In search of an old-fashioned NH holiday

In a time when Christmas ornaments can be found on store shelves by late August and garish displays in big-box stores beckon for your dollars at every turn, classic holiday scenes can seem a thing of the past. But here’s the thing: That picture-postcard image of a group of youngsters, noses pressed up against storefronts eagerly ogling sparkling displays, is real — you just have to know where to look.

Luckily, in a state full of picturesque main streets and great downtowns, scenes from holidays gone by are recreated every year. Brick storefronts are gussied up with sparkling lights, shopkeepers offer cocoa and cider while a soundtrack ranging from bell-ringers to Bing Crosby drifts through the crowded sidewalks.

From the notches to the beaches, New Hampshire’s communities from Exeter to Bethlehem and Keene to Gorham have independent artisans and shops offering unique and quaint gifts from the Granite State, and more than several towns and regions have events planned to help bring locals and visitors alike to storefronts.

Photo by Wendy Wood

Head for the Seacoast to experience a holiday celebration straight out of Currier and Ives. Vintage Christmas is a month-long series of events and activities that starts with a kickoff party on Dec. 2 at the Discover Portsmouth Center. The next day, Portsmouth erupts with seasonal celebrations: The city’s Christmas Tree Lighting and Illuminated Holiday Parade winds down Islington Street and through Market Square, starting at 5:30 p.m. Festive floats glow with holiday cheer, lighting up the 19th-century brick storefronts.

Strawbery Banke will present its 37th annual Candlelight Stroll on weekends starting Dec. 3. Visitors can meander along candlelit lanes, through period homes decorated for Christmas and Hannukah and travel through 300 years of daily life in the waterfront neighborhood of Puddle Dock.

Of course, no visit to Portsmouth is complete without wandering through the shops that line the downtown streets. Tour the distinctive boutiques and enjoy a mug of cider or a plate of cookies while picking up gifts.

Experience the joys of the season in a simpler time at the Canterbury Shaker Village’s Christmas at Canterbury. Craft your own Christmas cards, enjoy a 19th-century magic show, create handmade ornaments and listen to fiddlers, or take part in a special Christmas dinner at The Shaker Table – complete with Shaker style seating and a buffet with a carving station. The dinner is $20 for adults and $10 for children. Celebrations take place on Dec. 3 and Dec. 10.

The streets of Manchester come to life during the holiday season, as more than 50 vendors pack into the Brady Sullivan Plaza for the annual Downtown Holiday Market, put on by Intown Manchester for the first three Thursdays in December. Intown also organizes the state’s largest holiday-themed procession, the Manchester Christmas Parade, on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. And of course, Morty the Elf will be popping up throughout the downtown. Spot Morty (clues to his location are provided on and win a prize.

Browse the aisles of Toadstool Books while sampling some delicious fare on Cider Monday, Nov. 28. Held on the day many online retailers traditionally offer deals, the booksellers are offering up some squished apple (we see what you did there) cider for holiday shoppers. All three shops — in Keene, Peterborough and Milford — offer their guests (inciders) a chance to cut the power cord and join fellow bibliophiles amid the stacks.

A long list of Monadnock region businesses are also taking part in the effort to leave the virtual world behind, from Enterprize Comics in Keene (we hear apple cinnamon donuts are on the menu there) to Paper and Roses in Peterborough. For a full list of Cider Monday shops, visit

Unique and locally owned is the theme at Concord’s Midnight Merriment, held on Friday, Dec. 2 from 5 p.m. to midnight. Businesses decorate storefronts and wandering carolers add to the atmosphere. Plus, many of the downtown stores offer specials during this annual opportunity. Shops such as Gibson’s Bookstore offer increasingly valuable deals as midnight draws closer. Get there early to sign up for the first annual Midnight Merriment Beard Contest — a festival of facial foliage to rival Santa’s, no doubt — and drop your letter to Father Christmas at Santa’s letterbox at Phenix Plaza. Of course, bring your camera for a visit with the Big Man himself at the Eagle Square Atrium from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Or, if you miss him, try the Elfie-selfie station.

For a taste of Christmas past, cross over a covered bridge into the Mount Washington Valley. Businesses offer open houses, holiday drink tastings, storytelling, fondues and shopping specials. Santa will arrive at the Jackson Village Gazebo in a horse-drawn Austrian sleigh on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 4 p.m. Visitors can also take part in the Jingle Bell Chocolate Tour. Hop on a horse-drawn sleigh and tour a number of Jackson-area stops, where handmade chocolate treats are dished out. The tour starts at the Nestlenook Farm gazebo, alongside a warm, roaring fire, and winds through Jackson Village throughout the night. Tours will be held weekends from Nov. 26 to Dec. 17. Contact the Jackson Chamber to book the Jingle Bell Chocolate Tour at (603) 383-9356.

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