Christmas is the perfect time to stop by your neighbors’ house with some cookies, toast the season with your coworkers, or maybe do some volunteering with a local charity. In other words, the holiday season is all about community.
The traditions of Christmas strolls, tours, and shopping nights grow directly from this communal spirit. These events go by many names, but at their hearts, they are about visiting with friends, supporting local businesses, and celebrating the season together.
So if you’re ready for some hot chocolate, carol singing, and shopping deals, check out some of the North Shore’s best holiday festivities.
Newburyport Invitation Nights
The event with perhaps the most cryptic name—after all, no invitations are required—Newburyport’s Christmas celebration has been an annual occasion for more than 30 years. The concept was born when a group of retailers declared that they wanted to invite their loyal customers out to shop and socialize in the weeks leading up to Christmas, explains Ann Ormond, president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which organizes the events.
These days, Invitation Nights encompass almost every store downtown and in the Tannery Marketplace, for a total of more than 200 retailers, Ormond estimates. Participating stores include bakeries, boutiques, and bookstores, along with gift shops of every conceivable description. The eclectic Partridge in a Bear Tree has become renowned for the punch it serves for Invitation Nights, Ormond says. Many other shops also offer cook- ies, snacks, or beverages to shoppers as they browse.
“Pretty much everybody gets involved in the spirit of the season,” Ormond says. “It’s a very fun atmosphere.”
The events have become so popular that some out-of-towners book rooms in nearby hotels so they can attend more easily, she says. And shoppers intending to enjoy dinner should make reservations well ahead of time to ensure they get a spot. Though there are usually only two Invitation Nights each December, a third has been added this year. The dates are December 5, 12, and 19, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each night.
Marblehead Christmas Walk
Marblehead’s annual Christmas Walk is a four-day affair that starts with gingerbread houses on December 5, ends with raffles and hot chocolate on December 8, and includes plenty of quality time with Santa in between. The highlight of the event, however, occurs on Saturday morning, when jolly old St. Nicholas makes his grand entrance atop a lobster boat in the harbor.
This year marks the 44th Christmas Walk, an event that has developed plenty of traditions over the years, says Marblehead Chamber of Commerce executive director Deb Payson. On Friday night, the Marblehead Person of the Year—this year’s honoree is optometrist Keith Taylor—presides over the Christmas Tree Lighting festivities. On Saturday, after Santa’s grand entrance, a holiday parade winds through the normally sleepy streets of downtown Marblehead.
Between the big events, local businesses and nonprofits host a wide range of activities. The Marblehead Art Asso- ciation hosts an exhibit of its members’ work, and Haley’s Wines and Market Cafe? will present a wine and cheese tasting. Free screenings of The Polar Express will be available at the Warwick Cinema. Dozens of stores will be offering cider, cocoa, cookies, and deals, and musical performances ranging from a capella groups to sea shanties are regularly scheduled throughout the weekend. A full listing of events is available at marbleheadchamber.org.
Parking will be available in the high school parking lot; a trolley will shuttle visitors to the festivities. Just make sure to leave lots of time to take everything in. “I have three kids who tried to hit everything last year,” Payson says. “It wasn’t even possible.”
Andover Holiday Happenings
For more than 20 years, Andover has been home to an annual celebration known as Holiday Happenings. This year, for the first time, the town is doubling the fun, splitting the festivities into two events on different dates. First up is the family-focused event on the Sunday following Thanksgiving. The day kicks off with an afternoon Santa Parade, organized by the Andover Firefighters Relief Association and featuring the big man himself riding a fire truck. The parade will be followed by activities for kids throughout the afternoon and evening: cookies, music, storytelling, and face painting.
The evening is topped off by the lighting of the 30-foot Christmas tree in front of TD Bank. This year, for the first time, a laser light show will follow the tree-lighting ceremony.
“I would expect it to be very upbeat and have a lot of holiday spirit,” says Holly Nahabedian, president of the Andover Business Community Association. The second part of the celebration—a Holiday Shop- ping Stroll—is scheduled for December 4. Downtown merchants will stay open late and offer refreshments and special deals to shoppers. “They will be opening their doors and making people very welcome,” Nahabedian says.
Christmas in Salem
December 5 to 7
Salem draws on its deep history for its holiday celebrations. On Friday night, a mini food and history tour will be offered by Karen Scalia of Salem Food Tours and David Bowie of Salem Spice. Saturday includes a full historical walking tour; tours of historical local homes will run all three days. christmasinsalem.org
Wakefield Holiday Stroll
December 6, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
A Holiday Stroll Hat Parade kicks off the event, followed by activities including horse-drawn carriage rides, raffles, refreshments, and the arrival of a special guest (hint: He’s from the North Pole). wakefieldepc.com
Rockport Gallery Stroll
December 13 and 14, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Rockport embraces its artistic heritage for this annual event. Maps guide visitors to participating galleries, where art, refreshments, and demonstrations will be on offer.
For more community events click here.