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Column By Chelsea Kaneb

There’s something magical about the experience of cutting down a live Christmas tree. The thrill of the hunt, searching for just the right one to saw down, bail up and bring back to brighten up your home for the remainder of the festive season.

There’s nothing quite like it. Some people like to find their tree, decorate it and have it ready to go the day after Thanksgiving, and then there are some last minute tree shoppers that find one under the wire on Christmas Eve, but whenever you end up snagging your tree the experience never ceases to bring out the kid in each of us….even if but for a second.

I’m not here to pass judgement on those that put up fake trees or buy their trees from a particular lot, but I’m partial to the cutting down variety and there’s no better place to do it than Bees, Fleas and Trees Christmas Tree Farm right off Route 63 in Litchfield (across from the award winning, spa-pampered cows at Arethusa Farm).

John Gilbert, left, has been selling Christmas trees for nearly 50 years in Litchfield.

Bees, Fleas and Trees is owned and run by John and Carole Gilbert and has been open since 1974 making this it’s 47th season in operation. The Gilberts create a warm, inviting and intimate Christmas experience from their sweet conversational banter with customers, to their complimentary delicious hot chocolate, to their lovely tree farm with a surprising amount of trees spanning their quaint property.

The Gilberts are not only parents to the best trees around, but also to their talented daughters; authors Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Elizabeth Gilbert – world renowned, best selling author of one of the greatest books from this generation, Eat Pray Love, among other incredible titles. They were born in Waterbury and raised right there on the Christmas tree farm, a factoid that makes it an even more sought after destination for some.

The Gilberts are proud of their girls, but not boastful, some of their books (even a few signed ones) are quietly on display for sale in their garage area along with honey from the farm, tree stands and an adorable little area for children to write letters to the jolly big elf. The Bees, Fleas and Trees newsletter from this year reports that last year they were loaded with trees, and this year too. And it’s true.

They had a great variety during the second week of December when we headed out to find our tree. As we searched around, each tree seemed more beautiful than the last. It took us 30 minutes to locate the right tree, since it would be our toddler’s very first Christmas tree experience, we didn’t want to mess around.

The freshly fallen snow blanketed the farm and provided a cold and picturesque backdrop as we trudged around hunting. My daughter stopped and expressed interest in all the small, raggedy Charlie Brown-looking trees (she currently has an obsession with Linus) and although I fully acknowledge that they deserve some love too, they just weren’t the right ones for us this year.

Little ones are attracted to Charlie Brown trees.

As nap time blues and a snow chill settled in, we finally landed on a gorgeous 8 foot tall, dark green, Fraser Fir ,with tons of soft branches perfect for hanging our wide array of eclectic ornaments. There is something soothing about traditions and returning each year since I was a young girl to Bees Fleas and Trees is like a warm holiday hug, something many of us are desperately missing amidst this ongoing pandemic.

Fresh snow made the tree hunting experience magical.

Each year we put on Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Charlie Brown’s Christmas soundtrack and gently unpack and greet each ornament before finding good placements for them on the branches of our tree. This year was no different, aside from one small detail, a joyful and curious toddler. Zoe did really well helping to hang some of the ornaments, and only managed to break one (so far) in the process. We let her help load the bottom branches with soft, unbreakable ones and eventually I plan to create a barrier with big wrapped boxes, a toddler proofing hack if the toddler tornado starts to wreak havoc.

The mystery and wonder of lights and storytelling and love.

This experience with the music, the lights, the ornaments, her little Cindy Lou Who pajamas, Gingerbread cookies and the Christmas magic was probably one of the best nights of her little life, and it was pure joy watching it unfold through her sweet eyes. Now here’s hoping the tree stays intact and relatively unscathed for the remainder of the season. Time will tell…..

Bees, Fleas and Trees– 551 South Plains, Litchfield CT 06759 • Hours: Thursday and Friday- 1:00-4:30 PM Sat &Sun- 9 AM to 4:30 PM • (Last sale date: Sunday December 24th)

Tree Prices: Fraser/Concolor Fir, Blue/White Meyer Spruce, White Pine- $49 and a selection of pre-cut trees available for $19. Cash or Checks only- They don’t accept credit cards so please plan accordingly.

Holiday Happenings:

*Carl Bozenski’s Christmas Village: A Tradition in Torrington (December 12-24th)- This free holiday attraction no longer requires reservations, it is first come first serve, but does require everyone 2 years and older to wear a mask indoors and respect COVID-19 policies and guidelines. The village for it’s 74th season on Sunday December 13th as a parade brings Santa and others from the Torrington Armory to the village on Church Street. Christmas Village will be open on weekdays from 1-8 PM and 12-8:30 PM on the weekends from December 12-23rd. The village will be open on Christmas Eve from 9-Noon so that Santa can get back to the North Pole to get ready for his big night. Silent Santa will be “signing” for all hearing-impaired visitors from 5-8:30 p.m. Dec. 16. Dress appropriately for the weather since there are often long lines to get into the village.

