A guide to living local in New Hampshire

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Holiday Cheer is Waiting Downtown

By Tom Long / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor

Downtown shopping is what the holidays are all about. Strolling Main Street, basking in seasonal lighting, enjoying holiday decorations, dawdling in front of window displays that tempt you to go inside and relax in the warmth. Stopping by a local bistro to get off your feet and fill your belly.

It’s retro, we know, but it makes this consumer-crazy time of year seem festive, welcoming and not fearsome.

We’ve been doing it for years. It started as an attempt to get our toddler son to pick presents for his mother. He’s 21 now and downtown holiday shopping has become our protest of the over-commercialization of the holidays – big-box chain stores where you’d never find a one- or even two-of-a-kind gift.

A visit to a shopping mall? Fahgettaboudit. How can you seriously shop for Christmas and Chanukah if you can’t see your breath in the air?

We hear the jolly fat guy is making a list and checking it twice. We do no such thing. We select a town to visit and wing it. On our first foray we selected Nashua and have fond memories of strolling down the street, stopping at Scontsas Jewelry, Beginnings gift shop and a couple of clothing boutiques.

The prize was a bright green pocketbook shaped like a watering can that was never used, but much-loved and displayed.

We ended the trip with dinner at Martha’s Exchange, where we bought nonagenarian Aunt Dot a box of handmade chocolates at the sweet shop.

We’ve done Nashua, Milford, Exeter, Contoocook, Goffstown and Derry over the years, and each year the length of the trip has lengthened and downtowns have become more and more enlivened. We find ourselves among other like-thinkers, tired of the mall.

And no lie – the gifts we buy for our family, including those troublesome Yankee Swap gewgaws – are always the hit of the holiday, even if they didn’t cost as much as the others.

One of our favorite holiday shopping destinations is the state’s capital city. This is especially true since Concord made its downtown more pedestrian-friendly with wider sidewalks and upgraded crosswalks. And did we mention you can take a selfie with a life-sized cut-out of Will Ferrell as Buddy the elf?

We love the book stores, art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, bakeries, restaurants and cafés. And sometimes we even work in an art or classic film at Red River Theatre like the 1948 “Oliver Twist” on Dec. 13 (who doesn’t love a little Dickens this time of year?); or a show at the Capital Center for the Arts, like “The Nutcracker,” Dec. 1-2; Mannheim Steamroller on Dec. 5; or Holiday Pops on Dec. 23.

But in any of these towns, whether you call it Broadway, Elm, Water or Main, shopping downtown’s main corridor is the bomb. Trust us. You will all feel the “It’s a Wonderful Life” vibe way more than you do clicking “add to cart” online.

If you need additional persuasion, check out these holiday events.

The Derry Holiday parade down Broadway is Nov. 24 from 1 to 3 p.m. It usually draws about 10,000 spectators and 80 marching bands, floats and clowns.

Later in the day, on the 24th, the Nashua holiday stroll stops traffic on Main Street beginning at 5 p.m. The event often draws 20,000 visitors for music, street vendors and shopping.

The Light-Up Laconia Holiday Parade is Nov. 25 at 3 p.m. in Veterans Square.

On Dec. 1 at 4 p.m. the Manchester Holiday Parade brings Santa to town. The city also holds a holiday market on the first three Thursdays and the first Saturday of December with about 50 artists and artisans exhibiting in the Brady Sullivan Plaza.

The Portsmouth Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting will be held Dec. 1 from 5 to 8 p.m. After a short ceremony, the tree will be lit in Market Square at 5:30 p.m. At 6 p.m., the parade steps off from Goodwin Park at the corner of Summer and Islington streets and wends its way to Market Square.

From 5 p.m. Dec. 7 until night turns to morning, Midnight Merriment will be held in Concord with holiday shopping carolers and other activities.

The Town of Exeter will also hold several holiday events culminating in the lighting of downtown with lanterns on Christmas Eve.