Every year, the holiday season begins so abruptly that it catches me off guard. Here we are, playing catch-up after Halloween and then plowing right into all the preparations and celebrations for Thanksgiving when suddenly we wake up the next morning and find ourselves face-to-face with the holiday season once more. One could hardly blame Christmas, though, for its inopportune position on the calendar. In all fairness, the yuletide spirit just doesn’t get the benefit of a gradual introduction, the flurry of excitement born out of slowly building anticipation over a period of many weeks. Nope. Thanksgiving, for all of its bountiful assets, acts like a verifiable roadblock as far as Christmas is concerned. Year after year, as I’m placing my order for heritage turkey, I should really be placing orders for wish-list items that will quickly be sold-out or backordered. As I’m thinking of side dishes, I should be tossing around ideas for my annual family gift baskets. Unfortunately for me, I am never that swift. I just cannot seem to make that mental leap into holiday mode any earlier than Cyber Monday.
From that point on, it’s a race all the way to the end of the month as I try to find the time to put up decorations, decide who’s getting what, shopping [online] for the items that make the final cut, creatively repositioning that darn family elf every night, and wrapping. Oh, wrapping. Despite all this frenzy, there is one aspect of the season that I can always depend on to ground me- holiday events. For me, these seasonal programs are all added opportunities to enjoy the season and take advantage of all the magic this time of year has to offer. Whether they’re indoors or out, geared towards the cubs or the entire family, I find that they are an absolutely essential component of life with littles.
If anything, narrowing down the list of great options is your real dilemma in this situation. With so many wonderful ways to celebrate the holidays on Long Island, it is truly impossible to declare any one the official best, the undisputed winner of the Christmas spirit award, if you will. So instead, we stick to a tradition of visiting our very favorite spots every year and trying out one or two new ones along the way too. It has proven a good way to stave off the frenzy so easily induced during this time of year while introducing us to some fantastic new events in the process, as was the case this year with the magnificent holiday program put out by the Sands Point Preserve that we attended for the first time. Perhaps you want to start a tradition of trying out only new events every year, or sticking solely to your tried-and-true winners. However you want to go about sampling and visiting, the important thing is to just do it. So get out there, search for ways to maximize the season, to celebrate and preserve these moments in time. Change up your scenery a bit, throw your surroundings for a loop, and just go out and have fun!
One of our favorite places to hang out with the cubs year-round is our local library. They love choosing their new bedtime books, trying their hands at the various games and puzzles available for all, and seeing familiar faces. We absolutely love it there. It should come as no surprise then that we also adore the programs the library puts together. In fact, I’ve made it a habit of perusing the monthly events calendar for programs that appeal to my cubs’ particular age group. The month of December, in particular, includes quite a number of goodies. This year our Christmas tree is emblazoned with more than a few creations made from library holiday ornament programs. We’ve discovered some new Christmas-themed books to read before bed, and we’ve enjoyed a fair share of hot chocolate and cookies with friends there as well.
I’m positive that our library isn’t the only fantastic one on the Island. Check out your own local library’s program guide to see what they offer. You could find a fireside story hour, holiday craft time, or even a teddy bear tea party for your little to enjoy. Many libraries now post their events online, but you could also find what you’re looking for in person the next time you’re there. The opportunities are truly endless and the atmosphere of a quaint children’s library room simply can’t be topped.
Visit with Santa, Old Westbury Gardens
We love visiting the Westbury Gardens in December before the grounds close for the rest of the winter season, it is one of our favorite Long Island holiday events. This is especially so on unseasonably warm days where a walk around the gardens after the festivities in the house, is possible. We find that the setting here is ideal for spending a few hours in the late morning and early afternoon to slow down and live in the moment. The stunning grounds at this historic spot help to facilitate this reverie, easily transporting you to another era entirely as you make your way up the long winding driveway, surrounded by towering trees and manicured lawns until at last you arrive at the gravel courtyard in front of the doors of the mansion. Once inside, you’re greeted by the warmth of a roaring fire in the foyer and charming holiday decor throughout each of the carefully appointed period rooms.
We usually head straight to the craft room where the children gather around a large table and busy their hands with the activity of the day. After this, we like to head over to the beautifully adorned sunroom where the children are transfixed by the holiday train display and cluster of lit trees that surround it. This is also where they can take the opportunity to enjoy some hot cider, apple juice, and cookies while the adults enjoy the easy conversation and relaxed atmosphere brought about by such magical surroundings. Once they’ve had their fill, it’s time to head upstairs and see Santa! With usually no wait time whatsoever, the children are content and upbeat as they walk up to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him all about their Christmas wishes. Our final stop is always, always, a stroll around the gardens whenever possible. The wide open spaces and charming play areas all invite the cubs to unwind and let loose. Overall, the activities and scenery at the Old Westbury Gardens make it so that our holidays are not complete without at least one visit to this wonderful estate.
The Milleridge Inn & Shops
Throughout the month of December, the historic Milleridge Inn is gussied up for the Christmas season and I have to say that I have never seen a restaurant quite as done up for the holidays as this one! Not a single thing is overlooked, from the carolers going table to table in full costume, to the servers playing their part as well. We always try to enjoy a festive holiday meal here with friends and family a some point during the season. The lively spirit in the aptly decorated rooms is festive and contagious as is the bustle and conversation from fellow diners having a great time all around you. With an ambience like this we find ourselves usually lingering over our meals, draining every bit of happiness we can out of these moments together in such a wonderful setting.
