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First-Time Filmmaker Marvin Samel Discusses the Making of ‘iMordecai’ at Gold Coast International Film Festival

October 19, 2022
Gold Coast International Film Festival director Caroline Sorokoff hosts Q&A with first-time filmmaker Marvin Samel about making ‘”Mordecai,’”an uplifting, heart-warming and frequently comic movie based on his family © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

To describe the new film “iMordecai” as being about an 80-something year old man confronting the intimidating new technology of the i-phone is to miss what it is really about: it is about resiliency, survival, life and living and relationships, which manages to be uplifting and even comic, despite dealing with such weighty issues as the Holocaust and Alzheimer’s. The making of the film by a first-time filmmaker, Marvin Samel, who has written a superb screenplay and as director elicits Oscar-worthy performances from Judd Hirsch, Carol Kane and Sean Astin, is itself worthy of a film.

 iMordecai is heartwarming movie based on the director’s own life features Oscar-worthy performances from Emmy-winning actor Judd Hirsch as Mordecai Samels and Academy Award-nominated actress Carol Kane (Hester Street) as his wife, Fela,  Holocaust survivors living in a Miami condo. When Mordecai takes the leap of getting an iPhone, the device opens him up to novel experiences and adventures, rekindling in him the youth he lost. It is an uplifting movie that manages comedy even when confronting such weighty issues as the Holocaust, survival, and the onset of Alzheimer’s.

What is most commendable is how the first-time film director-screenwriter Marvin Samel manages to create characters you care about, a plot that moves along at good pace, keeping you interested in the resolution, and seemingly outrageous situations without becoming cliché – and the answer is, because it is all so based in truth – even the ring that Sean Astin, who plays Marvin, wears is the same ring as the one Marvin is wearing when he comes to the Gold Coast International Film Festival for a Q&A after the screening, the first in the New York region.

Samel reflects how he was born in Brooklyn, to Mordecai and Fela Samel, not only immigrants, but Holocaust Survivors. His childhood, he says, was filled with the colorful and oftentimes comedic conflicts (actually, between Mordecai calling his son a screw-up and Marvin calling his father a jinx, the conflicts are more than comedic). In 1995, fueled by his passion for premium cigars, Marvin founded Drew Estate as a kiosk in the World Trade Center Mall, which grew to become one of the world’s largest premium cigar companies. But the movie focuses on 2014, when his company was hanging by a thread and he was trying to negotiate a sale.

After the sale of his company, he founded FeMor Productions, and at the same time, learned his mother had Alzheimer’s. In order to cope with his mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Marvin
began compiling the colorful stories of his family’s past. He began to see the stories as a film, and after his frustration writing the screenplay, collaborated with seasoned screenplay writer Rudy Gaines.

Marvin currently resides in Boca Raton, FL with his wife, Netta, and his twin daughters, Talia and Ariella.

What is real and what is fictionalized? The surprise answer is some of the most outrageous comic situations were real. The fictionalized elements work so successfully in moving story along, weaving the various story-lines together, keeping you interested – especially because you care about the characters – in how it will resolve.

But how did the neophyte first-time filmmaker even begin to get such glitterati to do his film?

Samel, who currently resides in Boca Raton, FL with his wife, Netta, and his twin daughters, Talia and Ariella, came to the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s New York region premiere of “iMordecai” to participate in a Q&A about making the film with Festival Director Caroline Sarnoff. Here are notes from the conversation.

How in the world did you get the idea to be filmmaker?

I was a cigarmaker – I started a kiosk in World Trade Center mall, I had a factory in Nicaragua, grew my business to becoming one of largest cigar companies in world – my father mortgaged his home, 1995, not when he was 85 years old –when we were in big trouble just starting and I almost lost my business and they almost lost their home. But he wasn’t as magnanimous as in the movie; he was really pissed.

I sold the company in 2014 – my wife was pregnant during the sale and gave birth to our twin daughters in 2015. It should have been the happiest time, but a month later, my mother was officially diagnosed with Alzheimers. For the year leading up to diagnosis, my pregnant wife on bed rest with twins, me running around trying to sell business, I would stop by  and say,
Dad, something is wrong with mom.  “What ya talking about, she’s brick made from stone.” Her diagnosis sent me into depression.

I had no intention of making film. I was a lover of film – great acting, writing – I loved going to movies. I lived in Manhattan, went to Astor Place theater, art houses, to see film. I never had any intention of making a movie.

How do you go from that to get Judd Hirsch, Carol Kaine, fantastic actors- were they huge cigar fans?

When I started writing stories – my father as a plumber and a painter – I took a step back, forget about them being my parents, my family, and realized there was a cinematic feel to these characters.

Samel says how he studied other movies – Good Will Hunting, Almost Famous.

I analyzed how many characters- started trying to write myself. This shit is hard – I had no idea what I was doing. I got stuck – sequencing, scenes, how many acts, what to keep/not.  After a long search, met Rudy Gaines, a well known Hollywood ghost writer- has Oscar nominated script he wrote (not allowed to say which ones). He worked his ass off with me – we did this together- I gave him the writing credit.

So then, I had a script, like a million others. A long time passed, a mutual friend introduced to Dahlia Heyman, Italian award winner for best screen play – who agreed to be producer; she brought Alan Bain, Executive Producer.

They brought in a top casting director who set up a meeting with Judd Hirsch at Nick’s Pizza at 91st and 1st (I paid $20 to get the back room). Pepperoni pie and a couple of drinks later he said, “So who’s directing.” “I am.” “You? What have you directed?”

I had never been on a film set but I know these characters. He wasn’t sure.

I said, “Judd are you in or out?” He said “Let me think.”

I said [in a scene reminiscent of the movie dialogue] “Sorry Judd, this is a one-time offer.” I am not brave or tough, but my mother didn’t have much time. I didn’t care it was Judd Hirsch – he could have been God. I said, “Give me an answer now, I’ve got to keep moving”. Finally, he shook my hand, then said, “Who are you thinking for Fela?” I said, Carol Kaine. “I love it.”

He called Carol by the time he was out the door. That was it, I had a movie to make. We shot the film four months later, but unfortunately my mom passed a month after our meeting.

My mother died three months before filming. I tried everything in my power to get it done first, but as first-time filmmaker, everything takes awhile.

“iMordecai” filmmaker Marvin Samel at the Gold Coast International Film Festival© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Samel described the conversation he had with his father when he told him he was writing a movie about him.

“Who the hell will watch movie about an old Jew. You will lose your money, you’re still turning money into shit.” [Another line that is used in the movie dialogue.]

