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Celebrating Christmas in Vermont

Christmas in Vermont
Photo/Art by Lisa Sacco
All decked out for the holidays, The Old Tavern at Grafton has been hosting weary travelers since 1801. | Christmas in Vermont

Grafton Turns Back the Clock | Christmas in Vermont

Arriving in Grafton (population 650) during snow season is like entering a Christmas card. Although it’s an easy drive to several ski resorts, Grafton on a wintry night seems a long way from anywhere. But serious cross-country skiers know Grafton. The 30-kilometer trail network at Grafton Ponds is meticulously groomed. Trails meander off from the warming hut, out over meadows, and up into the woods on Bear Hill, where there’s plenty more back-country skiing. The complex also offers rentals and great venues for tubing, ice skating, and snowshoeing.

Grafton’s attractiveness today owes as much to the Windham Foundation — incorporated in 1963 by a wealthy family with ties to the town — as it does to nature. The organization bought up most of the central village, buried the power lines, revived the general store, and then tackled the imposing three-story Old Tavern. Craftsmen renovated and winterized it, and even added an elevator, all while carefully preserving the building’s historic detailing.

The holidays are a busy time at the Grafton Village Cheese factory, producing some of Vermont’s best prize-winning cheddars. Visitors are welcome to learn how 6,000 to 10,000 gallons of buttery milk from Jersey cows are processed daily, from cutting the curd to waxing the wheels and blocks of cheese. Different colors connote age and flavor, and visitors are welcome to sample.

Within its few streets, Grafton offers a surprising amount to savor, especially once you adjust to its pace. Step into the vintage 1811 Butterfield House, now home to the town library. Stop by The Nature Museum and be amazed by the extent of its exhibits, both interactive and stuffed.

Then step into the Jud Hartmann Gallery and find yourself in the midst of lifelike Iroquoian and Algonkian warriors and chiefs. Hartmann is nationally known for his limited-edition bronze sculptures of the Woodland tribes of the 17th- and 18th-century Northeast. Then stroll around the corner to Hunter Artworks and on up the road to Gallery North Star, hung with a variety of New England landscapes.

Christmas in Vermont
Photo/Art by Lisa Sacco
Woodstock’s Memory Tree on the village green is lit for the holiday season during the town’s annual Wassail Weekend. | Christmas in Vermont

Woodstock’s Winter Welcome |¬†Christmas in Vermont

“Summer people” began arriving in Woodstock, the shire town of Windsor County, in 1875, with the completion of a railroad trestle and spur line from White River Junction over Quechee Gorge. The town’s year-round resort status was assured in 1892 with the opening of the lavish Woodstock Inn, which drew guests from New York and Boston — even in winter for snowshoeing and skating. And then in 1934, America’s first rope tow began hauling skiers up Gilbert’s Hill.

By 1960, the Woodstock Inn was creaky and the town’s ski areas had been upstaged by nearby Killington but, luckily, Mary French, heir to the town’s largest and most historic estate, had in 1934 married Laurance Rockefeller, the man already largely responsible for creating more than 20 state and national parks and historic sites. Rockefeller zeroed in on “Mary’s hometown.” In the 1960s, he replaced the old inn and created the Woodstock Foundation as a nonprofit umbrella for community projects, such as burying power lines, renovating the Town Hall Theatre, and constructing a new covered bridge. He also restored Marsh-Billings Farm and donated it, along with his wife’s family mansion and forestland on Mount Tom, to the National Park Service.

Rockefeller died in 2004, but his Woodstock legacy continues to build. Recently his executors approved transfer of ownership of the Woodstock Resort Corporation — which includes, among other things, the newly renovated inn, the Woodstock Nordic Center, and the Suicide Six Ski Area (in South Pomfret) — to the Woodstock Foundation. And Woodstock is indeed most welcoming in winter. Alpine skiers have long known that Suicide Six is far gentler than its rugged name, and cross-country enthusiasts head to the beautifully groomed 1880s carriage roads climbing gently to the summit of Mount Tom. Across town, more extensive trails radiate from the Nordic Center and loop up into the woods on Mount Peg.