One of my favorite features of the Milleridge Inn, however, is the row of shops made to look like a quaint village located just outside its doors. Without a doubt, they add to the overall experience of coming to the Milleridge Inn during the holidays. Both the style and variety of the shops harken back to the good ‘ol days, featuring a toy shop, a Christmas shop, a florist, and a bread and jam bakery to name just a few. It is an ideal spot for these shops, the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll after dinner or brunch and continue the festivities long after your meal is over.
Holiday Tales at the Hearth, Sands Point Preserve
Sands Point Preserve, the former estate of the Guggenheim family, is yet another stunning, historic treasure for Long Islanders to enjoy. The Preserve puts on quite a few events throughout the year and this month we attended our very first one, Holiday Tales at the Hearth. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience here last year and plan on making a visit here for this wonderful holiday event an annual tradition! Arriving at the Preserve, you are immediately taken by the stunning and expansive grounds overlooking the Long Island Sound. The forest, woodland, and meadows all around the immense 216-acre property are perfect for taking a leisurely stroll with your littles. Dog walking here is also permitted for visitors who might be interested in including even furry members of the family on hikes and adventures. As we were there for the event, however, those particular adventures will have to be for another day.
After parking, we headed straight into Hempstead House, a tudor style mansion that is the very personification of Gold Coast-era opulence. Inside, the entire house is tastefully adorned with traditional Christmas decor. Santa’s sleigh is positioned right by the front door, a photo op we just couldn’t pass up! Moving on to the center atrium, we found an array of tables and chairs at which guests could sit and relax or enjoy the complimentary cookies and juice. We moved our group into the library in time for story hour with Santa. There, we found Saint Nick sitting next to a roaring fireplace, a costumed elf to his right and a plush armchair next to them both. A large group of children sat at their feet listening as the staff members of the Preserve took turns reading their favorite holiday books to them. Even the elf himself took a turn reading! Once story time was over, everyone was welcome to take photos with Santa and to drop their letters to him in his box.
The atmosphere of the entire place was friendly and family-oriented with a relaxed and unhurried vibe that we truly appreciated. It didn’t seem as though any event had a time limit and guests were welcome to join in the festivities in whichever room they happened to find themselves. Our final stop of the day was in a breathtaking room at the rear of the mansion with expansive windows which overlooked the Sound and extravagant chandeliers which hung down from the tall ceilings. Here, multiple tables were set up with supplies and samples for children to create whatever holiday craft their heart desired. To say that we loved this holiday event would be an understatement. We adored it so much, in fact, that we decided right then and there that it would definitely become a permanent part of our festivities every year.
The Rinx at Harborfront Park
Opening day November 25th
Another new experience for us this year was ice skating on the harbor in Port Jefferson. We’d heard about this tradition right in the heart of this charming little village but had to see it with our very eyes. We are absolutely glad that we did! The rink is carefully constructed and diligently maintained throughout the skating season. Finding it is no trouble at all, as it is located adjacent to the beautiful Village Center building, and parking is ample around the entire village. The best feature, however, is the setting. With a prime view of the stunning harbor right in front of you, you simply cannot find a better place to skate outdoors on Long Island! As it is located right in the heart of the village, you even have the opportunity to explore a bit of the area afterwards and perhaps try out a new place to eat.
This year was our cubs’ first ever time ice skating which made this experience that much more memorable. Though you are welcome to bring your own skates, excellent quality ones are available for rent right in the Village Center lobby. We borrowed our skates and then got our cameras ready for this endearing and unforgettable first. We couldn’t have asked for a better setting, better facilities, or a better location than this one and we are absolutely set on returning again!
Visit Santa at Santa’s Workshop
through November and December
While in town, take advantage of another little gem Port Jefferson has to offer by visiting Santa in his workshop. Every year Saint Nick makes his official arrival into town well known by coming down Main Street in a parade the weekend after Thanksgiving. He heads straight for the historic Drown Meadow Cottage on the corner of Barnum and West Broadway. To the delight of all of the children lucky enough to visit him there during the holiday season, the interior of the building is completely made up to resemble a bonafide Santa’s Workshop complete with beautiful toy displays, holiday decor, and more. His scheduled visiting dates and hours are posted on the Chamber of Commerce website so check that before you go. Also, be prepared to wait on line as it is definitely one of the more popular limited-engagement events in the village during the month of December. Trust us, however, a visit to this charming little workshop is well worth it!
21st Annual Charles Dickens Festival
Port Jefferson is the site of another great holiday event on our list, the annual Dickens Festival now in its 21st year. For one weekend every December, this quaint little waterfront village is transformed into Dickensian era splendor complete with period characters like Scrooge, Father Christmas, and even a few chimney sweeps walking about, carolers, musical acts, and performances of the Nutcracker by the Harbor Ballet Company at the local high school, among many other wonderful events. Stay and enjoy the giant puppet parade or a dinner at one of the many restaurant options the village has to offer. Whatever you choose, this charming town won’t let you down! Check out the website in the link provided for a full list of scheduled events and a map.