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WINTER HOLIDAYS IN CONNECTICUT BRING OUT THE BEST IN COMMUNITIES LARGE AND SMALL

Holiday Strolls, Sparkling Lights, 'Not-To-Miss' Performances and Family Fun Highlight a Calendar of Special Events for a Joyous Season

HARTFORD --- November 22, 2005 -- Spectacular parades, inspiring music, brilliant ballet, hilarious theater, presents for zoo animals, and carols for frogs: Connecticut celebrates the winter holidays in every way imaginable. For those who forego the more familiar celebrations in favor of the Winter Solstice on Dec. 21, there are even activities, including evening owl walks, at Connecticut Audubon Centers in Glastonbury and Pomfret.

Whatever a visitor's preference or tradition - from holiday strolls and open house tours to fun for families, and, of course, Santa Claus - a weekend getaway to Connecticut between now and the New Year promises to combine all the happiest elements of holiday festivities.

Here is a sampling of what's happening in Connecticut during the holidays:

First things first: the Jones Family Farm in Shelton (203-929-8425) is one of many farms in the state offering "cut-your-own" Christmas trees through Dec. 24. In addition to 200 acres to roam in search of the perfect tree, the farm offers wreaths, hot cider and a gift shop filled with ornaments and crafts. Visit www.CTvisit.com for other farms and garden centers offering Christmas trees.

Parades, Strolls, and Lights

What better way to kick off the season than with a rousing, spectacular parade? Wallingford leaps into the holidays with a Frosty the Snowman Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony Dec. 2-3. Norwich will welcome Santa and thousands of holiday enthusiasts to the Annual Winterfest Parade (860-892-1813) the following day, Dec. 4.

Mystic Seaport (888-973-2767) launches the season with Lantern Light Tours on Dec. 1, providing visitors with a glimpse of Christmas Past as it was celebrated in a coastal New England village. Silver-haired St. Nicholas will be the guest of honor. A Celebration of Lights & Songs by the Sea in New London on Dec. 2 features the town's annual tree lighting ceremony, music, holiday decorating contests, artist open studios, ice sculpture demonstrations and visits from Mr. and Mrs. Claus (860-444-2489).

The first-ever New Canaan Holiday Stroll takes place Dec. 2-4. The event includes outdoor concerts, a Family Night complete with Santa and his elves, Rudolph, hot cider and roasting chestnuts, gingerbread house making, a drawing for gift certificates from local merchants and a Victorian Tea presented by the New Canaan Historical Society (203-966-1776). Historic Downtown Mystic's Holiday Stroll, Dec. 6 (860-572-9578), features the charming and historic main street of Mystic as the setting for carolers, hot cider and cookies as well as shopping opportunities.

Christmas in Coventry Village in Coventry will take place Dec. 4, with wagon rides, a visit from Santa, a carol sing, traveling musicians, a town crier, activities for children and more.

The Festival of Lighthouses at The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk (203-852-0700), is highlighted by illuminated lighthouses made from everything from sea glass to gingerbread and designed by local artists and artisans, plus the IMAX Theater showing of the animated "Santa vs. the Snowman." The Festival runs through the holiday season.

A number of towns in Connecticut can't bear to limit their celebrations to a single weekend. An example is New Haven's Lighthouse Park and the Fantasy of Lights (203-777-2000) is open through Dec. 31.

A Victorian Holiday is the featured attraction at Gillette Castle State Park (860-526-2336) on weekends through Dec.18. This celebration features entertainment, bonfires and period holiday splendor to welcome visitors into the world of William Gillette, the 19th century actor famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Museum Celebrations

"An Adirondack Christmas" at the Henry Whitfield State Museum in Guilford, Dec. 2, coincides with the town's tree lighting celebration and is inspired by the museum's current exhibit, "Adirondack Charm to Abandoned Farm: the Story of Rollwood Farm." In addition to a bonfire, popcorn, S'mores, hot chocolate and a crafts area, visitors will also enjoy "Feast, Famine & Fables: The Real Story of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Winter in Puritan New England." The Henry Whitfield State Museum is in Connecticut's oldest house and New England's oldest stone dwelling, built in 1639. Call 203-453-2457.

