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2020 CT Holiday Guide: Safe, Merry & Bright

Walkin’ in a winter wonderland may look different this year, but we can still make the holiday season memorable. While the state’s holiday guidance calls for smaller or even virtual gatherings, Connecticut has many new and creative ways to keep your holiday spirits up.

From drive-through light shows and socially distant Santa sightings, to festive feasts, Christmas trees and other holiday glee, we come with tidings of safe and special activities for the whole family. Even better, the festive fun doesn’t just make your season great — it helps support beloved Connecticut businesses who have been hit hard by the pandemic.

As always, be sure to check with each location before making plans as hours and details may change due to COVID-19.

See The Lights
Pick Your Tree
Visit Santa & His Reindeer
Savor Sweets
Find Feasts
Let It Snow
Escape To A Festive Inn
Give Gifts That Give Back
Celebrate Virtually

See The Lights

Events may look different in 2020, but as Shiran Nicholson of the Connecticut Events Industry Coalition states, “Our whole business is making people happy, so we’re doing our best to make people happy safely.”

Sights of twinkling lights can certainly be magical and comforting. And this year, you can see them from a safe social distance.

Drive-Through Experiences

At Hartford’s Holiday Light Fantasia, drive through a two-mile show that transforms Goodwin Park into a wonderland of holiday spirit with a beautiful collection of over 1 million lights. At Winterfest & the Tunnel of Lights in East Windsor, see a light show from a trolley or ‘electric sleigh.’

For more drive-through fun, experience Magic of Lights in Wallingford, Festival of Silver Lights in Meriden, the 26th Annual Fantasy of Lights in New Haven, or Deck the Jeeps and Trucks Holiday Light Drive-Through in Hebron, a unique event where over 25 Jeeps will display holiday lights and proceeds will benefit CT Children’s Medical Center.

Winter Wonderland Walks

In Mystic, safely roam Olde Mistick Village’s Holiday Lights Spectacular or Mystic Seaport Museum’s Lantern Light Village, complete with a dazzling lighting display, live music, horse-and-carriage rides, fire pits, a visit from St. Nicolas, and more, including holiday-themed stories, crafts, and games. Admire holiday vignettes on a Winter Wonderland Walk at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo or in Torrington, explore a 73-year holiday light tradition at Carl Bozenski’s Christmas Village. In Torrington, enjoy Holiday Lantern Tours or walk through a classic Christmas story brought to life at Christmastime in Torrington: Storywalk on Franklin.

Hanukkah & More

If you celebrate Hanukkah, attend the Fire on Ice Celebration in West Hartford or enjoy these events from Menorah lightings to parades. And find a variety of inter-faith events at Holiday Celebration: A Multicultural Countdown in New London.

Photo credit: Ronni Newton, We-Ha.com

Pick Your Tree

Whether you top yours with an angel or a star, picking out the Christmas tree can be a memorable experience for the whole family. Luckily, there’s a whole lot to love about tree farms in Connecticut. In addition to stunning pines, you’ll find holiday gift shops, hot chocolate and more.

Visit Santa & His Reindeer

Just because the kids can’t sit on Santa’s lap this year, doesn’t mean they can’t visit this jolly old elf. Attractions throughout the state are innovating ways to see Santa safely – and his reindeer too.

Santa Lights Up the Lake: A Drive Through, Bristol

See Santa and his elves, lights, displays and other characters from the comfort and safety of your own car at Santa Lights Up the Lake: A Drive Through.  You can even hear Santa talking to you and your children on your car radio. 

Santa’s Workshop — A Wave with Santa, Manchester

At Wickham Park’s Santa’s Workshop — A Wave with Santa, you’ll greet Santa from your car while Santa wishes good tidings from his sleigh. Don’t forget to bring your wish list for Santa to take back to the North Pole!

12th Annual Greenwich Reindeer Festival, Greenwich

At the 12th Annual Greenwich Reindeer Festival, Santa may not be making an appearance this year, but you can still see Dasher, Dancer and Vixen! Pick out your Christmas tree, holiday plantings and you won’t want to miss the Christmas Shop for festive, fun, unique holiday gifts.

Santa Selfie Station

Another great safety-friendly photo op? Take a selfie with a virtual Santa in Blue Back Square! The first ten families to the event tent will even receive “swag bags” with prizes including lift tickets to local ski mountains, children’s museum passes, holiday lights tickets and more!

Reindeer on the Rails, Essex

Embark on a safe, socially distanced, family excursion as you board our train for a 1-hour journey through the lower Connecticut River Valley with Reindeer on the Rails. Kids will don their festive Reindeer Antlers (a gift from Rudolph himself!), piece together a fun Christmas craft ornament, and write a letter to Santa to be stamped and mailed at The Reindeer Express Post Office before departing Essex Station.

Christmas Is A-Glow

Action Wildlife Foundation is offering a drive-through display of lights, Christmas trees, wreaths and of course, a socially distant Santa visit. See Santa and Mrs. Claus from a decorated platform, wave and take photos from afar.

