The winter months can be a time when folks just don’t want to leave the house. It can be very enticing to curl up by the fire with some hot cocoa and a good book, or pop in a movie and hunker down for an old fashioned New England wintry day at home. But if that doesn’t sound so appealing to your adventuresome spirit there are many winter festivals throughout New England. If your wallets are still recovering from the holidays, let one of these super fun, economical events thaw your frozen spirits.
The 25th Annual Chester Winter Carnivale takes place February 15 in Chester, Connecticut. The Chester Merchants Group works tirelessly to create what event chair Leslie Strauss calls, “a free day for kids of all ages.” There will be ice carving competitions with sculpture artists from throughout New England, sidewalk vendors and sales by local merchants. Restaurants will have specials as well as festival vendors with Kettle corn, brick oven pizza, hot dogs and cotton candy. Hundreds of balloons will be given out while face painting takes place and street entertainers perform magic, juggling, storytelling and more.
There are fees for food but the rest of the event is free, free, free and many folks know about it because thousands attend this southern New England celebration of winter. It is held in conjunction with the 15th annual Chilly Chili Cook-Off, put on by the Chester Hose Company firehouse. It is a steamy competition between fire companies, and a dozen or more local restaurants. Guests are invited to sample about 15 different mouth- watering chilis for $5, and vote on their favorites. The chili cook-off begins at 11a.m. and ends around 1 p.m., raising funds for the Chester Hose Company each year. Chili co-chair Kim Tiezzi estimates that about 900 people pass through the cook-off, and vote for their favorites. Trophies are awarded for Best Table Decoration, Best Fire Department Chili, People’s Choice and Most Unique.
“We love it because it shows the community supporting our fire department,” said Kim. “It’s a huge event because it’s winter and people have cabin fever. It’s great and it’s inexpensive.”
Although there is plenty of fun to be had throughout the village, the highlight for many people is the Antique Tractor Parade featuring 50-100 antique tractors, the number varying depending on the weather. The tractor parade began about 12 years ago, according to lifetime Chester resident Jeff Foggitt.
“It was just an idea between folks around the coffee shop, as an added attraction to the carnival. It’s not organized at all and anyone from Chester who can fire up their antique tractor just shows up by 2:00.”
About half of the tractors are decorated for the holiday and the rest just show off their historic beauty. Jeff estimates about 80 percent of them are from Chester, and were in active use on farms in the area in the 40’s and 50’s. It’s important to him that they keep it local, reflecting classic New England nostalgia. “It’s a huge draw. The numbers have increased ten- fold from what they used to be,” says Jeff. “We used to attract hundreds and now there are thousands. It just represents small town New England. There is historic value and the kids love it. The parade honors the heritage of small town farming. And these antique tractors last forever.”
The parade starts at North Quarter Park on Main Street and ends about a mile away at the Old Town Meetinghouse. Tractors can be viewed early as they line up. There are plenty of area parking lots available and more shuttle buses than ever this year. For more information visit www.facebook.com/chesterctwintercarnivale.
Further north in New Hampshire, the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 2nd Annual Fire and Ice Festival February 12-16. Along with specials being offered in shops and restaurants, there are plenty of unique fire and ice events that include performing arts, family fun and evening entertainment.
“By far, the most popular event last year was the dog sled ride,” says event coordinator Caitlyn Hassett. “You can go up into the White Mountains and ride into the wilderness but this is a great opportunity to bring this experience right into Portsmouth.”
The rides are being offered during the festival on Sunday and Monday, 10a.m.-2 p.m. and are $25 per sled, which can fit varied numbers of children or adults depending on their size. The experience is provided by Seal Cove Journeys and will take place at Puddle Dock Pond on the grounds of Strawbery Banke, a living history museum. The dog sled rides sold out last year and tickets will be available in advance on line. “We are hoping for plenty of snow by Presidents Day weekend,” says Caitlyn optimistically. Hearth Cooking demonstrations at the museum are on Saturday, February 14, and tickets are $65/person. A new outdoor ice skating rink, also at Puddle Dock Pond will be open for folks to enjoy this classic New England winter activity that is $5 for kids and $7 for adults.