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (860-278-2670) is celebrating with the 32nd Annual Festival of Trees & Traditions, Dec. 3-11. The exhibition includes displays for Hanukah, Kwanzaa and Three Kings Day as well as traditional and avant-garde Christmas trees and other seasonal decorations.

The Bowen's Celebration of Christmas 1887 at Roseland Cottage in Woodstock takes place on Dec. 4 and recreates some of the appealing aspects of a family Christmas celebration in the late 19th century. The evening includes guided tours through the decorated first floor of this national historic landmark and is held in conjunction with the Woodstock Winter Festival (860-928-4074). The Winter Festival features a Craft Fair, tree and gingerbread house competitions, a community carol sing and tree lighting, hayrides on the Common, children's games and much more.

"An American Collector's Christmas" is the showcase exhibition at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington (860-677-4787) through Jan. 2. The show features rare objects seen only during the holidays as well as turn-of-the-century decorations.

The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme (860-434-5542) is celebrating The Magic of Christmas through Jan. 8 with an exhibit of fantasy trees, including the perennial favorite, "Miss Florence's Artist Tree," decorated by 65 hand-painted wooden palettes created by distinguished artists.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford (860-522-9258) presents "Reforming Christmas Traditions: Culture & Change" through Jan. 9, with rarely seen items from the museum's collection illuminating 19th century traditions of the holiday.

What would the winter holidays be without historic house tours and open houses? These opportunities to step back into history, or into the lives of the homes' inhabitants, including Connecticut's governor, are abundant. They include: the Governor's Georgian Revival Style Home in Hartford, Dec. 2-4 (860-566-4840); the Thomas Griswold House Museum in Guilford, Dec. 2-4 (203-453-3176); the Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden in Bethlehem, Dec. 2-3 (203-266-7596); the Hicks-Stearns Museum in Tolland, Dec. 3-4 (860-875-7552); the Butler-McCook House in Hartford, through Jan. 1 (860-522-1806) and the Stevens-Frisbie House in Cromwell, Dec. 11-12 (860-635-0501).

In addition to single home tours, the season also offers the chance to wander through entire neighborhoods or villages of historic homes each decorated for the season. The Holiday House Tour in Essex (860-443-2896) and in Suffield (860-668-0601) are both scheduled for Dec. 3 while many of Hartford's (860-247-0998) most beautiful homes are open on Dec. 4. On Dec. 10, historic and new homes in the beautiful Litchfield Hills area will open their doors (203-262-8747).

Music, Theater and Dance

Music, of course, fills the air throughout the holidays in Connecticut. For those with a taste for the classical, there is "Messiah" at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford (860-244-2999) Dec. 3-4; "Mosaic Christmas" by Chorale Connecticut in Meriden (203-238-2148) Dec. 4; the Candlelight Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols in the style of the famous Christmas Eve service at King's College at Cambridge, at South Church in New Britain (860-223-7555) on Dec. 18; and "Christmas in Paris," a concert of seasonal offerings by French composers and folk songs at the First Presbyterian Church in New Haven (203-966-0002) Dec. 19.

More contemporary concerts include the legendary Boston Pops Esplanade Holiday Concert at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport on Dec. 10 (203-345-2400) and the New Haven Symphony Pops Holiday Concert at the Quick Center for the Arts in Fairfield, Dec. 16 (203-254-4019). And who could pass up "Frog Carols," the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic's (860-536-1216) tribute to the season featuring fanciful songs about amphibians set to traditional holiday tunes?

