Holiday Guide

Ocean State Holiday Traditions

10 weird and wonderful holiday happenings that prove that Rhode Island does the season better than anyone

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1. We Even Dress Up Our Pests 
The first and truest sign of the holidays is when Nibbles Woodaway – better known as The Big Blue Bug who presides over the Thurbers Avenue curve on I-95 – puts on his antlers, his big red Rudolph nose and his glowing lights.

2. We’re Into – Really Into – Charles Dickens
It’s not the holidays until you hear some be-knickered boy in a Rhode Islandey English accent proclaim, “God bless us, everyone.” Trinity Rep has been performing A Christmas Carol for 40 years, but that’s far from the only production in the state. Artists’ Exchange in Cranston and Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket stage their own annual versions, while Narragansett Theater at the Pier adds topical humor to theirs.

3. We Have the Real, Actual Polar Express
Famed children’s book author Chris Van Allsburg lived in Providence for years, and it’s where he wrote his most famous work The Polar Express, which comes to life every holiday season. Leaving from the Blackstone Valley Train Depot in Woonsocket, the magical Christmas train includes storytelling and song, holiday treats and a personal gift from Santa himself.

4. We Sleep with the Seven Fishes
La Vigilia, better known to non-first-generation Italians as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is Rhode Island’s own delicious pescatarian celebration. Traditionally a Christmas Eve meal, it’s served all the way from Federal Hill – at places like Pane e Vino and Massimo – to Westerly at the Weekapaug Inn, for a few weeks in December. The seven-course meal doesn’t just celebrate the holiday, it celebrates the state’s most delicious natural resource.

5. We Don’t Black Friday, We Block Friday
Crowds return to Block Island by the thousands for the weekend after Thanksgiving. Old Harbor lights up for the Holiday Shopping Stroll Weekend, but the signature attraction is that famous illuminated Christmas tree made of lobster pots. Just remember: if you saw but didn’t Instagram, it didn’t happen.

6. We See Visions of Sugarplums. Lots of Sugarplums
We have three beloved annual performances of The Nutcracker: Festival Ballet’s production at PPAC brings in people by the thousands; the enchanted production at Rosecliff by the Island Moving Company sells out weeks in advance; and Heritage Ballet’s brings crowds to Woonsocket every year. 

7. We Get Calamari in on the Christmas Spirit 
There’s no particular delight like seeing the fishing fleet at the Port of Galilee dressed up for the season, with Christmas lights, tinsel, giant plastic Santas… you might even see a real Christmas tree on the bow of a ship. Just don’t put Santa hats on your dinner plate. That’s taking it a little too far.

8. We Deck Our Mansions
How do you make The Breakers even fancier? Add a massive Christmas tree, completely made of poinsettias, and throw in some holiday concerts. The Elms: add a Gilded Age streetscape in the ballroom, with a topiary horse pulling a sleigh. As for Blithewold in Bristol, they host holiday teas and sleigh rides, and light up the grounds for illuminated evening celebrations. Maybe we should consider changing our state slogan to “Rhode Island: We put glitter on our glitter.”

9. We Glide Into the Winter
A surefire way to add some charm to the coldest season is by ice skating at one of three outdoor rinks: The Providence Rink at Alex and Ani City Center, the Newport Skating Center and the Washington Trust Ice Rink in Westerly. That’s in addition to all of the unofficial skating rinks, like the Legion Way rink in Barrington, that you have to know a guy to find. It is Rhode Island, after all.

10. And We Plunge Right Into the New Year
Nothing says fresh start more shockingly than a January 1 deep dive in freezing water, like the Special Olympics Penguin Plunge at Wheeler Beach in Narragansett and the massive Newport Polar Plunge on First Beach. With so many Rhode Islanders jumping in that day, you might be in the minority if you prefer to stay warm and dry on the first of the year.