Ok fine, it’s 14 things, but that just didn’t sound as holly jolly. If lists weren’t a huge part of the holidays, Santa wouldn’t know who was naughty or who was nice and the 12 Days of Christmas would just be about some bird in a tree.

1. FREE Photos With Santa
Photos With Santa

You can’t beat a photo with Santa that doesn’t take place in that horrible, overcrowded, perfume-stink Christmas cocoon devoid of natural air or light. At Winterfest, you get to see Santa in a beautiful historic setting with exposed brick walls, a cozy crackling fire and the nicest elves south of the North Pole, and leave with a FREE 5×7 photo. Take that, all malls everywhere.

2. One Bajillion Million Christmas Pageants and Concerts


We like a good Christmas Pageant. And another one, and another one, and another one. There have already been a zillion since Thanksgiving but you’ve still got time to see A Christmas Carol at the Hartford Stage, Theaterworks‘ annual snarky Christmas Show, Holiday Cirque Spectacular at the Bushnell and the Nutcracker: Suite and Spicy at the Wad.

3. Mini-Wreath Donuts from Tastease


I will take pretty much any opportunity to talk about Tastease donuts. They are so good, and so cute, that it baffles my mind that they aren’t part of a constant rotation of Food Network shows. Yum. Yum. Yum.

4. Shopping the Avenue


A few years back while buying my bodyweight in pasta at DiFiore, the woman behind the counter asked if we were “shopping the Avenue” that day. Now every time I load up at all the amazing places on Franklin, that’s what I call it and so should you. Get your cookie towers and fresh cannoli from Mozzicatto’s or Modern, drool on the deli glass at D&D while you’re waiting to order your Bresaola, buy pretty much anything at La Rosa’s from those amazing ladies behind the counter and just go ahead and order one of everything at DiFiore, especially their crazy delicious green olives.

5. Shopping on your lunch break: You can get a huge chunk of your shopping done on your lunch break if you work downtown and all without driving around and around in some massive parking lot like the slowest NASCAR race of all time. Left. Left. Left. Left. Forget it. Go to the Gift Shop at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford Prints, Camera Bar, Niro, Stackpole Moore Tryon Tuesdays (and their discounted Off the Rack store) and Spiritus.

6. Holiday Light Fantasia
It’s like driving around for hours from town to town looking for the biggest and best Christmas light displays but without, you know, driving around for hours.

7. It Wouldn’t be Christmas Without the Spirits

Whether it’s half-price bottles at Bin 228, tastings at Spiritus, the Winterfest-inspired Signature Cocktails, Sorella’s late-night happy hour or the Hooker Beer Garden at Winterfest  you can easily glide through this holiday season with a red nose to rival Rudolph’s. And as the holiday parties pile up, remember this, no host or hostess has ever opened their door and said, “Oh no, not another bottle of wine.”

8. Ugly Sweater Parties

Ok. This is not native or exclusive to Hartford and to be completely honest, I was a little over the whole thing until I started chanting U-G-L-Y, You ain’t got no alibi. You UGLY. You UGLY. M-O-M-M-A. I know how you got that way; your sweater, (clap-clap) your Sweater. December 21 at Tisane. And probably your office party but not on purpose. (Sweater credit: Julio Concepcion)

9. It’s A Wonderful Life at Cinestudio
Here’s your chance to see it the way it was intended; on a gigantic movie screen, in a gorgeous retro movie theater, sitting in the balcony, eating candy and popcorn you smuggled in under your shirt.

10. The Kwanzaa Celebration at the Charter Oak Cultural Center


Photo: Andy Hart

By December 26th you’re aching for some sort of activity that isn’t covered in glitter and fake snow. Charter Oak Cultural Center’s celebration lets you explore the seven values of Kwanzaa through stories, song and dance. It’s enormously cool and no one does it better than Sankofa Kuumba and Spectrum in Motion. It’s free, and it’s amazing.

11. The Christmas Lights at the Spigot

Photo: Justin Robert O’Brien

There are few things that can bring as much joy as the Christmas lights and garland stapled to the ceiling of the Spigot Café at Christmastime. It’s like the holiday hasn’t really started until I’ve had a Bushmills under the glow of those colored Christmas lights.

12. First Night Fireworks at 6 AND Midnight – There aren’t a lot of opportunities to see fireworks so close to where they’re being fired off that you occasionally take a step back because you’re worried you may get singed. You won’t, but it’s elfing amazing to feel like you might. You know – if you like that kind of thing.

13. The Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival


This holiday season experience pageantry, joy, music, drama, dance and the taxidermied head of a boar on a plate. But that’s not all: there’s a brass ensemble, a mime, strolling carolers and musicians, jugglers, gargoyles, a rogue, a puppeteer, a bell choir and jesters, bagpipers and highland dancers, drummers, kings and queens; a procession of lords and ladies (presumably leaping and dancing), the actual boar’s head, King Wenceslas, the Yule Log, a rousing rendition of Deck the Halls, and finally, the arrival of the three wise men, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the New Born King. BYO Wassail. Just kidding. It’s a church. Leave your wassail in the car.

14. Three Kings Day Parade
Three Kings Day celebrates the day that three kings, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, arrived in Bethlehem on camels bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the newborn Jesus. The Three Kings Day Parade recreates that procession, camels and all. Camels. On Park Street. REAL CAMELS! Three of them. Sometimes the Mayor is on one of the camels. Sometimes he’s not. Speaking of camels, Mike Mike Mike Mike Mike…