*The Palace Theater in Waterbury will host The Nutcracker, the magical dreamy tale of Clara performed by the Woodbury Ballet on Saturday December 11th.

*Ice is Nice- A Family Winter Extravaganza- Dec. 18 @ 1-4 PM- Join the Mattatuck Museum and the YMCA for family arts and crafts and an ice carving demonstration by Ice Matters. https://www.mattmuseum.org/calendar/ice-is-nice-a-family-winter-extravaganza/

*Holiday Ice Carving Competition and A Cappella Concert Returns to Broadway Island in New Haven– Watch as 6 professional ice carvers compete and 6 accomplished a cappella groups perform live 12:00-4:00pm, Sunday, December 12. This event is free and open to the public. See below for information about free parking. Enjoy live performances by Something Extra, The Yale Alley Cats, Whim ‘n Rhythm, The Spizzwinks, Yale Out of the Blue, and Proof of the Pudding. Vote on your favorite ice sculpture to win $50 gift cards to local merchants! Ice carvers include Bill Covitz, Jeff Scarpa, Bill Bywater, Matt Terzano, Jared Welcome, and Chip Koser. Win 1 of 5 $50 gift cards to L.L.Bean, lululemon, idiom Boutique, Raggs for Men & Women, and Lou Lou Boutiques. Free parking is available to the first 200 cars at the 150 York Street Garage. Bring your ticket to The Shops at Yale table under the big tent at the event to be validated. In addition, the City of New Haven offers free street parking on Sundays throughout New Haven. (Face masks are required at the event to keep everyone safe for the holidays. Free masks will be available.)

*Santa Express and the Northern Lights Limited (Nov 26-28, Dec 3-5, Dec 10-12, Dec 17-19 and Dec 22-23) at the Railroad Museum in Thomaston.

*Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in a musical adaptation performed at the Thomaston Opera House in Thomaston (Dec 4, 10, 11, 17, 18 at 7 PM and Dec 5, 12, 19 at 2 PM).

*Holiday Lights at Lake Compounce (November 26-January 1)- Don’t miss Gingerbread Weekend- enjoy delicious gingerbread themed foods and beverages and build your own gingerbread house (December 17-19)

*Santa’s Walking Wonderland- Indian Rock Nature Preserve in Bristol (December 3 5:30-7:30 PM, December 4 4:30-7:30 PM, December 9 & 10th-5:30-7:30 PM and December 11 and 12th- 4:30-7:30 PM). Reservations are required for the stroll around the farm and visit with Santa.

*Winterfest and the Tunnel of Lights at the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor- (November 26-December 30th).

*Visit with Santa, The Grinch and the entire petting zoo at Flaming Farm in Simsbury, December 4 &5 and 18 &19th (10-1PM)-Tickets available online (Ordered tickets for December 19 at 10:30 AM)

*Shark-Diving Santa at the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium (November 26-January 2, 2022).

*Holiday Happenings at Connecticut Beardsley Zoo– On December 4-5th, 11-12th, 18-19th, the Zoo will offer festive holiday fare in the Elf Kitchen featuring hot chocolate, gingerbread, sugar cookies, savory soups and other festive holiday specialities. Santa’s Sleigh will be set up for family photos. Thirty wreaths will be displayed from Wreaths Across America to honor U.S. Veterans and honor those who serve. On December 4 and December 18th, the Zoo will hold a Pajama Parade with Frosty the Snowman, Stripes the Tiger and Thirsty the Penguin marching alongside Grand Marshal Oliver, founder of Oliver’s Pajama Project. Guests are encouraged to wear pajamas and bring pajamas to the parade to donate, then families can take a festive pajama photo. Tickets must be reserved in advance for Zoo entrance and masks are encouraged and required in indoor settings and when social distancing can’t be maintained.

January programs at Mattatuck Museum

The Mattatuck is open Monday-Saturday from 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. with additional hours on Thursday nights until 7:00 p.m. Walk-in visitors are welcome! Visitors who prefer contactless payment may call and reserve their ticket ahead of time. The safety and health of visitors and staff is the highest priority at the Mattatuck Museum. With the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) within the United States, the Museum is keeping up to date with all CDC health-related plans and procedures. Although the CDC and CT have dropped the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people, those not yet fully vaccinated and children under 5 are required to wear masks while visiting the Museum. Mattatuck staff will continue to wear masks to protect themselves and those not yet vaccinated for the foreseeable future. Free, disposable masks are available at the Welcome Desk. We invite you to keep your mask on during your visit for your comfort and the comfort of others. The Museum’s website, mattmuseum.org, outlines updated guidelines for visitors, including what to expect on your visit, cleaning and safety protocols, and frequently asked questions. Follow The MATT on Facebook and Instagram for more updates and content.