Even when we were filming he didn’t understand – the plumber and painter scene. We filmed in 3 locations. My dad showed up to the location where Judd was at a comedy store. My dad doesn’t understand there’s another half. I got into creative difference with Judd – as all actors-directors do – we’re in a little argument. In the back of the set, I hear my father, ‘Oh Marvin’s fucking the thing up.’ In front of cast and crew! Everyone started laughing.  Meta I told dad he can’t say that on the set. He was on the set every single day.

How much real vs fiction? Is the leaking car real?

That was real. My dad’s car was broken into so he put plastic in place of the window so nobody would break in. So when he moved to Florida – monsoons  would fill the car with water. So he pulled out the carpet, and cut a hole with a plug to let out the water. Funny stories- but they weren’t funny when they happened.

[Apparently the scene of his father using a power drill in his condo bathroom was true.]

What stories didn’t make into the film? How much on cutting room floor?

I could fill a series with stories.

A pipe breaks. Throughout the night he’s fixing the broken pipe –he’s 86.  He went downstairs and broke into the utility room – this is a 300-aparment building –  andshut off main water line. The sun is coming up on Sunday morning – no water. So the next morning everyone says where’s the water?  My father goes down, turns the water back on. The entire place erupted in cheers, Mordecai! He’s still doing this. Now 86. [A version of this is in the movie.]

There are other real elements in the movie – Marvin’s twin daughters, now 7 ½ years old now, have a fleeting cameo when they were four;  the cigar company characters “were my frenemies –– all real cigar makers in the world today.”

But a key character, the young woman who gives Mordecai lessons on the i-phone and then unlocks his interest in  trying new things and drives  the plot – is actually a composite. But Marvin says, the premise has its basis in fact -his father did takei-phone lessons that Apple offered – but so many that the company changed its policy on account of Mordecai.

It’s a love letter to my family, to the cigar industry, to Miami – and to New York.

Even though the film is shot in Miami, it has a New York sensibility –the characters are all New Yorkers, via Poland, Siberia, Israel. My formative years were spent in New York – I dropped a number of Easter eggs- the mural they paint – I thought about what Mordecai would paint – he knows the Twin Towers – that was my love letter to New York –to paint the towers, what we all have in common.

In fact, he says, it was 9/11 that was the impetus for Mordecai getting an i-phone to begin with.

“iMordecai” filmmaker Marvin Samel at the Gold Coast International Film Festival© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Samel has been making the film-festival circuit – it was the audience award winner at the Miami Jewish Film Festival.

My father came to the Miami Jewish film festival – outdoors, 700 people with COVID. He got a standing ovation. Last week, he came to Woodstock Film Festival. There were no hotels, so we were Airbnb roommates for the first time since I was 17 years old (when I left to attend Oneonta state).It was great, but a lot – I’m exhausted after 3 days with Mordecai.

How do you plan going forward with film?

I’m on the festival circuit now – traveling – was in Arizona, Prescott Arizona film festival –my opening line there, ‘Hello gentiles.’ We won best director and audience award. On to 8 more festivals.

Long range: February 4 will be the theatrical premiere in 50 theaters in south Florida – individual theater premieres – like concert tour – where me and a cast member will appear at each theater’s first screening. If we do well in south Florida and have all the 55 and over communities behind us , we will be on to New York. We hope to be out in 2023.

Gold Coast International Film Festival

The Gold Coast International Film and Arts Fest taking place through October 25 also features:

THE LOST KING, Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins stars in this heartwarming, inspirational true story of amateur historian Philippa Langley’s quest to find the long-lost remains of Richard III from Oscar nominee Stephen Frears. Official Selection of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

KARAOKE, nominated for 14 Israeli Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Academy Awards). A bittersweet drama/comedy about a middle-class suburban couple in their 60s who are drawn to their new neighbor, a charismatic bachelor who has karaoke evenings at his apartment.

• LOVE, CHARLIE, a fascinating documentary about culinary bad-boy/superstar Charlie Trotter who had it all: an eponymous restaurant, worshipful global respect for his revolutionary innovations, books, film cameos, fame, wealth. Was hyper-driven self-destruction inevitable? (Monday 10/24 at 7:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas);

FAREWELL MR. HAFFMAN, Legendary French actor Daniel Auteuil stars as the owner and gifted jeweler of a humble shop in Paris in this gripping film, a cinematic adaptation of an award-winning play. This period drama of life in Vichy France in 1941 is a transfixing humanist portrait of survival and resistance, as well as the tragic consequences of complicity and collaboration.

• HARD SHELL, SOFT SHELL, a dramedy about love, class, and finding oneself that tells the story of a handsome 20-something oyster farmer who plunges into depression after a botched proposal to his actress girlfriend. To win her back, he turns to his old friends for advice. Filmed on location in the beautiful southern port city of Sète, France.

• THE JUSTICE OF BUNNY KINGEssie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) star in this compassionate drama about a mother suffering at the hands of a system stacked against her as she attempts to win her kids back from foster care.

The festival is also presenting a special advance screening of the highly anticipated new film My Policeman, starring Harry Styles. While not a Festival film eligible for awards, this highly anticipated screening is being presented before the film arrives in theaters. The star-studded cast of My Policeman was recently presented with the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival TIFF TRIBUTE AWARD FOR PERFORMANCE.

The 2022 GCIFF also features a selection of over 40 short films presented free to the public.

In early 2023, the festival will present the Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award to Hollywood legend William Holden at an event that will feature film screenings and interviews with friends and family of Mr. Holden, including his companion Stefanie Powers who will accept the award on his behalf. Information regarding this year’s films and events, and tickets is available at www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org and www.goldcoastarts.org.

Gold Coast Arts is an independent 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization serving the Long Island and greater New York community for over 25 years, dedicated to promoting and supporting the arts through education, exhibition, performance and outreach. Since its founding in 1995, more than100,000 people of all ages and backgrounds have taken advantage of its wide selection of classes in many different media and forms from art to dance, live performances including Comedy Festival, musical programs and year-round film festivals; workshops, and art exhibits.

Gold Coast Arts Center, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, NY 11021 (entrance from the Maple Avenue parking lot), 516-829-2570, www.goldcoastarts.org.

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Long Island’s Gold Coast International Film Festival 2022 Spotlights Films, Special Events from October 10 – 25

October 3, 2022

Festival to include over 40 films and special events in venues throughout Great Neck, Manhasset and Port Washington

Past Gold Coast International Film Festival honorees Ben Vereen and artist Edwina Sandys. The 2022 festival takes place in North Hempstead, Long Island, Oct. 10-25. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

LONG ISLAND, NY —The 2022 Gold Coast International Film Festival, taking place on October 10-25, will once again bring the best in new and independent films and special events to audiences throughout the region at venues throughout the north shore. Over the past two years, thousands have logged on to Gold Coast’s virtual films and filmmaker Q&As and attended their year-round film screenings at the Manhasset Cinemas. This October, Gold Coast is thrilled to welcome audiences for a full slate of the type of award-winning feature length and short films that audiences have come to expect, and will add several special events for audiences of all ages. Festivities include screenings of new independent, documentary and foreign films at Manhasset Cinemas; award-winning short films screened free for the public at area libraries; the Long Island Comedy Festival presented live at the Gold Coast Arts Center; and an interactive family festival to celebrate art and film, among other special events.

