When it comes to celebrating the holidays in New England, Massachusetts has lit the way for nearly 200 years — ever since a Harvard professor put up the region’s first Christmas tree in 1832, in Cambridge. New England’s best-known tree today is the massive twinkling evergreen on Boston Common, a gift from Nova Scotia as thanks for aid following the 1917 Halifax disaster. Gloucester, meanwhile, lit the nation’s first lobster-trap tree in 2001 (and later debuted the first lobster-trap menorah, too).
But it’s not just sparkling trees that inspire the oohs and aahs among Massachusetts visitors at this time of year. From city parks and historic homes to botanical gardens and zoos, you can find seasonal displays of countless lights and infinite creativity — making Massachusetts truly a place where the holiday spirit shines bright.
Discover historic splendor in Lenox, where NightWood (11/11–1/1) offers a magical outdoor sound-and-light experience at Edith Wharton’s The Mount. At another Gilded Age estate, in Stockbridge, The Trustees of Reservations dresses up the beautiful gardens at Naumkeag for Winterlights(11/25–1/7). Note: Fans of The Trustees’ beautiful properties across the state can enjoy similarly lavish Winterlights displays at the Stevens-Coolidge House & Gardens in North Andover, and the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton.
For pure holiday spectacle, the city of Springfield is a traditional go-to destination: It hosts New England’s largest drive-through light show, Bright Nights at Forest Park(11/23–1/1), a stunning three-mile route through large-scale displays featuring 675,000-plus lights.
Join the merry crowds on the streets of Lowell for its City of Lights parade and celebration (11/26), culminating with the lighting of the 1893 Town Hall and its 180-foot clock tower. In nearby Methuen, an astonishing 240-plus decorated trees and wreaths star in the Festival of Trees(11/18–12/3), described as the largest display of its kind in New England. And over on the coast, Salisbury gets into the “O Tannenbaum” spirit with its Sea Festival of Trees (11/19–12/4), with indoor ice skating, Santa visits, and plenty of glittering trees.
Worcester kicks off its winter-long light display on the Common with the Festival of Lights(12/2), featuring live entertainment, family fun, and the illumination of the city tree. Elsewhere, nature takes on a holiday glow as Night Lights (11/25–12/31) transforms the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill into a fairy-tale landscape, and Mendon’s Southwick’s Zoo pairs its enchanting Festival of Illumination lantern display with its Winter Wonderland holiday celebration (11/12–12/31).
Even before Thanksgiving, two top events are in full swing: Stone Zoo’s dazzling ZooLights (11/18–1/8) in Stoneham, and the drive-through extravaganza Magic of Lights at Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium (11/18–12/31). The Garden at Elm Bank in Wellesley arrives on this merry scene with its Festival of Trees (11/25–12/31), just before the Boston Common Holiday Tree Lighting (12/1) rings in the season in New England’s biggest city, with the four-story star attraction and 80-plus other trees springing to life. And down by the water, Boston’s Seaport is transformed into the winter wonderland of Snowport (11/11–12/31), with a Holiday Market filled with 120-plus vendors, and events ranging from the Light Up Seaport tree lighting (12/2) to an ice sculpture stroll (12/31).