, ukuleles, mandolins, the list goes on. You can take guitar, mandolin, bass, clarinet, saxophone, or ukulele lessons with Lonesome Brothers and legendary local songwriter, Jim Armenti, at Downtown Sounds or visit the Community Music School of Springfield and the Northampton Community Music Center, both of which offer private lessons for children and adults on a range of different instruments.
Home Brewing 101
The smell of yeast fermenting can be an intoxicating aroma for brewing enthusiasts, but not as stirring as the sense of accomplishment at drinking your own beer, wine, or boozy root beer. Beerology in Northampton offers courses in homebrewing, cider making, flavor tasting, and ginger beer brewing to help you get your basement brewing started. DIY Brewing Supply in Ludlow, which is self described as the geekiest homebrew shop, includes all the supplies you’d ever need to get started with your own home brewing and winemaking experiments, including recipe kits, equipment, and ingredients.
Now You’re Speaking My Language
If you’re looking to develop a new skill, why not start learning a new language this winter? The International Language Institute in Northampton offers language courses such as Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Since 1984, students have learned foreign languages at the school by practicing conversation-based material that’s fun, interactive, and practical in everyday life. If you’re a student at one of the five colleges, take a look at what the Five Colleges Center for the Study of World Languages has to offer. The center includes courses in Hindi, Uru, Swahili, Turkish, and Arabic for academic credit as part of a student’s regular course load.
Do You Even Tango?
The tango, foxtrot, waltz, err … hustle? If you’re looking to learn the basics or hone your dancing skills there’s plenty of locations across the Pioneer Valley to do so. At Small Planet Dancers in Westfield, you can take belly dancing courses, adult ballet, and ballroom dancing. Dance Northampton on Pleasant Street offers east coast swing, tango, hustle, rumba and salsa on different night courses in the month of December. Pineapple Dance Studio in Amherst is open to adults only and features classes such as hip-hop, tap, and Broadway jazz. So, get your dance shoes on and get on the floor.
By Dave Eisenstadter
It’s easy to enjoy oneself on a warm spring day, but the cold and at times isolation of winter reminds us that we do all need each other. Here are some events to get together with your fellow Valley-ites.
For 33 years, Welcome Yule Midwinter Celebration has been a festive family show featuring music, dance, and songs. On Friday through Sunday, Dec. 8 – 10, the Shea Theatre in Turners Falls will host the event. Participants enter the world of a mythic medieval village, saying farewell to the old year and inviting the new. The shows, which are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, will feature carols and wassailing songs, morris dancing, a mummers play, Abbots Bromley horn dance, and other weird things people do when it’s too dark and too cold. This is definitely a great kick-off to the winter’s chill. More information at welcomeyule.org.
You’ve probably noticed: the days are getting shorter. But we’re already almost at the point where the days are going to get longer again. On the longest night of the year – Thursday, Dec. 21 – Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Northampton and Easthampton is holding a Winter Solstice Celebration. Bring a non-perishable food item for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and head on over for sundown. The event, sponsored by Northeast Solar, River Valley Co-op, and Prosperity Candle, is free, open to children, and features music. It’s from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And after it’s over, enjoy the longer days!
Whether you’re hunkered at home watching the ball in Times Square go down or in Downtown Northampton to watch the ball go up (we’re so contrarian here), New Years is a great time to celebrate. First Night Northampton (on New Years Eve, duh!) will feature fireworks and the ball-raising at the Hotel Northampton. Buy a First Night button and gain admission to all kinds of events, starting at noon at the Academy of Music with a circus show. There are 20 venues that include the Forbes Library, the World War II Club, the Parlor Room, and Edwards Church to name a few. Info at firstnightnorthampton.org.
For young ones earlier in the day there’s the First Night Jr. celebration in Holyoke at the Children’s Museum, Merry-Go-Round, Volleyball Hall of Fame, and State Department of Conservation Visitor’s Center. Music, unlimited merry-go-round rides, face painting, and a countdown to the ball dropping (at 3:45 p.m.) are all featured for eight bucks (under 12 are free).
On Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 17-18, is Brattleboro’s Harris Hill Ski Jump competition. Established nearly 100 years ago, the event brings people from across the country and the world to go really fast down a mountain and launch themselves into the air. Probably a horrifying thing to do, but exhilarating to watch. Gates open at 10 and the competition begins at noon both days. There’s food, beer, souvenirs, and the chance to watch someone hang in the air and potentially break a record. This year’s event is a stop on U.S. American Ski Jumping tour. More info at harrishillskijump.com.