This year’s not-to-miss films include:

iMORDECAI, Judd Hirsch stars as a Holocaust survivor who must now face the realities of the modern world. When confronted with an unfamiliar object, an iPhone, will Mordecai be able to fit into a world that has changed so much around him? Also starring Carol Kane and Sean Astin. Winner of the Audience Award at the Miami Jewish Film Festival. INCLUDES POST-SCREENING Q&A WITH DIRECTOR MARVIN SAMEL. (Wednesday 10/12 at 7:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas);

THE LOST KING, Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins stars in this heartwarming, inspirational true story of amateur historian Philippa Langley’s quest to find the long-lost remains of Richard III from Oscar nominee Stephen Frears. Official Selection of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (Tuesday 10/18 at 8:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas);

KARAOKE, nominated for 14 Israeli Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Academy Awards). A bittersweet drama/comedy about a middle-class suburban couple in their 60s who are drawn to their new neighbor, a charismatic bachelor who has karaoke evenings at his apartment. (Wednesday 10/19 at 7:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas);

LOVE, CHARLIE, a fascinating documentary about culinary bad-boy/superstar Charlie Trotter who had it all: an eponymous restaurant, worshipful global respect for his revolutionary innovations, books, film cameos, fame, wealth. Was hyper-driven self-destruction inevitable? (Monday 10/24 at 7:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas);

FAREWELL MR. HAFFMAN, Legendary French actor Daniel Auteuil stars as the owner and gifted jeweler of a humble shop in Paris in this gripping film, a cinematic adaptation of an award-winning play. This period drama of life in Vichy France in 1941 is a transfixing humanist portrait of survival and resistance, as well as the tragic consequences of complicity and collaboration. (Tuesday 10/25 at 7:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas);

HARD SHELL, SOFT SHELL, a dramedy about love, class, and finding oneself that tells the story of a handsome 20-something oyster farmer who plunges into depression after a botched proposal to his actress girlfriend. To win her back, he turns to his old friends for advice. Filmed on location in the beautiful southern port city of Sète, France. (Thursday 10/13 at 7:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas);

THE JUSTICE OF BUNNY KING, Essie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) star in this compassionate drama about a mother suffering at the hands of a system stacked against her as she attempts to win her kids back from foster care. (Monday 10/11 at 7:00pm, Manhasset Cinemas).

The 2022 GCIFF will also feature a fantastic selection of over 40 short films presented free to the public at the Great Neck Library and Port Washington Public Library. Great Shorts 1 will be screened on Friday 10/14 at 7pm at the Port Washington Public Library (followed by a brief discussion with festival Director Caroline Sorokoff) and Tuesday 10/25 at 1pm at the Great Neck Library. Great Shorts 2 will be screened on Saturday 10/22 at 1:30pm at the Great Neck Library (followed by a Q&A with curator Alexandra Gil and select short filmmakers) and Monday 10/24 at 1:00pm at the Port Washington Public Library. Gold Coast’s short film programs have always been some of Festival’s most popular events.

Additional special events to look out for this year include:

LONG ISLAND COMEDY FESTIVAL, live at the Gold Coast Arts Center, featuring performances by Paul Anthony, Art Schill and John Ziegler (Saturday 10/15 at 8:00pm, Gold Coast Arts Center).

ART EXPLOSION! FAMILY FESTIVAL, including family-friendly SHORT FILMS; Book talk & signing with award-winning children’s book author ROXIE MUNRO; GLASS PAINTING & ZENTANGLE workshops; hands-on art activities with THE BLUE BUS PROJECT; Live GRAFFITTI demo by world-famous artist ZIMAD. (Sunday 10/16 at 1:00pm, Gold Coast Arts Center. $20 per child includes all film and art activities.

ENCANTO SING-ALONG! A free event at the Port Washington Public Library on Monday 10/10 at 2pm.

Gold Coast is also excited to present a special Advance Screening of the highly anticipated new film My Policeman, starring Harry Styles. While not a Festival film eligible for awards, this highly anticipated screening is being presented before the film arrives in theaters. The star-studded cast of My Policeman was recently presented with the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival TIFF TRIBUTE AWARD FOR PERFORMANCE.

All Festival screenings and events are presented with the support of Founding Festival sponsor the Town of North Hempstead. Additional 2022 sponsors include Nassau County Industrial Development Agency; A.L. Sarroff Fund; TD Charitable Foundation; Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP; The Katz Institute for Women’s Health at Northwell Health; Neiman Marcus; The Bristal Assisted Living; Liman Video Rental; WLIW21; Altice; the Great Neck BID, Destination: Great Neck and many local businesses.

In early 2023, the festival will present the Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award to Hollywood legend William Holden at an event that will feature film screenings and interviews with friends and family of Mr. Holden, including his companion Stefanie Powers who will accept the award on his behalf. In 2017, the Gold Coast International Film Festival introduced the first Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award, named after a man who has represented and befriended some of the greatest stars in Hollywood. The creation of this award, itself a genuine original work of art created by an internationally known sculptor, Edwina Sandys (granddaughter of Winston Churchill); preserves the legacy of the Golden Age of Hollywood and shines a spotlight on the stars who made it so great.

Information regarding this year’s films and events, and tickets is available at www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org and www.goldcoastarts.org.

Over the past 10 years, Gold Coast’s Festival and year-round film screening series has premiered close to 1,000 feature length and short films from over 30 countries, many of which have gone on to receive the film industry’s highest awards, including 2020’s Minari, and 2019’s The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, and Clemency, starring Alfre Woodard.

One of the hallmarks of Gold Coast’s film programs are filmmaker and special guest Q&As. Some of their most unforgettable moments include an audience of several hundred film lovers singing happy birthday to Bruce Dern as he accepted the GCIFF 2011 Legend Award; hearing Baz Luhrmann discuss his extraordinary filmmaking process in a live introduction to the sold-out premiere of The Great Gatsby; and listening to Hugh Grant joke about his favorite diner meals while filming in Nassau County.

Since 2011, the Gold Coast International Film Festival has brought the latest Hollywood hits and Indie favorites to standing room only audiences throughout the fabled Gold Coast of Long Island. Add A-list celebrities and unforgettable events to the mix, and it’s easy to see why the Gold Coast International Film Festival has become the “go to” festival for film buffs and the public. The Gold Coast International Film Festival is produced by the not-forprofit Gold Coast Arts Center.

