14 Magical Holiday Activities in Central Massachusetts

We’re counting down the days ’til Christmas! As we get closer to December 25th, it’s time to start planning some festive family fun. Check out 14 magical holiday activities and events that you can do right here in Central Massachusetts.

1. Cut down your Christmas tree.

Is there anything more lovely than the smell of fresh-cut pine in your home? You can find Christmas tree farms all around Central MA. Here’s a few options:

Head over to one of these local farms to cut a tree down yourself! Just be sure to check their website or social media platforms (or call) to ensure that they have trees and are open when you’re hoping to visit. Many have limited availability, often from the day after Thanksgiving to the first or second week of December.

A woman getting ready to cut down a Christmas tree.

2. Go to a tree lighting.

Many towns throughout Central Mass will be holding official tree lightings. Here’s just a few examples:

  • Sturbridge is hosting their annual tree lighting on Friday, November 26th, 2021. The event will feature Santa, fun music, and a coloring contest for kids. If you bring a gift for the Toy for the Cops & Kids Toy Drive with Sturbridge Police Department, or a wish list item for a local animal rescue (Wings of Freedom), you’ll be entered into a holiday raffle.
  • Kelly Square in Worcester is having a tree lighting extravaganza on Saturday, December 4th, 2021. In addition to the lighting itself, they’ll have meet and greets with Santa Claus, horse drawn wagon rides, and an appearance by the Grinch. Table Talk will be there with free mini pie samples, and Polar will be providing seltzer samples.
  • Concord’s tree lighting will take place on December 5th, 2021. The event will feature a parade, entertainment, and Santa will making his way to the tree on a fire truck.

Check with your own local town to see if they offer a tree lighting event.

3. Visit the Winter Wonderland and the Festival of Illumination at Southwick Zoo.

The Winter Wonderland at Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, MA is open from November 26th, 2021 through January 2nd, 2022. Drive through the “frozen forest” to spot deer and through Whoville to spy the Grinch himself – all while checking out amazing handcrafted lanterns throughout.

After your drive, park and walk through Santa’s Village. You can do a meet and greet with Santa, grab some concessions (hello, hot chocolate), and see performances under the Cirque de Illumination tent.

This year, tickets are $60 per car, and you must purchase tickets in advance (no at-the-door sales). Don’t forget your camera so you can capture some great holiday memories!

4. Check out the Island of the Misfit Animals at Animal Adventures.

Another fun zoo-like event! Every weekend from November 19th through December 19th, Animal Adventures will hold their Island of the Misfit Animals event in Bolton, MA. It takes place from 6 to 8pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Enjoy a show of the “misfit animals” that Animal Adventures houses, and stroll through the zoo while it’s all lit up with Christmas lights. The staff will be there holding animals for you to meet – plus refreshments are available at no extra charge.

Tickets are $20 per person.

5. Go to Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village.

Old Sturbridge Village, located in Sturbridge, MA, will be holding their annual Christmas by Candlelight event on weekends in December leading up to Christmas (along with December 23rd and 27th-30th).

At the event, you can take in all the sights of Christmas, including the decorated village, a nightly tree lighting ceremony, and recreated 1800’s-style decor. Try taking a ride on a horse-drawn carry all, watch demonstrations of classic Christmas projects, and enjoy stories and live music.

Tickets must be purchased in advance for the date you’d like to attend. Adults are $28, Youth (4-17) are $14. and Children 3 and under are free. If you purchase before November 27th, though, you can save a few dollars off these prices!

6. Shop at a holiday fair.

Many local craft fairs take place in this area, and it’s a perfect place to search for festive handmade decor and locally-sourced gifts. As a kid, I have fond memories of being dropped off at holiday fairs and given $10 to shop for family (oh, how far $10 would go back then!).

Here’s a few local fairs that we know of:

There’s plenty more out there. Keep an eye on Facebook events, as that’s where you can find out about many of them!

Christmas decorations sold at a holiday craft fair.

7. Visit the Lancaster Celebration of Lights.

This fun drive through winter wonderland takes place at the Bolton Fairgrounds. The location is transformed into a mile-long roadway of spectacular light displays. Tune into a local radio station for fun Christmas music and bring some hot chocolate with you to enjoy in the car.

Tickets for the Celebration of Lights range from $22 (weekdays) to $25 (weekends and holidays) per car.

A light display at the Lancaster Festival of Lights.

8. See the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in Worcester.

This popular progressive rock group has been around since the 90’s, and is known for their amazing shows. They’ll be playing at the DCU Center in Worcester this year on Saturday, November 27th for a 3pm and 8pm show. This year’s show will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their popular “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” album.

Tickets range from $25 to $95+. It’s a great way to spend the weekend after Thanksgiving!

9. See a Christmas show at the Hanover Theatre.

This year, the Hanover Theatre in Worcester has three amazing Christmas shows on the docket:

  • The Nutcracker – November 26th-28th, 2021. This classic two act ballet has been a Christmas-time favorite since its inception in the late 1800s. You’ll find vibrant dancing, costumes, and lighting in this show.
  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: The Musical – December 6th, 2021. Appropriate for all ages, you’ll see your favorite Christmas characters come to life! Spot Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Abominable Snow Monster, and of course, Rudolph.
  • A Christmas Carol – December 15th-23rd, 2021. Come see the timeless tale of Scrooge, visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future! I love that they offer a “relaxed performance” on Sunday, December 19th, which is designed for people that may benefit from a more relaxed theater environment with less aggressive sounds and lighting (like those with sensory issues, autism, or anyone that could benefit from this type of performance).

Find the entire event calendar here to search other events or purchase tickets.

