It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in Boston, as many coffee shops and gift stores switch to playlists featuring songs about sleigh rides and winter wonderlands. While many Bostonians still await the first sight of snow, City Hall Plaza offers visitors from far and near the opportunity to get an early start on the Christmas spirit.
The large open space outside City Hall is getting a holiday makeover, with reindeer tracks and pine-tree branches lining the arteries that wind through over 85 cozy, boutique-style chalets. Inside each one, local artisans, artists, and small-batch bakers have their products on display for visitors to purchase throughout the day. At the center of the enclosure lies a custom-designed ice skating rink where people of all ages can weave around the marquee ‘BOSTON’ sign to spirited Christmas tunes in the light of an enchanted 20-foot-tall holiday tree situated in the middle of the rink.
After a successful debut last year with over 300,000 visitors, “Boston Winter Presented by Berkshire Bank” returns to City Hall Plaza until Dec. 31 thanks to a partnership between Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, BC ’09, and the Boston Garden Development Corporation. With an impressive outdoor skating path and a Holiday Shopping Market, Walsh hopes this family-centric holiday tradition will reinforce City Hall Plaza’s potential as a holiday destination.
Upon passing under an archway decorated with weatherbeaten wooden skis and snowshoes flanked by miniature Douglas Fir trees, local residents and visitors are drawn to an oversized Adirondack chair. Grandparents, children, mothers, and fathers all stopped to frame the perfect Christmas card photo before exploring all that “Boston Winter” had to offer.
There was certainly no shortage of family activities, artisanal goods pop-up shops, and food offerings at “Boston Winter.” The challenge was in deciding how best to visit all of them. A steady stream of classic Christmas jingles filtered through the grounds from a mounted speaker adjacent to the skating rink. Glimpses of ice skaters, young and old, whizzing by and dancing to the beat reminded visitors to embrace their inner kid and enjoy the time spent wandering through the market with family members. As people popped in and out of the small wooden cottages, it felt as if you were making the rounds on Christmas day visiting old friends and relatives. A number of local university A capella groups stood in as carolers at “Boston Winter” including Pitch Please, an all-female A cappella group out of Northeastern University.
One cottage hosted Botanical Springs, a Vermont-based maple syrup producer that dished out sweet samplings of their blended and infused recipes, bringing smiles to the faces of all the proud New Englanders in attendance. Hand-woven scarves and accessories hung from door handles, such as those put on display by The Tanzania School Foundation. This organization sold a variety of products made by hand in Tanzania and siphoned a portion of all proceeds toward funding the construction of new schools in Tanzania and improving the quality of education.
For many of the vendors at “Boston Winter,” this year’s edition marked their first time in attendance. One of the newcomers to this holiday festival was Xareni Artisan Made. It is a Guatemalan collective that sells handbags made out of recycled materials as well as jewelry and cushions handmade by highly-skilled Mayan indigenous artisans in Guatemala. Pablo and Eva Del Sil, who are not only business partners but also husband and wife, were inspired to create Xareni Artisan Made when they met a woman that represented her Mayan village at an expo in Guatemala City. They return to Guatemala once a year to visit the village that produces their goods.
“I brought my wife to Guatemala for the first time and she fell in love with all the Guatemalan handcrafts,” Pablo del Sil said.
“We decided to start the business shortly thereafter,” Eva added. “We need to receive people that really appreciate handmade products. There’s a story behind all of this.”
While Pablo and Eva only drove an hour from Rhode Island to attend “Boston Winter,” the festival gave visitors a taste of many different countries around the world through Vinopolis, an interactive wine-tasting experience. Red wines from France, white wines from Italy, and sangria found their ways onto the menu for some of the adults who wanted to take a break from strolling around the market. Next to the wine-tasting tent, volunteers spooned out large ladles of steaming clam chowder and white bean chili to a pair of hungry kids that were discussing whether or not Santa was real. Non-believers were made into believers as they passed the cottage with a mailbox labeled “Santa Mail.”
Sarah Tucker and Brianna Simmons, seniors at Wheelock College, took a break from gift shopping at “Boston Winter” to sit on a pair of wooden lawn chairs in the warmth emanating from a nearby heater. They spent the day at “Boston Winter” after hearing about the event on Facebook.
“We went last year. We were just walking by and saw the ice-skating rink. At that point we had to stop in,” said Simmons.
“[Boston Winter] gets me in the Christmas mood,” Tucker said. “We’re also sending christmas cards to our families and there are good backdrops. We took a picture in the sleigh.”
Featured Image by Alessandro Zenati / Heights Editor