Previous honorees and special guests of the festival and the Gold Coast Arts Center include film industry VIPs Francis Ford Coppola, Hugh Grant, Baz Luhrmann, Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino, Ed Burns, Bruce Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Lou Diamond Phillips, Morgan Spurlock, Eli Wallach, Gabriel Byrne, Jacques Pepin, Bill Plympton, Phil Donahue, Phylicia Rashad, Joan Allen, Jay McInerney and Michael Cuesta, as well as composer Morton Gould, artists James Rosenquist, Oleg Cassini, Edwina Sandys and Bob Gruen, comedian Susie Essman, Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara, Melissa Errico and Savion Glover, and 4-time Oscar winner for production and costume design Catherine Martin.

Gold Coast Arts is a 501(c)(3) multi-arts organization dedicated to promoting the arts through education, exhibition, performance, and outreach. For a quarter-century, it has brought the arts to tens of thousands of people throughout the Long Island region. Among the Center’s offerings are its School for the Arts, which holds year-round classes in visual and performing arts for students of all ages and abilities; a free public art gallery; a concert and lecture series; film screenings and discussions; the annual Gold Coast International Film Festival; and initiatives that focus on senior citizens and underserved communities. These initiatives include artist residencies, afterschool programs, school assemblies, teacher-training workshops, and parent-child workshops. The Gold Coast Arts Center’s programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. The Gold Coast Arts Center is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts “Partners in Education” program and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

For more information, visit www.goldcoastarts.org.

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Halloween Happenings 2022

September 30, 2022
The Headless Horseman rides from Sleepy Hollow to Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Long Island, for The Great Jack o’ Lantern Pumpkin Blaze © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

How lucky are we on Long Island that Historic Hudson Valley has brought its enormously popular “The Great Jack o’ Lantern Pumpkin Blaze” extravaganza to Long Island to our most fabulous living history destination, Old Bethpage Restoration Village, for the second year! They have brought the extraordinary artistry, charm and delight, and kept the Sleepy Hollow and Headless Horseman, but they have tailored it around Long Island’s history and heritage and amazingly, the notes they provide at each of the exhibits are utterly fascinating.

The historic Hewlett House, which some have said is haunted, is a great backdrop for The Great Jack o’ Lantern Pumpkin Blaze at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Did you know that “Jaws” was inspired by the capture of a 4500 lb white shark off Long Island? And of course, there’s the Amityville Horror (an Old Bethpage house has similar architecture, so serves as a stand-in). The cemetery is peopled by the Hewlett family, outside their actual house, which is said (actually) to be haunted. The scarecrows that are around the barn and the barn animals are all made of pumpkins, as are the skeletons, ghosts.

Long Island’s iconic Montauk lighthouse and seashore is depicted with artistically crafted pumpkins and sound and light effects at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You walk the pumpkin trail through this 19th century village and see more than 7,000 hand-carved jack o’lanterns, all carved by its team of artisans, each one unique. Find your favorite legendary local icon in our Hall of Fame, gaze in wonder at the Pumpkin Planetarium, see larger-than-life sea creatures and watch your head as an animated Headless Horseman rides into the night.

The circus train at The Great Jack o’ Lantern Pumpkin Blaze at Old Bethpage commemorates the 1972 arrival of the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey circus to the newly opened Nassau Veterans Coliseum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The structures – all built with carved and lighted pumpkins – are absolutely incredible – a tall pendulum clock, a windmill, a Statue of Liberty, a lighthouse with a working light (Montauk is Long Island’s most famous), an 80-foot long circus train (the LIRR!) with animal skeletons as passengers, a working carousel with horse skeletons.

An actual working carousel of pumpkins with horse skeletons revolving is one of the stunning exhibits at The Great Jack o’ Lantern Pumpkin Blaze at Old Bethpage Village Restoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The mood is enhanced by an all-original soundtrack and synchronized lighting and smoke effects.

The ticket sales help support Old Bethpage Village Restoration and Historic Hudson Valley.

Select nights September 30 through November 6 at Old Bethpage Village Restoration. Timed ticket entry only, https://pumpkinblaze.org/blaze-long-island.html. Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road, Old Bethpage, New York, 11804, oldbethpagevillagerestoration@nassaucountyny.gov, 516-572-8409, https://www.oldbethpagevillagerestoration.org/

You will absolutely want more, so you can visit Historic Hudson Valley’s other iconic fall events:

Blaze: The Hudson Valley’s most electrifying fall happening: Meander through an 18th-century landscape and discover a breathtaking display of more than 7,000 illuminated jack o’ lanterns—all designed and hand-carved on site by its team of artisans. New for 2022, watch our animated “Jack” Smith Shop in action and keep an eye out for glowing bees. Complete with synchronized lighting and an original soundtrack. Select nights, September 16 – November 20. Advance timed-tickets tickets only. No tickets sold on site. Van Cortlandt Manor, 525 S Riverside, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520.

Halloween in Historic Hudson Valley: Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, Croton-on-Hudson © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Explore “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”: At this family-friendly happening, visitors can tour Washington Irving’s house—decorated for the season—watch an original shadow puppet short film, and enjoy games on the lawn. A special exhibit highlights how the Legend has lived in the imagination of popular culture through the centuries since its publication. Fridays – Sundays, plus Columbus Day + Halloween, September 16-November 13. Advance tickets required. No tickets will be sold on site. Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, 3 W Sunnyside Lane, Irvington, NY 10533.

Washington Irving’s Legend is performed outdoors under the stars at the author’s Sunnyside by master storyteller Jonathan Kruk© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Irving’s ‘Legend’ returns reimagined this fall. Performed for the first time ever outdoors under the stars at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, master storyteller Jonathan Kruk will cast a spell with dramatic performances of the classic tale. Live music and an appearance from the Headless Horseman himself make this a spooky spectacular experience for all ages. This experience is outdoors and requires walking. Fridays – Sundays, plus Columbus Day + Halloween, September 30 – October 3. Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, 3 W Sunnyside Lane, Irvington, NY 10533.

Historic Hudson Valley, 639 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY 10591,  914-366-6900, hudsonvalley.org.

Join the Village Halloween Parade to Celebrate Freedom!

New York’s famed 49th Annual Village Halloween Parade takes place on Monday, October 31. The 2022 Parade Theme is FREEDOM! “It’s a move! It’s a moment! Feel it!!! Join us in some ecstatic joy! Lift the spirits!” The Grand Marshal for 2022 is The Brooklyn United Marching Band with special surprise guests who will play Jon Batiste’s song Freedom! where you can join in.

