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.

Note: This post was originally published in 2021, and was last updated in November 2023. Please always double check dates of events as they may change.

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 24th, 2023. The event will feature Santa, fun local 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 2nd, 2023. In addition to the lighting itself, they’ll have meet and greets with Santa Claus, horse drawn wagon rides, and appearances by the Grinch, Rudolph, and others. 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 3rd, 2023. The event will feature a parade, entertainment, and visits with Santa.
  • Bolton is hosting their annual tree lighting at Town Common on November 26th, 2023 at 5pm. There will be a bonfire, visits with Santa, holiday music, and hot cocoa.

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 18th to December 31st, 2023. From enchanting reindeer and polar bears to delightful penguins and mischievous elves, the experience is a must-see for everyone!

After your stroll, you can visit The Kringle Café for concessions and special bakery items, or go to Galliford’s Restaurant & Tavern for on-site dining and takeout.

This year, admission is $25 for adults and $18 for children when purchased at the gate, or $21 for adults and $16 for children when purchased online. Children 2 and under are free. 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 event! Every weekend from December 1st through the 17th, Animal Adventures will hold their Island of the Misfit Animals event in Bolton, MA. It’s open from 5:30-8 PM, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with the actual show taking place at 6pm.

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.

Tickets are $20 per person for anyone 4+, and toddlers (age 2-3) are $7.

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 November and December.

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 prices vary depending on whether you purchase them in advance or at the door, and sometimes depending on the day. For the best rates, purchase online in advance, which is $36 for non-member adults and $18 for non-member children. Children 3 and under are free.

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 (Thursdays) to $25 (weekends and holidays) per car when purchased in advance; tickets are more expensive at the gate. (Also, keep in mind if they sell out online, there will not be any tickets available at the gate.)

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 25th 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 $39 to $109+. 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 24th-26th, 2023. This classic 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.
  • A Magical Cirque Christmas – December 3rd, 2023. This variety show features nostalgia, charm, and awe-inspiring performances for all ages. You’ll witness world-class entertainers performing to your favorite holiday music.
  • A Christmas Carol – December 16th-23rd, 2023. 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 17th, 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:

  • Create handcrafted seasonal ornaments from natural materials with Mass Audubon at the Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester on December 9th, 2023. Volunteers will guide you through the process of crafting ornaments, and holiday treats and music are part of the fun. This event is only $8 for adult non-members and $5 for children non-members, or $6 and $4 respectively for members.
  • Create a personalized winter chalkboard sign – and sip a little beer! This event takes place at Redemption Rock Brewing in Worcester on December 12th from 6:30-8:30pm. You’ll get the materials to create the sign as part of your ticket price, and then you can purchase beer on site if you’d like to drink. Tickets are $40 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 – Thursday November 30th, December 7th, and December 14th. You’ll enjoy a quintessential New England dinner (think chicken pot pie with a buttermilk biscuit and local squash) followed by the fireside wreath-making workshop. Tickets are $90 per person.
  • Create a wreath with your family at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA. You’ll use natural materials such as evergreen, berries, pinecones, and more. Unlike some of the other events listed above, this one is also open to kids. The event is on December 2nd; non-member adults are $120 and non-member children are $15. (You’ll collaborate on the wreath together as a family).

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).

They have not announced dates yet this year, but I’m hoping it’s still taking place! In the past, hours generally go 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 24th-December 31st 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 typically $25 for adults, $15 for youth (age 4-12), and free for children 3 and under, though peak dates rise to $27 and $17, respectively. 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 12,000 square foot rink is actually larger than the one at New York City’s Rockefeller Center. It looks like it’ll open December 1st, 2023 this year in conjunction with the town’s Festival of Lights event.
  • 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 or with local folks to see when it may open this year.

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. Be cautious – only skate on ponds if you know the ice is thick enough for it.

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 starting in December, 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 Polar Express 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, or our Christmas scavenger hunt to do around your own neighborhood.

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. Also, be sure to look at our list of ways to sponsor a child for Christmas in Central Mass if you’re in the giving spirit!

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