"The Nutcracker," the perennial favorite for kids of all ages, will be presented by the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts at the Warner Theatre in Torrington (Dec. 3 and 4), the Palace Theatre in Waterbury (Dec. 10), and the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts (860-987-5900) in Hartford (Dec. 17 and 18). Contact the theaters in order to buy tickets. "The Nutcracker" with Russia's St. Petersburg Classic Ballet Theatre will be presented at the Hyde Cultural Center in Woodstock, Dec.10 (860-928-2946) and from Dec. 2-4, the classic will take the stage at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, a production of the New Haven Ballet and New Haven Symphony (203-782-9038). And that's not all: for a lively twist on the Sugar Plum Fairy and her troops, there's the Duke Ellington Jazz Nutcracker, presented at St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Dec. 2-3, by the Hartford Conservatory. Created in the 1960's, this version combines the legendary jazz interpretations of Ellington and modern ballet.

This year, there will be no lack of another seasonal necessity, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." It will be presented at the Garde Arts Center in New London on Dec. 9. With a Currier and Ives setting, traditional carols and lively dancing, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan has produced the show since 1979. Hartford Stage (860-527-5151) will also mount a music-filled, funny production starring Scrooge and company through Dec. 24.

Another theatrical choice is "Christmas in Candyland," presented by the Downtown Cabaret Children's Theatre in Bridgeport ((203-576-1636) through Dec. 18. This lavish musical tells the story of two children who help save King Kandy and his castle from the devious Lord Licorice.

For Kids of Any Age

Everyone knows that the winter holidays are, essentially, about kids - and the child in the rest of us. Connecticut has more than its share of enticing activities in December for families. These include:

The Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut in Niantic (860-691-1111) offers several holiday-themed events, starting with Holidays Around the World on Dec. 9, which uses crafts, stories and geography to illuminate the similarities among winter celebrations across world cultures. Holiday Tween Night takes place on Dec. 10 and features music, pizza and entertaining education specifically for "tweens." And, 12 Days of Cheer is the museum's festival of lights with 12 days of special activities including a celebration of Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, the Winter Solstice and a Countdown to Noon New Year's Eve party.

St. George's Church in Middlebury offers the 38th Annual Gingerbread Village and Christmas Bazaar (203-758-9557), Dec. 3-10, with up to 60 gingerbread houses, people, animals and scenes that are all edible. And, in Stonington, Scandinavian holiday traditions are celebrated Dec. 4 in a St. Nicholas Day Celebration, featuring crafts and games, storytelling and refreshments for children (860-535-2476). The Annual Santa's Workshop at Wickham Park in Manchester (860-528-0856) takes place Dec. 10-11 and 15-23 and features visits with Mr. and Mrs. Claus and the elves in a log cabin.

Trains and the winter holidays have always been synonymous in many parts of the country, and Connecticut is no exception. Among the train-related holiday activities for kids are the Hands On Train Display at the Railroad Station in New Milford, through December (860-354-6080); the Danbury Railway Museum's Santa's Special Train Rides weekends through Dec. 18 (203-778-8337); vintage trolley rides in East Haven at the Line Trolley Museum's Santa on the Trolley weekends through Dec. 18 (203-467-6927), and Winterfest at the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor (860-6540), featuring electric sleighs and closed heated trolley rides through a tunnel of more than 6,000 holiday lights.

Finally, since the holidays are also about giving to others, how about a present for a favorite wild animal? Generous shoppers this year might consider giving a gift to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport (203-394-6575). Choose from the Zoo's wish list, make a donation, give gift certificates or sponsor an educational program. Everything from bird or butterfly houses to a Zoomobile is needed. The Zoo is also sponsoring a series of Crafty ZooKids workshops, Dec. 3, 10 and 17 where kids ages 7-12 can make gifts while learning about animals at Professor Beardsley's Research Station.

For a complete schedule of holiday events and further information about the 52 Getaways to Connecticut, restaurants, resorts, country inns, B&Bs and other places to stay in Connecticut, please call 888-CTvisit (888-288-4748) or log on at www.CTvisit.com. Connecticut offers visitors a multi-faceted wealth of attractions, historical, cultural and recreational activities, diverse and beautiful natural landscapes, parks, beaches and wilderness sure to fulfill any getaway need.

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