If you plan to visit New England during the holiday season, there are plenty of light displays, parades, and festivals to keep you entertained. Some—like the Stone Zoo's decorations in Stoneham, Massachusetts—are geared toward children while others—like the Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport, Maine—may appeal more to adults. Between Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, there is no shortage of holiday fun to be had.
Keep in mind that many holiday events have been altered or canceled for the 2020-2021 season. Check the websites of individual organizers for updated information.
ZooLights at Stone Zoo in Stoneham, Massachusetts
Thousands of lights make Stoneham's Stone Zoo twinkle and dance nightly from November until early to mid-January. In addition to its actual reindeer residents, the zoo becomes home to mechanically animated critters, too. The illuminated displays, presented by National Grid, are exhibited along a walking path spanning the zoo's entire 26 acres. On it, you may spot a bald eagle, a bear, an arctic fox, or another animal—some real, some synthetic. Santa Claus usually makes a nightly appearance, but won't during the 2020-2021 season. ZooLights runs from November 27, 2020, to January 17, 2021, and tickets ($12.95 for members and $13.95 for non-members) can be purchased online.
Christmas by the Sea in Ogunquit, Maine
The coastal town of Ogunquit, Maine, makes the most of its waterfront location with an annual Christmas by the Sea event, featuring a holiday parade, storytelling, caroling, shopping, horse-drawn wagon rides, music, arts and crafts, a living nativity, visits with Santa, an expanded Chowderfest rechristened "Taste the Season," and more. The 2020 event was "reimagined" to take place entirely virtually, featuring a Seaside Scavenger Hunt and Reindeer Round-up in which participants are entered to win a $50 gift card.
Candlelight Carols at Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts
Christmas events don't get much more traditional than the Candlelight Carols service at Trinity Church in Boston, the Copley Square landmark that the American Institute of Architects named one of the 10 greatest public buildings in the country. There is no admission fee to the caroling ceremony—held most evenings between December 19, 2020, to January 6, 2021, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.—but a free-will offering is requested. During the 2020-2021 season, all performances will be held virtually on Facebook Live.
Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts
Soak up the spirit of the season and learn a bit about holiday history at Old Sturbridge Village's 13-day Christmas by Candlelight event. Select houses and shops around the Common celebrate old-timey traditions like knitting stockings, making wreaths, and crafting ornaments. The village is bedecked in handmade decor and Christmas trees galore. Other highlights include the Christmas Wish Bridge, bonfires, and a horse-drawn sleigh. In 2020, Christmas by Candlelight will take place mostly outdoors on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from December 4 to 30. Tickets cost $22 per adult or $11 per kid. Children under 4 are permitted free entry.
Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport, Maine
Kennebunkport's Christmas Prelude ushers in the holidays as only Maine can: with Santa arriving via lobster boat, the lighting of the lobster trap tree, a Firehouse Lobster Supper, a Fire + Ice bar, Christmas fireworks, and a slew of other festivities surrounding the coastal theme. In 2020, the event will place an emphasis on pre-recorded, virtual events, such as an interactive Hat Parade on December 5, cocktail making classes, caroling at the monastery, and, of course, the anticipated Dock Square and Cape Porpoise tree lightings.
Wassail Weekend in Woodstock, Vermont
Woodstock, Vermont, holds concerts (including a memorable performance by Yale University's acclaimed men's a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs), children's events, a Medieval Wassail Celebration Feast, a yule log on the green, and a parade of horses and riders in traditional costume as part of its annual Wassail Weekend. The 2020 event—held twice, on December 5 and 12—will be without group gatherings, but an abundance of spectacularly decorated homes and 19th-century charm will make up for it.
Winterfest in East Windsor, Connecticut
The Connecticut Trolley Museum celebrates the holidays with Winterfest, in which guests climb aboard an "electric sleigh"—in other words, a restored antique trolley—for a 3-mile ride through a tunnel of lights. More than 6,000 bulbs are used to create the spectacle. Winterfest will be held on weekends November 27 through December, 2020, from 5 to 9 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for the open trolley, $20 for the closed trolley, and members are treated to half price.
North Pole Express in Essex, Connecticut
Catch the Essex Steam Train's festive North Pole Express or Santa Special Elf Academy Train for a photo op-filled adventure alongside Santa Claus. The seasonal excursions are usually offered on select dates from mid-November until January; however, all interactive train rides have been canceled in 2020. Instead, people are invited to celebrate with an hour-long, holiday-themed walking tour of the Essex Train Station.
Lantern Light Tours at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut
On select evenings throughout the holiday season, you can tour Mystic Seaport by lantern light for a glimpse of Christmas past. Tour guides spin a ghostly storyline as they lead guests through a bustling village, Greenmanville, all the while dressed in 19th-century garb. Tickets cost $33 for adults ($28 for members) and $28 for kids 4 through 12 ($23 for members). Children 3 and under can join for free. Tickets can be purchased online and reservations are strongly recommended. In 2020, Mystic Seaport's Lantern Light Tours have been canceled.
Santa's Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire
It's always Christmas at this Jefferson, New Hampshire, amusement park, but the actual holidays make it even more festive. It typically remains closed throughout the winter season—as its elves prepare for the big night, no doubt—but reopens for Christmas, during which its theme rides fire back up and performers take the stage for one last hoorah. General admission is between $49 and $59 per person and children 3 years old and younger get in free. In 2020, Santa's Village will remain closed throughout the holiday season. It will reopen for its regular season in spring 2021.