If you're a romantic holiday aficionado, come out to the western part of Massachusetts for Bright Nights at Forest Park in Springfield, named one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association for the past five years.
Numerous holiday lighting exhibits are set along a three-mile driving route through historic Forest Park; popular features include Seuss Land (honoring Springfield native Dr. Seuss), Jurassic World and Toy Land, among others. Admission to Bright Nights is $18 to $21 per auto.
While you're in the Springfield area, which is less than a tank of gas from Boston, Santa's Cottage will welcome visitors for photos and wish list requests on Sunday through Thursday until 9 p.m. and Fridays, Saturdays and holidays until 11 p.m.
Horse-drawn wagon and carriage rides will begin at the gift shop at Santa's Cottage and tour through the Garden of Peace, Jurassic World and Seuss Land exhibits. The wagon holds 20 people and costs $9 per person, while the carriage holds four people and costs $75 per ride. Reservations are required; go to http://brightnights.org/activities/WagonRides.html.
On December 8 and 13 you can have Supper with Santa. The cost is $15 per person and $8 for children under 12. There are four seatings between 5:30 and 7 p.m. with a kid-friendly menu including chicken tenders, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, drinks and dessert Reservations are required, at http://brightnights.org/activities/SupperwithSanta.html.
Even more original than breakfasts or suppers with Santa, you can have Dinner with Dickens: visitors are greeted by carolers from the Victorian era at this festive event which includes a reading of Charles Dickens' classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. The dinners take place on December 10, 11 and 15 and the dinner buffet is $54 per person, featuring salad, carved prime rib, English cider chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, coffee, tea and dessert. Reservations are required. Go to http://brightnights.org/activities/Dickens.html.
Once winter begins in earnest, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe along the 8.5 mile Norwottuck Rail Trail (www.mass.gov/dcr) that cuts a path through Northampton, Hadley and Amherst, or along the vast 26 miles of trails found at Northfield Mountain Recreational Area (www.firstlightpower.com/northfield).
You can free-fly a trained falcon at New England Falconry (www.newenglandfalconry.com) and learn about the special adaptations of raptors, their environment and need for their conservation as you book a specialty session ranging from introductory to extended or hunting sessions.
The 6th Annual Ice Harvest event at Granville's Noble & Cooey Center for Historic Preservation takes place February 1, 2014, between noon and 3 p..m. Join a trained guide on the ice with the ice saw, breaker bar and tongs as you experience how refrigeration was done before electricty. Step inside for tours that focus on the skills and art of drum making, which Noble & Cooley has been doing since the 1850's. Complimentary warm beverages and snacks wll be served.
There's always skiing and snowboarding, at Peak Mountain Resort (www.jiminypeakcom) in Hancock, Berkshire East (www.berkshireeast.com) in Charlemont and Mount Snow (www.mountsnow.com) in West Dover, Vermont.