You can join a Special Section of the Parade and dance along with The Brooklyn United Marching Band as they play Freedom! along the route or just join in the open participation part of the parade.

“We are encouraging glittery costumes, your best dance moves and anything that allows you to feel light, joyful, free and colorful! We’re gonna lift the spirits of the whole world!” says Jeanne Fleming, Artistic and Producing Director. “However you do it, feel the joy and freedom of expression in one of New York’s most iconic and wildly creative events!

New York City’s famed Annual Village Halloween Parade is themed “Freedom!” for 2022 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Only those in costume and masks are welcome to join the hundreds of puppets, 53 bands, dancers and artists, and thousands New Yorkers in costumes of their own creation in NYC’s special brand of Carnivale! 

The parade – the nation’s largest public Halloween celebration – starts at Greenwich Village, on 6th Avenue between Spring and 16th Street at 7 pm and goes up 6th Avenue to about 26th Street.

Tickets are available, for preferred viewing, riding on a float, riding in the parade in your own pedicab, even leading the parade with the Artistic Director which helps support the parade: https://halloween-nyc.com/tickets/

Further afield:

Haunted Happenings in Salem

Salem Haunted Happenings is a festive celebration of Halloween and fall in New England running annually, October 1-31. Events include a Grand Parade, the Haunted Biz Baz Street Fair, Family Film Nights, costume balls, ghost tours, haunted houses, live music, and chilling theatrical presentations.

Salem Haunted Happenings Festival has been happening since 1982, and steadily grown over the years. Today, members of the modern Pagan and Witch communities have a home in Salem, where Samhain is celebrated each October recognizing the end of the harvest season and the coming of winter. The City’s modern witches have the opportunity to share their beliefs and celebrations with both locals and out of town guests who come to celebrate the Halloween season in Salem.

Classic experiences include:

Cry Innocent: The People vs. Bridget Bishop, Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Square, daily thru October. The year is 1692. Bridget Bishop has been accused of witchcraft and you are on the Puritan jury. Hear the historical testimonies, cross-examine the witnesses and decide the verdict. Is Bridget Bishop capable of witchcraft? The outdoor arrest scene begins approximately 15 minutes before show time.

Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, which has Haunted Happenings all October © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables: Discover 330 years of Salem’s history as you experience the museum and collection of historic buildings. Built in 1668, this is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England. The House of the Seven Gables inspired author Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his legendary novel of the same name. (House Of Seven Gables, 115 Derby St. 978-744-0991)

The Witch House, home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Witchcraft Trials of 1692. Corwin was called upon to investigate the claims of diabolical activity when a surge of witchcraft accusations arose. He served on the court which ultimately sent nineteen to the gallows. 310 1/2 Essex St. 978-744-8815.

Witch Dungeon Museum. Experience the acclaimed performance of a Witch trial adapted from the 1692 historical transcripts. Most chilling is that it is real. 16 Lynde St. 978-741-3570.

Halloween Museum: Experience Halloween through interactive and family-friendly exhibits on fortune-telling, vintage Halloween artifacts, Halloween-themed movies, costumes, Salem’s witchcraft at the Halloween Museum (open every day, reservations required).

Haunted Witch Village, Salem’s longest-running haunted house.

Maison Vampyre: Visit the only elegant and uniquely themed Vampyre House in New England! Experience psychic readings, group events and magick.

Salem Witch Museum offers two historical presentations focused on the tragic events of the Salem witch trials of 1692.

Salem Witch Trials Memorial, symbolically located behind the Old Burying Point, is a place of reflection and remembrance for visitors and descendants of those who perished.

Salem Witch Village offers a mystical journey by practicing witches, separating myths and reality of witchcraft.

Salem Witch Walk, led by true Salem Witches, let’s you discover your own magic as you’re blessed in a magic circle (11 am, 3 pm, 7 pm, and 9 pm. Apr-Nov.)  

The Annual Psychic Fair & Witchcraft Expo: Get a true psychic reading at Salem’s largest psychic fair with gifted psychics offering tarot cards, palmistry, mediumship.

The Lost Museum (at Gallows Hill): Explore Salem’s newest, longest, largest, UNDERGROUND haunted attraction.

There are so many events, activities and attractions, you have to visit www.hauntedhappenings.org to plan.

The hotels, motels, and inns/B&Bs listed on salem.org are walking distance to Haunted Happenings events. Regional accommodations are also available in nearby towns, including Beverly, Danvers and Peabody, which border Salem. You can also stay in Boston or north of Salem on the Newburyport/Rockport Commuter Rail line and Salem Haunted Happenings is a short (commuter) train ride away.

California

San Francisco  www.sftravel.com 

Crawloween: San Francisco Halloween Pub Crawl 2022: The San Francisco Halloween Pub Crawl is a massive celebration of the best holiday of the year. Join thousands of locals and tourists as they head from bar to bar along the pub crawl path. There will be pub crawls from October 28-31. With more than 8,000 participants, Crawloween brings together thousands of fun, costumed people to drink and dance the night away as you enjoy awesome drink specials at over 25 of the best bars in San Francisco. 

Halloween Hoopla: The Halloween Hoopla returns for its 22nd year, now featuring fun performances and activities for kids under 10 and for adults. The Hoopla grand finale is the annual Halloween Costume Parade where all kids are welcome to join in their best Halloween costumes.  

Into the Dark at the SF Mint: This interactive haunted experience is part haunted house and part theater. You will be immersed in a story that includes 4D effects, haunted mazes, and more. The actors will take you through the experience including walking, climbing steps, and breaking through the 4th wall.   

Ghost Tours in San Francisco 

Haunted SF: Ghosts, Murder and Mystery: San Francisco is a place of mystery as much as it is a place of beauty. On this tour, you will see sights where a brutal murder took place as well as several places where ghosts have been reported. You will also walk by buildings that once housed SF’s most visited brothels and learn about their secret past. This tour takes you to the dark side of San Francisco and runs most days after dark through Union Square. 

Nob Hill Vampire Tour: Walk through one of SF’s first and most famous districts, Nob Hill. Here, one will learn more about the dark events that occurred over time in places such as the Fairmont Hotel, the Pacific Union Club, Grace Cathedral, and the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel. 

Alcatraz Night Tour: A trip to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to Alcatraz and a visit to Alcatraz is better during Halloween. This former federal prison housed some of the most notorious criminals in the U.S and before that was a U.S. Military Prison. Many prisoners died on the island and now there are reports of mysterious noises and occurrences. This isn’t technically a ghost tour in San Francisco but heading over at night is the best way to get a thrilling experience. 