And then there’s the village itself. Each of its more than a dozen inns has its own story. Central and Elm streets showcase some of Vermont’s best artists and craftspeople and are home to venerable institutions such as F. H. Gillingham & Sons’ general store, operated by the same family for 108 years; Woodstock Pharmacy, with its basement trove of educational toys; and The Prince and the Pauper restaurant, featuring chef Chris Balcer’s genuinely Continental cuisine.

The annual Woodstock Wassail Weekend, Vermont’s most elaborate winter celebration, combines outdoor spectacle, indoor performances, and community events at which visitors feel genuinely welcome. “Wassail” is a spiced ale, a drink with which medieval homeowners rewarded the carolers who serenaded them. It’s a great name for this entire yeasty weekend, best savored if you arrive Friday, the better to sample the children’s events, concerts, feasts, and music in Woodstock’s splendidly decorated public buildings and museums. Some of the town’s most elegant private homes are also open for tours.

The big spectacle is Saturday afternoon’s parade of more than 50 horses and many more costumed riders and passengers waving from wagons, surreys, and sulkies, all circling the green, where a top-hatted Father Christmas presides over the lighting of the Yule log and the Memory Tree, while costumed carolers lead the singing. Throughout the holiday season, the Rotary Club’s Christmas star, with its 100 bulbs, beams down from Mount Tom on what remains, especially when the cold and snow settle in, a little Vermont town.

Have you celebrated Christmas in Vermont? Will you be celebrating Christmas in Vermont this year?

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Monday, November 30th, 2015

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7 Responses to Celebrating Christmas in Vermont

  1. Debra Harris December 10, 2008 at 9:49 am #

    Oooh how this ole yankee wishes she could be in Woodstock for the WWW.

    I fell in love with Woodstock over 20 years ago, to me that whole area truelly is “Heaven on Earth”.

    I enjoyed ths little write up & history on the area and the holiday goings on.

    Have enjoyed many meals in Bentlys, have purchased many toys in the drug store basement, have had many a photo taken by the little brook, enjoyed ice cream cones in the summer time while strolling the streets and breathing in every little detail to relive over & over in my mind. The fall foliage is spectacular in Woodstock……every where you look is ablaze in God’s colors……..just breathtaking.

    Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to “travel back in my minds eye”……..espicailly as I sit here in Fl in the middle of Dec in 75 degree weather.

    Debra Harris

  2. Deb Powers December 12, 2008 at 8:07 pm #

    The house which you featured in Christmas in
    Grafton, VT. is the home which has been in my family for
    literally centuries. The Grafton house was built by many “greats” before me
    and stands now hundreds years after it was built. It remains in the family now
    owned and maintained by my parents. What happens with the next generation
    is yet to be determined. But memories are as vivid today as when I was
    a child visiting Gram at the house. Thank you for such a wonderful tribute.
    deb powers

  3. Carmella Gagnier December 18, 2009 at 5:55 pm #

    I too wish I could visit Vermont one more time. My mother was born in Winooski and we visited many times while growing up. I’m in my 85th year and still remember the good times. Have a niece in Burlington which was my last visit to Vermont in 2002.
    I’ve always loved the Fall in Vermont. Sicerely, carmella Gagnier

  4. Theresa Curran December 7, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    I was lucky enough to call North Central VT home for 9 years – Christmas was extra special there – and always will be. It may be a 1000 miles and another lifetime away now, but it will never be out of mind. Thank you for the beautiful pictures.

  5. Robert Kirsch November 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm #


  6. November 22, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Oh my, homesick in Kabul! Happiest Holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years too!

  7. Jeannette Pompi November 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    Vermont is just this side of heaven. I, too, have fallen in love with her splendour, her green mountains, her streams, her covered bridges, and her people. I am Southern by birth, and still in South Carolina, but I hope to be a Vermonter when the next fall foliage season arrives. Will create my own ‘Funny Farm” way of life.

    Blessings to all you tough, survivors who call your self natives. I will be there with you soon.

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