10. Create festive holiday crafts.

Alright, this one is more for the moms than the whole family – but how lovely will it be to have your house decorated with something beautiful that you made?

Here are a handful of wonderful events taking place this year:

  • Make an evergreen holiday wreath with Mass Audubon at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton MA on November 19th, 2021. You’ll learn how to examine and compare local evergreen plants, then create your own wreath using greenery, seed pods, and ribbon. This event is only $19 for non-members and $15 for members.
  • Create a “JOY” pallet sign – and sip a little wine! This event takes place at Broken Creek Vineyard in Shrewsbury on December 2nd (yes, there is a little hidden gem of a vineyard right in Shrewsbury and it’s fantastic). You’ll get the materials to create the 15″ x 8″ farmhouse-inspired sign, as well as a glass of wine. Tickets are $44 per person.
  • Grab dinner and make a holiday wreath at the Salem Cross Inn, located in West Brookfield. This event is offered three times this season – November 28th, December 1st, and December 2nd. You’ll enjoy a quintessential New England dinner (think chicken pot pie with a buttermilk biscuit and local squash) followed by live music and a fireside wreath-making workshop. Tickets are $95 per person.
  • Create an evergreen wreath at a workshop held by Creative Connections Gift Shop & Gallery in Ashburnham. You’ll create an all-natural evergreen wreath adorned with pinecones, berries, twigs, and other decorative elements. This event takes place on November 27th, and tickets are $35 per person.
  • Create ornaments at a holiday clay workshop held at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA. Creations will be fired and ready for pickup the following weekend. There will be hot cocoa and cider to accompany your crafting. Unlike the other events, this one is also open to kids. The event is on December 4th; non-member adults are $60 and non-member children are $40.

Quick tip: If you’re interested in these events, sign up ASAP as most tend to sell out quickly.

A woman's hand putting decorations on a holiday wreath.

11. Visit “Christmas on Runaway” in Lancaster.

This is a hidden gem in Central Mass! The house at 24 Runaway Brook Road in Lancaster puts on a spectacular light show each year, synchronized to music (you can tune into a local radio station for the playlist of tunes).

The show will start November 28th and run into the New Year, and generally goes nightly from 6-10pm. It’s a free event, but there is a donation bin to raise funds for charity – so be sure to pop a little in there.

It’s located in a residential neighborhood, so just be sure to be respectful of others that live there and follow any guidelines that the family posts on their Facebook page as far as entry/exit from the neighborhood.

12. Visit Night Lights at Tower Hill Botanical Garden.

Prefer walking through magical lights rather than driving? You’ll definitely want to check out the Night Lights event at Tower Hill.

Open November 26th-December 30th daily from 4-10pm, you’ll experience a magical landscape of illuminated plants, sculptures, paths, and fountains. There are fire pits around for warming up (or making smores!).

Non-member tickets are $23 for adults, $13 for youth (age 6-18), and free for children 5 and under. You must reserve tickets before arriving.

13. Go ice skating.

Whether you can nail a triple axel or you can barely keep your balance, there’s something super fun about ice skating on a winter day. Here are a few local spots to try – keep in mind many don’t open until mid to late December:

  • Ice Skating on the Oval in Worcester. This was closed last year, and it’s unclear if it’ll open this year – but keep an eye on their website. This 12,000 square foot rink is actually larger than the one at New York City’s Rockefeller Center.
  • Featherland Park Ice Rink in Sudbury. In past years, it looks like this has opened on Christmas Eve – but check in on the Sudbury town website to see when it may open this year.
  • Winter Skate at Patriot Place in Foxborough. Not quite Central MA, but might be worth a drive if you and the family want to get a skate in at an outdoor rink before Christmas. Their rink opens earlier than most others, November 11th, and you can rent skates on site. You can make a day of it there with shopping and restaurants as well.

Of course, there are ample indoor ice rinks around the area too if you’d prefer that (and they’re more likely to be open earlier in the season).

Quick tip – there are also plenty of local ponds to skate on once the weather cools down, but usually these are post-New Year options, as the ice isn’t typically thick enough before then. For example, Barret Park (Colburn Pond) in Leominster is a great place to visit – and unlike many ponds, it looks like the recreation department measures ice thickness here regularly and posts signs at the pond letting the public know the thickness. Holt’s Grove in Marlborough is another option, as is Bare Hill Pond in Harvard.

14. Go on an old-fashioned sleigh ride.

Who wouldn’t love a horse-drawn sleigh ride? You can do a couples or family ride over at Cornerstone Ranch in Princeton. These 30-minute rides are offered on the weekends, and currently cost $150 (for a group of 2 to 6 people), plus gratuity. After your ride, you can enjoy hot chocolate and smores by the fire.

A couple on a sleigh ride.

Bonus event that’s worth a drive: Polar Express Ride

It’s not technically Central Mass. But a 45-60 minute drive from most towns here will get you over to the station in Woonsocket, RI where the magic takes place.

On the 90-minute train ride to “the North Pole”, you’ll experience singing, games, a reading of the classic story, and a visit from Santa. The conductor will punch your golden ticket, and every kiddo will even receive a silver bell. (Plus, hot chocolate and a cookie during the ride!).

Happy holidays!

As you can see, there are tons of festive events and activities that you can do this season leading up to Christmas. And of course, if you get burnt out of going to events, you can always defer to our Christmas movie bucket list for fun flicks to watch in the comfort of your own home.

If you have any other events that you love, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below.

PS – Don’t forget to check out our list of experience gifts here in Central Massachusetts – you’ll find great options for your holiday gift-giving.

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