Tuolumne Country (www.visittuolumne.com), 2 ½ hours from San Francisco:

Tales of the Roundhouse at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park: Presented by the California State Parks, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (SHP) and the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, this thrilling tour offers its visitors a one-of-a-kind experience by boarding a nighttime steam train ride behind a historic steam locomotive while learning about railroad superstitions and hearing the real life and death tales of past railroad workers and passengers who lost their lives in ghastly accidents, gruesome train wrecks and sometimes by cold-blooded murder. 

Stories in Stone: Held every Saturday and Sunday evenings from September 23 to October 31, this tour allows visitors to learn about Columbia’s historic cemetery by living history docents carrying lanterns were they will visit 10 gravesites. The dead come to life as interpreters tell about their lives, how they died, and how they came to lie in Columbia’s cemetery. 

San Luis Obispo, CA: Located along California’s Central Coast, halfway between Los Angeles and San Franciso: Join the Ghost & True Crime Tour in San Luis Obispo and get to know more about the city’s past. Reaching into the past, 1772 to be exact, visitors will learn some of the not-so-well-known mysteries and long-forgotten tales of SLO’s early residents. Family-friendly tour options offered as well..

Redding, CA: Situated in the shadow of Mt. Shasta just below the Oregon border: The Dreams of Darkness Haunted House is one of the longest haunted attractions in America and the only professional haunted house in Redding. Open Friday and Saturday during October, this 40-minute tour of terror takes visitors on an unguided path from the ghost towns and mines of the Wild West and the bayous and swamps of the Deep South through the home of “The Clown” where the only thing to expect is the unexpected.

Redding is filled with creatures big and small, from butterflies and hummingbirds to coyotes. Join Sharon Clay, guest educator for the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, for Spooky Creatures of the Night at the Shasta Land Trust’s Daniell Beaver Banks Preserve. Under a veil of darkness, illuminated only by stars and the moon, visitors will be escorted on a guided through these creatures’ habitat where bats are aflutter, and owls keep watch on their prey. It’s an opportunity to learn about these species and the ecosystem in which they dwell.

Chattanooga, TN

You’d expect a city founded in 1839 to be filled with spirit – or make that spirits. While Chattanooga is known for producing award-winning whiskey, it’s also filled with other type of spirits from decades past. Embark on a ghost tour this Halloween (or any time of year) as the apparitions in this town rarely seem to rest.

The Read House, in the midst of its 150th anniversary celebration, is an historic and longest continuously operating hotel in the southeast and recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation. Since 1872, it has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to Winston Churchill as well as the infamous Al Capone who stayed in Room 311. But this room isn’t as well known for the gangster’s visit as it is for a what happened beyond its threshold in 1927. Annalisa Netherly was nearly beheaded in the suite’s bathtub in 1927 after her husband allegedly caught her with another man. Throughout the years a number of guests and staff have reported paranormal activity, from unexplained noises and flickering lights to running water and shadowy figures. Furniture is moved without explanation and people who stay in the room (or tour it) have reported being scratched and touched while being alone in the room. While all the other rooms have been updated to 21st century standards, Room 311 looks as it did when Annalisa “checked out” nearly 100 years ago. The room is available to modern-day guests starting at $666 a night. Free tours are available. 

The Painted Lady Tattoo Parlor is on the site of the very first Coca Cola bottling plant (before operations were moved to Atlanta). It is believed that a nine-year-old girl haunts the space. Down the street at what is now the Tomorrow Building was a brothel. The Coca Cola executives lived in the apartments above the bottling plant. It’s believed that the little girl witnessed her mother’s murder and voices are heard saying “Mommy was squeezed on the neck by a man using his arm.” Aside from hearing a little girl’s voice, things often go flying across the room. Glass and mirrors are often shattered, too.

Ruby Falls, which offers underground tours to a spectacular waterfall, offers lantern tours coupled with ghost stories during October. As guests make their way to the waterfall past magnificent rock formations 250 feet below the earth’s surface, tales of peculiar encounters, mischievous mayhem and tragedy are told by expert guides.

The historic Chattanooga Choo Choo depot is reportedly haunted. You can also stay in its train cars, which have been turned into a hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other places reportedly haunted in Chattanooga include the Chattanooga Choo Choo (former train depot) and the Hunter Museum (the home of the Coca Cola founder). Chattanooga Ghost Tours offers a number of guided outings to many of these haunted places as well as century-old cemeteries. For more information, visit the Chattanooga Tourism Co. at visitchattanooga.com.

Loudoun County, VA

Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience: Following a massively successful UK run, Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience will make its US debut this year, beginning in Washington DC’s metropolitan area. The breathtaking light trail will be open from October 2022 for Harry Potter fans of all ages to enjoy on the estate of Morven Park in Leesburg. Inspired by the iconic Forbidden Forest and featuring creatures from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series, mesmerizing lights will transform the landscape into a magical outdoor trail. Visitors will encounter mystical creatures such as Hippogriffs, centaurs, unicorns, and Nifflers, and practice casting their very own spells. Visitors will also find a themed village at the end of the trail where they can enjoy delicious food and drink, as well as a gift shop with merchandise from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts movies.

End your spooky day at Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, that co-owner Bonnie Archer calls “pleasantly” haunted with over 35 confirmed spirits. The most frequent spirit is Mattie Nixon, who comes out when people who are about to get married visit the property. That happens because Mattie didn’t have a good experience with her marriage to Dr. William Casilear, a British veterinarian who murdered his farmer for letting the cows out.

Louisville, KY

Louisville’s Jack O’lantern Spectacular (Oct 4-31, 2022) has become the must-see event of the spooky season and will return for the tenth consecutive year to South Louisville’s Iroquois Park. With over 5,000 carved pumpkins illuminated as a night-time art show, this family-friendly celebration of fall is the perfect ending to a day of exploration. 

Other events include Pumpkins at Kentucky Kingdom (weekends in October), new for 2022, where visitors will discover more than 1,000 illuminated pumpkins at Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, including towering pumpkin sculptures (some more than 12 feet high) expertly carved that light up the night with special effects and pops of color, and Boo at the Zoo (Oct. 1-2; 6-9; 13-16; 20-23; 27-30), a Louisville tradition for over 40 years, that transforms the Zoo into a living storybook, complete with favorite characters brought to life, fun music, and a safe place for trick-or-treating for kids 11 and under.

For those looking for the spookiest experience ever, Louisville offers a bunch of haunted tours, such as Louisville Ghost Tours (nightly through November) in of the most haunted neighborhoods in America, Old Louisville,the Tour of Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a defunct Tuberculosis hospital said to have seen nearly 50,000 deaths and named one of the Most Haunted Destinations in the U.S., and the tour of Hillcrest Avenue (nightly in October), fondly known as Louisville’s “Halloween Street,” where locals on Hillcrest avenue go above and beyond with their annual Halloween decorations.