SoNo Collection Virtual Visits with Santa at Home

If you’re planning on staying in, the kids can still visit the man in the red hat! Now through January 7, The SoNo Collection in Norwalk is offering virtual visits, storytime and personalized videos from Santa.

Savor Sweets

’Tis the season for indulging our taste buds with sweets and feasts. When it comes to Christmas cookies and more, Connecticut’s got you covered. And in a socially distant year, you can easily pick up treats to enjoy safely at home.

Order festive cakes, macarons and pastries from Sift Bake Shop in Mystic, pies and breads from American Pie Company in Sherman, or Italian cookies from Mozzicato’s in Hartford. Find everything from cake pops and Krispy Treats to brownies and DIY cupcake kits at Forever Sweet Bakery in Norwalk. Discover organic European chocolate and plenty of vegan and gluten free options at Divine Treasures in Manchester. Or explore the Connecticut Chocolate Trail for truffles, fudge and more.

Enjoy gluten free and vegan cookies, cakes, scones, granola and more from Pure Love Bakery in Avon — you’ll even find Keto-friendly treats! Take home gluten free and dairy free goodies from By The Way Bakery in Greenwich or find completely nut free baking at Moneta Moments Bakery in Windsor.

Discover more Connecticut bakeries here — just be sure to place all holiday orders in advance.

Find Feasts

When it comes to dining, Connecticut is filled with festive spots to enjoy the season. Leading up to Christmas, hop aboard a vintage locomotive and enjoy a four-course meal on the Essex Clipper Holiday Dinner Train. Experience an elaborate decorative dinner scene at Cava in Southington, which utilizes over 200,000 lights, 65 Christmas trees and themed rooms including James Bond, The Polar Express and more.

Indulge in holiday brunch every Sunday at Madison Beach Hotel or even make reservations for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Plan to dine-in Christmas Eve at West Street Grill in Litchfield. Or throughout the month, dine in unique and innovative outdoor spaces throughout the like igloos, greenhouses and more.

Let It Snow

Does the holiday season mean you’re headed to the slopes? Connecticut has plenty of ways to enjoy the winter weather, safely outdoors. Whether you’re a skier, snowboarder, snowshoer or beyond, here are some spots for snowy activities this season.

Escape to a Festive Inn

We all deserve a little relaxation this year. Get the quintessential New England holiday experience by getting away to a festive inn or B&B, all working diligently to provide safe experiences.

Mayflower Inn & Spa, Washington

Mayflower Inn & Spa in Washington is located in the picturesque town of Washington and set on 58 exquisite acres of land. The inn is offering a number of unique experiences this winter including nightly bonfires with specialty cocktails and a fireside menu, a field and farm cocktail class, old-fashioned parlor games and more.

Whaler’s Inn, Mystic

Whaler’s Inn in Mystic is recently renovated inn that is located in the heart of downtown Mystic. The inn is making sure guests feel extra cozy during their stay with a special “Mystic Winter Warm Up” package that includes in-room specialty hot chocolate from Spice and Tea Exchange, two Whaler’s Inn Souvenir Mugs and Gourmet Popcorn from Mystic Sweet Shoppe. This package can be added on to any overnight stay for just $50.

Griswold Inn, Essex

Griswold Inn in Essex is one of the oldest continuously operating inns in the county, filled with historic charm and gets all dressed up for the holiday season with twinkling lights, poinsettias and pines. This year, the inn is offering games and other festivities during the month of December including a  holiday menu with traditional favorites like potato cakes, prime rib, venison and more, served by costumed waiters. This idyllic holiday inn was also featured in a recent Hallmark Christmas movie “Christmas at Pemberley Manor.” While you’re there, partake in the nearby Old Saybrook Gingerbread House Decorating Contest.

The Inn at Woodstock Hill, Woodstock

The Inn at Woodstock Hill is a distinctive Quiet Corner area bed and breakfast inn located in Woodstock, Connecticut. The inn offers 21 comfortable guest rooms, each individually decorated. It’s particularly festive during the holidays as the most recent Hallmark Christmas movie, “One Royal Holiday” was filmed there.

Give Gifts that Give Back

Now more than ever, it’s important to #SupportCTbusinesses. Choosing to shop or buy gift cards from local stores, restaurants, attractions and more helps keep the unique businesses of Connecticut going.

Stroll popular shopping towns and outdoor shopping centers like Shops at Yale, which is offering fun deals and promotions this year including free parking, free gourmet hot cocoa and a holiday shopping passport with 38 participating businesses. Or support local vendors at Greiser’s & the Easton Chamber of Commerce’s Tiny Holiday Markets.

Buy gift cards now and redeem them later for ultimate experiential gift-giving like skydiving, foodie tours, arts passports and other gifts that don’t come in a box. Treat your gift recipient to special Connecticut-made products from handmade fashion accessories and home goods to homemade truffles and soaps. Shop safely in-store or online!

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