Yoga (Every Thursday, 5:30–6:30) Price: $8 Museum Members | $12 General. Meet the new instructor @ The MATT, Michele Carella, as she helps your body to release tension, calm your nervous system, and restore an overall sense of balance to your body, mind, and soul. This style of yoga will focus most on alignment of basic yoga poses, as well as breathing techniques which will link movement with breath. There will be an emphasis on slow movements to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility with guided meditation during savasana, or resting pose. Pose modifications will always be shared so that everyone, regardless of fitness level, will feel safe and comfortable participating in the class.

Midday Mindfulness – Mondays and Fridays, 12:00–1:00 PM Price: $5 Museum Members | $8 General. Join mindfulness meditation teacher Ranji Latchmansingh for this weekly two-part class on your lunch break. On Mondays, during Foundations of Mindfulness class, Ranji will offer guidance to participants on cultivating different mindful practices using clear, precise, and accurate language. Mindfulness practices explored and embodied will include Focused Attention, Open Awareness, Loving Kindness practice and Mindful Yoga. Participants will experience and develop a sense of awareness with these various practices and can use these as a foundation for continuing their own practice getting whatever benefits are being realized. On Fridays, Ranji will lead Appreciating Art Using a Mindfulness Practice, and offer guidance to participants on developing a Focused attention mindfulness practice. This practice will allow participants to look at art with a calm and focused attention, allowing them to see what is visually present and not what they would like it to be. Participants often develop a keen sense of awareness when visually observing an object. To purchase tickets please visit mattmuseum.org/calendar.

Saturday Docent Guided Tours – Saturdays in January, 1:00–1:30 PM (No tour January 1) Price: Included with admission. Looking for a more detailed exploration of the Mattatuck Museum’s exhibits? Join a free (with admission) docent-guided Saturday Drop-In Tour. Our staff will guide patrons through a highlights tour or the museum’s current special exhibition.

Story Time @ The MATT – Saturday, January 8, 11:00–11:15 AM Price: Included with Museum admission. Join a Mattatuck Museum Educator for a reading of Willie Was Different, Norman Rockwell’s only storybook for children. The story follows a young bird who discovers that he has a special talent, but the consequences of it aren’t quite what he expects. Children and parents alike will enjoy his beautiful illustrations and meaningful story.

Storybook Making Kids Art Workshop (ages 5+) Saturday, January 8, 11:15 AM–1:15 PM Price: $10 per Museum Member Child | $15 per Child. Got a future writer or illustrator in your family? Bring your children to the Storybook Making Workshop at the Mattatuck Museum, where pre-made booklets are waiting to be transformed into your child’s own story book filled with their wildest and most fantastical tales! Draw, decorate, and illustrate these story pages using the variety of art materials provided. To purchase tickets please visit mattmuseum.org/calendar.

Paint with Artist Janet Maya Kids Art Workshop (ages 5+) Saturday, January 15, 11:00 AM–1:00 PM. Price: $10 per Museum Member Child | $15 per Child. Bring your children to this exclusive art workshop at the Mattatuck Museum led by artist Janet Maya, whose paintings are currently on view in Janet Maya: Women/Strength/Beauty @ The MATT. Janet will discuss her artistic process with the children and teach them how to paint in her style. To purchase tickets please visit mattmuseum.org/calendar.

Share Your Story: LGBTQIA+ Storytelling Workshop (ages 16+)

Part One: Saturday, January 15, 3:00–4:30 PM

Part Two: Saturday, January 29, 3:00–4:30 PM

Part Three: Thursday, February 17, 6:00–8:00 PM

Price: FREE (Limited space available)

This Storytelling Workshop at the Mattatuck Museum is an opportunity for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to get together with likeminded individuals to create, workshop, and share stories relating to their experiences, from light-hearted anecdotes to heart-rending accounts. Workshop participants will spend two 1.5-hour sessions in a safe and inclusive environment learning about the elements of a good story, writing their piece, and engaging in creative dialogue with others, and ultimately creating a story that they will share with an audience at the “My LGBTQIA+ Story” event on Thursday, February 17 from 6:00-8:00pm. To register please visit mattmuseum.org/calendar.

School’s Out: Celebrate MLK Monday, January 17, 9:00 AM–3:30 PM. Price: $35 Museum Members | $40 General . School might be out for the day, but the fun is still IN @ The MATT! Drop-off your child for these fun-filled single-day experiences. Children will be immersed in the Museum’s galleries and special exhibitions while learning about history and developing their art skills with unique materials and techniques. On Monday, January 17th celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Mattatuck Museum. Kids will participate in different activities that explore ideas around peace, empathy, and community. They will also look at work by African American artists in the gallery, highlighting the various messages that can be told through art. All supplies provided. Bring a bagged lunch. Space is limited and pre-registration is required. Full and partial scholarships are available. For more information contact Jason Foberg at x114 or jason@mattmuseum.org To purchase tickets please visit mattmuseum.org/calendar.