During your time in Louisville, consider staying at The Seelbach Hilton Hotel, Louisville’s oldest operating hotel, opened in 1905. The most common ghost sighting at the Seelbach is that of the “Lady in Blue.” It’s rumored that in the late 1930s, a woman plunged to her death in an elevator shaft after learning that her husband was killed on his way to the hotel. She was said to be wearing a long blue chiffon dress and had long, dark hair. More recent investigation seems to think that maybe the Lady in Blue didn’t jump down the elevator shaft, but was actually pushed, and haunts the hotel to this day to try and get the story straight.

BELIZE | www.travelbelize.org   

Chaa Creek’s “Creatures of the Night”: Everything gets a little more interesting at night, especially during Halloween. This includes adding thrill to your usual hiking experience and going for a night tour with Chaa Creek’s “Creatures of the Night” package –allowing you to explore the dark side of Belize’s jungles. Belize’s rainforest is known to be home to a wide array of creepy crawlies and night critters that will surely get you goosebumps! Join a tour with Chaa Creek’s guides as you learn and get to see Belize’s finest ocelots, howler monkeys, tarantulas, patoos, jaguarundis and many more intriguing rainforest residents. 

Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) CaveThis archaeological site is home to numerous skeletons –some of which belong to sacrificed children, whose bones are completely calcified in the cave. One of the cave’s most notable features is the skeleton of a teenage girl, also known as Tthe Crystal Maiden”, whose bones have been calcified into a crystallized appearance. If adventure and spooky history are your things, this cave exploration is definitely something that will call your attention.  

Belize Great Blue HoleWe all have different fears –one of which includes being easily spooked by what lies beneath the deep dark oceans. Lucky for you, Belize has the Great Blue Hole –probably the most beautiful yet spine-chilling spot to explore the Caribbean underwater, which is home to some interesting sea creatures and aquatic mysteries that are yet to be uncovered. Spice up your Halloween and discover a new fear, whether it be on land or underwater, Belize has every spooky adventure prepared for you! 

BARBADOS (www.visitbarbados.org)  

Christ Church Cemetery and Chase Crypt: If you’re looking for a thrilling story hidden beneath the beauty of the Caribbean, you’ve probably heard of Christ Church Cemetery and the eerie Chase Vault located in the southern parish of Christ Church. The Chase folklore began in 1812 when they found the coffins of the family members have been moved from their original locations and were scattered in the small crypt as they were opening the vault for the interment of the landowner Colonel Thomas Chase. To this day, the mystery still lives and onlookers hope that the family is now put to rest after years of thrilling stories about the vault. 

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New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks Return June 14-17

June 8, 2022
Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts the New York Philharmonic in Central Park. The beloved concert series, presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, returns after a two-year COVID-hiatus, for four free concerts in the parks plus one in Staten Island, June 14-17 and June 19, 2022 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 2022 New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks, Presented by Didi and Oscar Schafer, will take place June 14–17, 2022, marking the return of the beloved series following two years of cancellations due to the pandemic. Music Director Jaap van Zweden conducts four free outdoor concerts, which take place at Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx (June 14); the Great Lawn in Central Park, Manhattan (June 15); Cunningham Park, Queens (June 16); and Prospect Park, Brooklyn (June 17). All four outdoor performances will begin at 8:00 p.m. and conclude with fireworks.

The program will include Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with Bomsori Kim as soloist, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7, and works by New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers: 14- year-old Naama Rolnick’s Keep Walking, and 17-year-old Alexander Rothschild Douaihy’s A Human Rhapsody.

In addition, Musicians from the New York Philharmonic will perform a Free Indoor Concert, on Sunday, June 19, 2022, at 4:00 p.m., at St. George Theatre in Staten Island. Program to be announced. Tickets are free but required and will be available at a later date.

“Like so many New Yorkers, Didi and I missed tremendously the Concerts in the Parks these past two summers,” said Philharmonic Chairman Emeritus Oscar S. Schafer. “We love the parks, and we love this orchestra, so we’ve been eagerly awaiting their return. We look forward to seeing people come together in these beautiful parks across the boroughs to enjoy magnificent music performed by this virtuosic orchestra. It will truly mean that New York City is back!”

“What a joy to be returning to the Parks of New York after two years of not being able to perform for the Parks’ audiences,” said Music Director Jaap van Zweden. “Music speaks to our hearts better than any language, and the New York Philharmonic players and I cannot wait to reconnect with the thousands and thousands of people throughout the Boroughs of New York who come to the Parks to hear us.”

“We are so excited to welcome back the New York Philharmonic for the iconic Concerts in the Parks series!” said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. “This series brings together people from all backgrounds to enjoy world class music for free, in some of our most picturesque parks — this is summer in New York at its best!”

The New York Philharmonic’s free parks concerts have become an iconic New York summer experience since they began in 1965, transforming parks throughout the New York area into a patchwork of picnickers, and providing music lovers with an opportunity to hear classical music under the stars. More than 15 million listeners have been delighted by the performances since their inception. All programs are subject to change.

Jones Beach Magic of Lights Show on Long Island is One of Dozens of Holiday-Themed Events Across NYS

December 1, 2021
Magic of Lights Show at Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, is one of dozens of seasonal events and programs at New York state parks and historic sites.

New York State is inviting visitors from near and far to celebrate the holidays at dozens of seasonal events and programs at State Parks and Historic Sites across the state through the end of the year, starting with the annual Jones Beach Magic of Lights show underway through Jan. 2, 2022, on Long Island.

The Magic of Lights Show at Jones Beach State Park is a drive-through placed along 2.5 miles of park roadway, lit with the latest LED technology, including a 200-foot light tunnel, 40 different lighted holiday scenes, and LED decorated holiday trees. Hours are dusk to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and dusk to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.  

More details are available here. Ticket proceeds support charitable causes, with last year’s show raising more than $150,000 for local organizations, in addition to collecting non-perishable food items, toys, books, coats and more. 

Highlights of other holiday-themed events include a Gilded Age Christmas celebration at the decorated Staatsburgh State Historic Site in the Hudson Valley, a Black Friday hike through a rare Lake Erie sand dune environment at Woodlawn Beach State Park, a post-Thanksgiving “Turkey Trot” run at Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn, a visit by Santa Claus at the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, and the 47th annual Christmas Bird Count at Letchworth State Park in western New York.  

For those wishing to head outside instead of a crowded shopping center, take a hike. Visit the State Parks website for a trail near you.  

For a complete listing of holiday events, please visit the NYS Parks calendar of events here. The list will be updated as further events are added. Some events may require pre-registration or an admission fee. 

