Ice sliding, games, sleigh rides at Dartmouth Winter Carnival.Photo Credit : Bros. Kozowyk
By and large, New Englanders can be divided into two groups: those who dread the onset of winter, and those who are excited by it. It is a matter of regional tradition that no matter which camp you’re in, you think the members of the other are insane. By the time February rolls around, however, we all agree it’s time for a party. Some see it as a celebration of winter’s endurance, others of its pending conclusion. Regardless of motivation, winter festivals are among the Northeast’s greatest coping mechanisms.
For 10 days in February, the Newport Winter Carnival, billed as the oldest, continuous town winter carnival in the U.S., features games, skating, and sledding at locations all over town, highlighted by the ever-popular Queen’s Pageant. Over in Colebrook, they hold out a few weeks longer and send February out in style. The Colebrook Winter Carnival hits all the expected high spots, with a pancake breakfast, snowshoe relays, dog sledding and ice carving, then adds some interesting twists with a bocce tournament, kids’ box car racing, and cribbage. Never to be outdone, Hanover hosts what may be the best known of all New England winter celebrations when the venerable Dartmouth Winter Carnival returns. Since 1911, the Ivy Leaguers of Dartmouth College have hosted a weekend of winter zaniness, including polar bear swims, snow sculpture contests, races, and more.
In Maine, a little road trip could have you celebrating winter all month long. The festivities get under way with Kennebunk Winterfest, where horse-drawn carriage rides, a scavenger hunt, snowshoe races, and a craft fair are on tap. And don’t miss the pancake breakfast that launches it all! Millinocket Winterfest hosts two days of outdoor fun including a parade of snowmobiles, fireworks, races, vintage sled shows and more. Later, the Bridgton Winter Carnival, headlined by sleigh rides, dog sled rides, and ice fishing, and the Eliot Winter Carnival, where the bonfire, cardboard derby, and ice skating are always big hits.
Gardner Memorial Park is the place to be to celebrate Vermont’s version of the Newport Winter Carnival with competitions, crafts, fireworks, entertainment, and plenty of good food. Starting the next weekend, the Brattleboro Winter Carnival will mark its 60th installment with concerts and shows, a Queen’s pageant, cook-offs, a pancake breakfast, sporting competitions, and more.
The Greenfield Winter Carnival serves up family fun for all ages, with ice sculpting contests, fireworks, fire dancers, breakfast with Frosty the Snowman, a cardboard sled race, a K9 keg pull, sledding, and skating. The annual Lowell Winterfest will include face painting, magic shows, a soup bowl competition, ice skating, fireworks, art fairs, and a human dog sled contest. And North Adams WinterFestfeatures a fun run, ice sculpting, a chowder competition, hot chocolate, horse-drawn wagon rides, roasting marshmallows at a community campfire, and more.
The climate is a bit milder in the Ocean State,but that doesn’t mean they are willing to sit out the party—quite the contrary. Woonsocket Mardi Gras celebrates the area’s French-Canadian heritage with music, costumes, and a delicious Cajun-inspired dinner. Not to be outdone by its namesakes in New Hampshire and Vermont, Rhode Island’s Newport Winter Festival includes more than 160 food and entertainment events and has become so large that it takes 10 days to squeeze everything in.
Two of Connecticut’s premier winter celebrations, Chester’s Winter Carnivale and WinterFest in Middlefield, have been offline in recent years, although both are planning big returns in the future. If you are reading this early in the season, however, you may still have time to hustle to Major Besse Park, where the West Torrington Winter Carnival, is being held