At The Player’s Ring Theater, Patrick Dorow will provide free music all day long to coincide with the Dog Sled rides. Folks can enjoy a hot beverage while they wait their turn, or stop by when they get back from their adventure to warm up.
Not ready to warm up just yet? Ice sculptures will be sprinkled all over town including several right at the Portsmouth Gas Light Company which is the ending location for the Fire and Ice Bar Crawl and Cocktail Competition. An experience with a dichotomy of fire pits and ice bars, for $15 patrons can cruise six area restaurants and bars for a sample size Fire and Ice cocktail, voting at the end for their favorite. On Friday night the third floor of the Gas Light Company heats up with an all male review called Men in Motion. Adults only please and tickets are $15.
The Seacoast Repertory Theater will be playing winter themed films throughout the day on Saturday and this event is free. The Music Hall will host a Friday Jazz Night and a comedy show will take place at the Historic Theater.
“There is something going on all the time for all ages,” says Caitlyn. “Whether it’s dog sledding, ice skating, jazz night or comedy, it covers the whole spectrum.”
For more information and an updated schedule of events visit www.portsmouthchamber.org/fireandice.
Next door in Vermont an unusual event takes place on February 14th from 10:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m. when folks of all ages gather together to learn the art of igloo building at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. Igloo expert Dr. Bert Yankielun, author of, How to Build an Igloo and Other Snow Shelters, will teach the basics of building an igloo, “strong enough to support the weight of a polar bear,” and he will be on hand to reveal some tricks of the trade.
The Montshire Igloo Build was named the #1 Way to Winter Fun by Yankee Magazine in 2009, and was named a Top 10 Winter Event by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce again this year, according to museum director of marketing and communications, Beth Krusi. This time- tested event has been going on for more than two decades, she estimates, and attracts people of all ages.
“I think the attraction is that you’re actually building something. Everyone has heard about igloos, and are fascinated by them in one way or another, so to actually get to construct one …well, that’s pretty darn cool. You feel like you’re doing something very much like the native people in the north would do. And what makes it unique is having Bert Yankielun there.”
There is a sense of camaraderie and working together as people work for an hour or two and take a break and others take over. It’s pretty cold that time of year, so warming up in between could be essential to the process. If people come by themselves, they are sure to team up with others.
“Part of the fun is working together. It doesn’t need to be a solo activity,” says Beth. “Everyone is engaged (in the activity) and that makes it really, really fun.”
Beth advises warm winter clothing and boots, as well as bringing a picnic lunch. The 100 acres of museum grounds are open for trail walks, and snowshoes are available on a first come, first served basis. There is a covered pavilion with picnic tables or picnics may be enjoyed inside in the Porter Community Room, next to the Museum galleries, where there are more than 125 different hands- on exhibits that will engage curious minds of all ages. From January 24 through April 5, the Montshire will be hosting an exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution called Farmers, Warriors, Builders: the Hidden Life of Ants.
Admission to the museum is $14 for adults and $11 for children 2-17, and free for members and children under the age of 2.. The Igloo Build is free with museum admission. For more information visit www.montshire.org.
The 4th Annual Biddeford WinterFest takes place February 6-8, in southern Maine and for those hearty New Englanders, it’s all about community. Sponsored by the City of Biddeford and various community groups, this year’s event will be different from those in the past that featured ski and snowboarding competitions.
“This year it’s more of a community based festival,” said event organizer John Maxson. “In the dead of winter it’s a time for community to come together when there’s really not a lot going on.”
On Friday folks can enjoy dog sled races, a D.J. cranking out some tunes, and one unique feature you can’t miss. Three thousand yards of snow is hauled into town creating a sliding hill that goes right down the street next to City Hall. The sliding hill is open to kids from 1-100. Non-profit groups will make hearty culinary offerings available throughout the weekend. On Saturday, there will be pony rides, games for kids, a snow miniature golf, and a snow shoe course. A Cardboard Sled Race and competition will be held and prizes awarded for best creative design and team costumes. Comedian Juston McKinney, who has appeared twice on the Tonight Show, will perform at City Theater. On Sunday, enjoy the timeless winter activity of ice skating at the Westbrook Skating Rink with free admission and pizza before taking in one last plunge down the sliding hill. Visit www.biddefordmaine.org for updated info and events schedule.
