In the 2016 Yankee feature “Christmas in Boston,” senior editor Amy Traverso highlighted the best of Boston’s merry traditions, including where to eat and stay in town, plus favorite spots for enjoying twinkling lights, colorful markets, festive performances, and the event she considers the city’s ultimate holiday delight. Planning a yuletide visit to Boston this year? Read on for some of Amy’s favorite ways to celebrate the very best of the Boston Christmas season.
WHAT TO DO | BOSTON CHRISTMAS GUIDE
BOSTON HOLIDAY LIGHTS
With a respectful nod to the beauty of a single, well-placed candle in a 12-pane window, here’s a list of some of Boston’s grandest holiday light displays.
Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park
In summer, the 260-foot-long trellis that snakes through the North End’s prettiest waterfront park is draped in wisteria. Come December, the entire promenade is illuminated by a sparkling blue and white LED installation out of a 6-year-old’s Frozen-inspired dream. foccp.org
Susan Cole Kelly
Blink! Faneuil Hall
With 350,000 LEDs synced to a festive soundtrack, plus one giant fully lit tree and several minis, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market offer the most concentrated holiday bling (plus lots of shopping options, mostly chains). faneuilhallmarketplace.com
Boston Public Garden and Boston Common
The city’s official Christmas tree (as always, a gift from the good citizens of Nova Scotia) is located on the Common near the Frog Pond, but the entire expanse is lit to varying degrees. The prettiest spot, in our view, is the central promenade of the Garden, with its tastefully lit yews. cityofboston.gov/parks
For even more Boston Christmas holiday light recommendations, see Christmas in Boston | Where to Stay, Eat, Shop & Celebrate the Season.
Stu Rosner/Courtesy of Boston Pops
BOSTON HOLIDAY ARTS
Boston Holiday Pops
The Pops have performed a beloved series of holiday concerts ever since Arthur Fiedler inaugurated the first “Pops Christmas Party” in 1973. Evening shows are for everyone but are best for those over, say, age 10. The daytime children’s concerts, in contrast, are perfectly constructed for short attention spans: For every rollicking orchestral rendition of “Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day,” there’s an animated reading of The Christmas Story with cartoon images projected on a giant screen. And then, ho-ho-ho! Santa makes his way onstage for a little shtick with conductor Keith Lockhart. bso.org
The Christmas Revels
Over in Cambridge, where the holidays take a more overtly multicultural tack, erstwhile hippies and Harvard intelligentsia ring in the winter solstice with The Christmas Revels, an annual celebration of holiday traditions from around the world that weaves together dancing, music, carols, and drama. revels.org
For even more Boston Christmas holiday arts recommendations, see Christmas in Boston | Where to Stay, Eat, Shop & Celebrate the Season.
BOSTON HOLIDAY MARKETS
In an ideal world, Copley Square would be transformed into a monthlong German-style outdoor Christmas market stocked with local foods and crafts, music, and mulled wine. Absent that, the city provides some excellent (and climate-controlled) alternatives.
Courtesy of New England Open Markets
SoWa Holiday Market
It’s a weekend winter incarnation of the popular South End Open Market that turns the Benjamin Franklin Institute into a one-stop shop. Look for: nature-inspired linocut prints from Hearth and Harrow, charming encaustic works from Bumble Belly Designs, and Christmas embroidery hoops (pictured) from the Merriweather Council. sowaboston.com/sowa-winter-festival
Harvard Square Holiday Fairs
This Cambridge mainstay has a more classic lineup of potters, fiber artists, printmakers, and the like. Look for: Japanese-inspired woodblock prints by Matt Brown, and tin can lanterns by Lennie Kaumzha. harvardsquareholidayfair.com
For even more Boston Christmas holiday market recommendations, see Christmas in Boston | Where to Stay, Eat, Shop & Celebrate the Season.
BOSTON HOLIDAY SPIRIT
Of all the city’s delights, one stands above, whether you celebrate the holiday of Santa Claus or “Jesus Is the Reason.”
The Candlelight Carols ceremony at Copley Square’s Trinity Church, a tradition since 1909, is quintessentially Boston: historic, dignified, and contemplative. The church resembles no European cathedral, yet it boasts the same jaw-dropping splendor, from the William Morris stained glass to the murals by John La Farge. Simple pine garlands decorate the balconies and pulpit, while unadorned trees stand on the altar. No twinkle lights are necessary — there’s nothing to distract from the music and the candles’ glow. To grab a coveted seat for the free Saturday services, parishioners and nonparishioners alike line up by 2 p.m. for the 4 p.m. service (the 7 p.m. service tends to be less crowded). Those less inclined to stand in the cold can buy tickets for a benefit service on Sunday. The experience is the same for all. trinitychurchboston.org
WHERE TO EAT | BOSTON CHRISTMAS GUIDE
Boston’s restaurant scene has exploded logarithmically in the past five years. Throw a stone in any direction and you’ll hit a good, if not great, eatery. But several stand out in particular for holiday dining.
We love Yvonne’s, once home to the storied Locke-Ober restaurant where JFK ate his lobster stew, for its old-school lunchtime feasts and glittery bar and dinner scene. Here, down the narrow alley of Winter Place in the warren of streets leading from the Common to Downtown Crossing, holiday revelers can tuck into truffle-dusted chateaubriand served by white-jacketed waiters. yvonnesboston.com
Eric L. Levin
No. 9 Park
Barbara Lynch’s first game-changing entry into the Boston restaurant world remains elegant and relevant, with an enviable view of the Common, where elms and oaks are draped with multicolored lights. Watch the Frog Pond skaters and salute the great bauble that is the gold-plated dome atop the Statehouse. Dinner service is a seductive and pricey enterprise, but we love the holiday lunch series, which brings all the yuletide spirit with a kinder price tag that’s still worthy of a special occasion. If you can, plan for a late lunch: The Common is most beautiful as daylight fades and holiday lights sparkle. no9park.com
Sea Grille at the Rowes Wharf Hotel
Another choice option: the moderately priced Sea Grille at the Rowes Wharf Hotel. Few views can match that of Boston Harbor framed by the hotel’s grand central rotunda, and after a watercress and beet salad or lobster roll, you can spend an hour skating at the hotel’s outdoor rink. roweswharfseagrille.com
For even more Boston Christmas restaurant recommendations, including where you can find the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, see Christmas in Boston | Where to Stay, Eat, Shop & Celebrate the Season.
WHERE TO STAY | BOSTON CHRISTMAS GUIDE
The following Boston hotels offer not just excellent accommodations and sparkling decor but also close proximity to the heart of the city.
The Liberty Hotel
The famously revamped Charles Street Jail is still one of Boston’s hottest lodging options, with a view of the Charles and easy access to Beacon Hill. You’ll love the upside-down Christmas trees in the lobby. libertyhotel.com
Person & Killian
Fairmont Copley Plaza
This 1912 landmark wears its history with panache and puts you in the center of Back Bay. fairmont.com/copley-plaza-boston
Omni Parker House
Charles Dickens stayed here (he gave his first public reading of A Christmas Carol at the time), and it’s also the home of Boston cream pie. Plus, it’s a stone’s throw from Quincy Market. omnihotels.com/hotels/boston-parker-house
For even more Boston Christmas hotel recommendations, see Christmas in Boston | Where to Stay, Eat, Shop & Celebrate the Season.
What would you add to our Boston Christmas guide? Let us know in the comments below!
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.
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