Hope you Like Chili
Easthampton is hosting its fifth annual WinterFest on Saturday, Feb. 10, in locations throughout the city. The event will setting who will hold Easthampton chili crown of the winter with an 11 a.m. chili cookoff among seven qualifying local businesses and organizations. That afternoon, you can have some beer to wash down your chili at Abandoned Building Brewery with musical group Standing Bear out of Southampton. There’s also sleigh rides, craft fairs, live music and art. Funds raised during the event go toward preserving Nashsawannuck Pond.
Not to be outdone, Gateway City Arts in Holyoke will be hosting their winter festival on Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 22 – 25. Events include another chili cookoff, cake decorating, a lip sync competition, along with people selling their artwork, and music performances. New this year will be a “cardboard competition” which will feature sculptures made from recycled materials.
By Dave Eisenstadter
Winter means the holidays and the holidays mean family! Also, it’s nice to have some plans for what to do with the kids on a cold winter day. Here’s a few things the Valley has to offer.
Our Own Little Hobbiton
It doesn’t matter if it’s snowy and cold outside. Mill 180 Park in Easthampton is always a green place with kind of a minigolf vibe. It’s a great space for kids, and an area some of my fellow parents of young children have called a “life saver.” Kids can play games, check out hydroponic plants, do some art, or get a snack from the snack bar — all this no matter the weather. It can be a great place to go for some tranquility and also a place to meet other families. There will be other kids running around, most likely. Check out mill180park.com.
The Beauty of Bugs
The Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Garden in South Deerfield is open throughout the winter (with the exception of Christmas Day), and is open from 9 to 5. There are nearly 4,000 native and tropical butterflies in an 8,000 square foot indoor space. How many are you likely to see in each square foot? That’s a question for my prob and stats professor, but you can count yourself. Admission is $16 for adults, $10 for children, and free for kids under 3. It’s also fully wheelchair accessible, though strollers are not allowed. Wear a bright shirt and hold still and maybe a butterfly will mistake you for a flower and land on you. http://www.magicwings.com.
There are a wealth of them in the region. The Eric Carle Museum and the Amherst College natural history museum are both excellent options in Amherst. Second Saturdays at the Wadsworth Athenuem in Hartford are for families, with December 9 being Sounds of the Season, and other events being held throughout the winter. The Dr. Seuss Museum and other Springfield museums are a wealth of kids entertainment and enrichment, and the Holyoke Children’s Museum provides hands-on exhibits about arts and sciences
Red, green, and white with the Man in Black
Held at The Tank in Agawam (478 Springfield St.), the Johnny Cash Christmas show will feature “Cash is King” and special guest David O’Connoll as James Taylor. It’s on Dec. 10 on Sunday afternoon and is a great way to have fun with the family and also support veterans. There’s music, food (a buffet!), and story telling. Lunch at 1 and music at 2. The event is done by 4. Call 413-273-3126 for tickets. More info at facebook.com/agawamlegion185
Pick Your Own … Tree
Like blueberries in summer and apples in the fall, evergreen trees are the pick-your-own product of the winter. And thanks to http://www.pickyourownchristmastree.org, there’s an easy way to find them.
In Franklin County, there’s Apex Orchards in Shelburne Falls, Cranston’s Christmas Tree Farm in Ashfield, Fall Hill Plantation in Orange, Fish and Chicks Farm in Bernardston, Fox Hollow Farm in South Deerfield, Kenburn Orchards in Shelburne, Kingsbury’s Christmas Trees in South Deerfield, Meadowcrest Christmas Tree Farm in Greenfield, Nims Tree Farm in Greenfield, Pieropan Christmas Tree Farm in Ashfield, and Silvery Moon Farm in Bernardston.
In Hampshire County, there’s Boisjolie Christmas Tree Farm in Southampton, Chestnut Mountain Tree Farm in Hatfield, Clearview Christmas Tree Farm in Cummington, Fletcher Family Farm in Southampton, Green Diamond Systems in Belchertown, Justamere Tree Farm in Worthington, Northeast Christmas Tree Farm in North Hatfield, Radebaugh’s Christmas Tree Farms in Belchertown, and Zaskey Christmas Tree Farm in Hadley.
In Hampden County, we’ve got Allen Tree Farm in Westfield, Balsam Acres in Blandford, Glen Gary Christmas Tree Farm in Agawam, Hickory Hill Farm in Westfield, Ket-Tree Farms in Monson, Moss Hill Tree Farm in Russell, Palmer Christmas Tree Farm in Palmer, Paul Bunyan’s Farm and Nursery in Chicopee, Radebaught’s Christmas Tree Farms in Wilbraham, and Thyme for All Seasons Farms in Southwick.