In Massachusetts, the 13th Annual Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival, takes place February 6-15, kicking off the weeklong festivities with a Chocolate and Wine Tasting event, at Colonial Hall at Rockafellas. Thirteen or more restaurants donate to the chocolate and wine tasting event making special creations with a chocolate twist. Tickets are $25 and attract a standing room only crowd of several hundred people each year. More than a dozen spectacular sponsored ice sculptures will be located at various businesses all around town beginning on Feb. 7th. Last year the weather cooperated and the sculptures were enjoyed all week long. For a buck or two, (free for kids) the Salem Trolley is offering rides to help folks get around to see the ice sculptures and view the many events created by more than 60 restaurants and retailers for the week long celebration. In store promotions, chocolate samplings and special menu offerings continue the chocolate theme and a stop by the candy store’s chocolate fondue fountain is something no lover of this decadent confection will want to miss.
The event is sponsored by three non-profit organizations: Salem Main Streets, the Salem Chamber of Commerce and Destination Salem. Proceeds from the event are put back into next year’s festival and ultimately back into the community.
“It’s meant to be an opportunity to bring people downtown during the colder months. The idea was, if people are doing any shopping or buying things this might inspire them to do it locally. I think it’s a success because people are so excited to get out of the house. They miss getting to see each other and stroll around and this is a chance to do that….a chance to celebrate.” For a map, specific details and schedule of events visit www.Salem.org.
In New England’s smallest state is one of New England’s biggest winterfests. The 27th Annual Newport Winter Festival - Winter Latitudes, Tropical Attitudes, takes place February 13-22 throughout Newport County. Festival buttons can be purchased for $10 and offers discounts and free admission to many of the 150 activities and events that are part of this seaside festival.
Pineapples Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel and Spa on Goat Island is converted to Polar Pineapples when an ice bar is constructed, and in addition to special cocktails for the event, they are offering free hot chocolate in the Five33 Lounge when you show your festival button. A martini contest takes place at the Barking Crab on the 18th, and ice sculpting demonstrations take place on the 14th at Long Wharf Mall, when sculptures create magnificent works of art which will be on display until they melt. For sculpting of another kind, plan to attend Festival Day at Easton’s Beach for a wintry sand sculpture competition, polar plunge and old fashioned block hunt on the 22nd.
But not everyone embraces southern New England winter, and for those folks, opportunities to warm up are plentiful. Check out the 20th Annual Samuel Adams Chili Cook-Off on the 14th at Newport Harbor Hotel. Or the annual Best Hot Drink Contest sponsored by Kahlua on Feb. 18, or the 5th Annual Chicken Wing Cook-Off at the Hyatt Hotel on the 21st.
Want to just sit back and be entertained? Check out the Jimmy Buffet Tribute Band – Changes in Latitudes on the 21st or a comedy show featuring Kevin Meaney and Kerri Louise on the 20th. An Illusionquest performed by professional illusionist David Garrity takes place on the 13th and on the 15th Annual “Live Jazz for Kids” happens at Green Vale Vineyards on the 19th. Want to make your own entertainment? Check out the Newport Grand Karaoke Championship on the 18th. In previous years there have been lighthouse and seal tours, train and helicopter rides, historical events, horseback riding on the beach, and so much more. Check out a full schedule of details, events and activities during this 10 day funfest at www.newportevents.com/winterfest , as new information is being added regularly.
There’s no question that winter fun is plentiful and available in all shapes and sizes throughout New England. It’s not hard to feel a sense of nostalgia for traditional activities like skating, sledding and shopping the quaint villages of the northeast. But for the adventure seeker there is plenty to do as well. Whether your adventurous spirit leads you to dog sledding, igloo building or an all male review, there is sure plenty to choose from. While communities open wide their hearts with a budget friendly welcome, bundle up, venture outdoors for a little adventure, and experience New England at its warm and friendly finest.