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 individual parks, historic sites, recreational trails, and boat launches, which were visited by a record 78 million people in 2020. A recent university study found that spending by State Parks and its visitors supports $5 billion in output and sales, 54,000 private-sector jobs and more than $2.8 billion in additional state GDP. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit www.parks.ny.gov, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. Also, connect with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

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Greater Williamsburg, Virginia is Aglow With Holiday Experiences

November 16, 2021
From dazzling light events to festive concerts to seasonal celebrations of colonial history, Kingsmill Resort and Greater Williamsburg come alive during the holidays with the spirit of the season.

KINGSMILL RESORT, WILLIAMSBURG, VA, — From dazzling light events to festive concerts to seasonal celebrations of colonial history, Kingsmill Resort and Greater Williamsburg come alive during the holidays with the spirit of the season. The area is packed with special events. Here are holiday highlights:

So much festivity, so little time

Williamsburg’s only AAA Four Diamond Condominium Golf Resort, Kingsmill Resort, is offering guests a winter wonderland of activities during the month of December including Christmas eve and Christmas day horse and carriage rides, holiday mixology classes, breakfast and photos with Santa, glow golf, ugly sweater supper, gingerbread making competition, Christmas cookie decorating, wreath making, petting zoo, magic show, scavenger hunts, letters to Santa and lots more! The Christmas Tree lighting takes place December 1 at 6 p.m.

Have a Blast at Busch Gardens Christmas Town

Be wowed by one of the largest Christmas light displays in North America with more than 8 million twinkling lights when Busch Gardens Christmas Town returns for select dates Nov. 12-Jan. 2. Pay a visit to Randolph and Santa, watch a holiday show, and enjoy festive food and drink to help you get into the spirit of the season.

Have a Christmas-Themed Walk

Need to walk into the Christmas season? Williamsburg Walking Tours offers its Christmas Past and Present Walking Tour Dec. 1-31. Stroll through the colonial streets of the historic area and learn how early Americans celebrated Christmas. Discover the sources of modern-day celebrations in Williamsburg and how a Christmas decoration sparked a battle on Duke of Gloucester Street between a rooster and a Dalmatian.

Enjoy a guided look at Colonial Williamsburg’s historic building exteriors and streets decked out in holiday splendor during the Dec. 1 Christmas Decorations Walking Tour. Learn about the materials and construction techniques of these traditional holiday decorations. 

Revel in the Yorktown Christmas Tree Lighting

Delight at the Yorktown Christmas Tree Lighting on Dec. 3, a tradition that began in 1945. The tree is a 20-foot artificial commercial Giant Everest Fir placed in Riverwalk Landing. Tap along to a performance by the Fifes and Drums of Yorktown at the Victory Monument, listen to festive music at Riverwalk Landing, follow the procession of lights through the historic village, and welcome the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Thrill to the Grand Illumination

Grab a blanket and pack a picnic basket or just a thermos, and head to Colonial Williamsburg for the Grand Illumination, the finest fireworks in Williamsburg. Special events take place over three weekends, Dec. 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19. On Friday evenings, join the new Procession of the Yule Log and enjoy holiday songs and stories on Market Square. Saturday evenings will include a dramatic presentation of an original holiday story, yuletide music, and a joyful appearance by Father Christmas, culminating in simultaneous Grand Illumination fireworks over the Governor’s Palace and Capitol building.

Enjoy Holiday Music

A seasonal tradition for the entire family, The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra presents its annual Holiday Pops Concert during the first Grand Illumination weekend, Dec. 4-5. Share in joyful holiday classics and beloved carols with family and friends at the Kimball Theatre.

Watch Lights Dancing on the River

Join in the 25th annual Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade on Dec. 4 at the Yorktown Waterfront. Start by caroling around the beach bonfire, listening to the Fifes & Drums of York Town, and sipping complimentary hot cider before the decorated motorboats, sailboats, and Chesapeake workboats begin their lighted parade on the York River as they compete for best in show.

March in a Parade

Bundle up to join the Williamsburg Christmas Parade on Dec. 4. For the first time, the parade, which kicks off the holiday season with themed floats, live performances, and of course Santa himself, will be held at night.

Munch Cookies with Santa

Bring the whole family to the Gallery at York Hall on Dec. 5 for Cookies with Santa — a complimentary event to make the season bright. After enjoying the refreshments, find unique Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers among the work of hundreds of local artists, including ornaments, paintings, quilts, pottery, and many other one-of-a-kind pieces.

Shop for Christmas Gifts

Looking for the perfect gift for a friend or family member? You’re sure to find it at the Christmas Market on Main Street, Dec. 4 and 5. This is one of the most anticipated Yorktown events every holiday season. Close to 100 vendors line the street selling everything from nautical paintings to handmade soaps to Christmas ornaments and wreaths. On Saturday, enjoy a performance from the Fifes and Drums of York Town, after which Santa Claus himself will greet families. Expect strolling musical entertainment throughout the day and an ice carver set up in front of York Hall on Sunday.

More Yorktown shopping opportunities await at Mistletoe Market on Dec. 11. Browse for chowders and soups; baked goods; jams, jellies, and honey; holiday wreaths; candles and soaps; and local seasonal art. March in the annual Toyland Parade and hop aboard the Riverwalk Landing Polar Express for a loop around the festivities. Marvel at a fascinating live demonstration by a professional ice carver set up in front of the Riverwalk Landing fountain.

Sing Carols of Yesteryear

Ring in the holidays on Dec. 16 with musicians Brian Forsman and Bill Weldon as they trace the roots of seasonal tunes and popular carols to the music that our ancestors sang and danced to in colonial times. During Now Christmas Comes!, sing along with carols from Christmases past before the lighting of the Community Christmas Tree on Market Square. 

Watch the Colonial Williamsburg Christmas Tree Lighting

Gather in Colonial Williamsburg on Dec. 16 for the annual Community Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Listen to a special reading of The Night Before Christmas in front of the Courthouse steps and learn about the first Christmas tree in the United States. Sing along to classic Christmas carols and watch as the 40-foot spruce tree on Market Square is illuminated with 7,500 twinkling lights. 

Live an Authentic Colonial Christmas

Christmastide in Virginia returns Dec. 18-31 at Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, offering a glimpse of 17th- and 18th-century holiday traditions through interpretative programs and demonstrations and period musical entertainment. At Jamestown Settlement, special programs will compare English Christmas customs of the time with how they were observed in the difficult early years of the first permanent English settlement. At the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, learn about winter camp life and hear accounts of Christmas during the war. Observe open-hearth cooking and watch as period dishes are made in the farm kitchen. Interpreters will also demonstrate a variety of holiday activities, including setting a farmhouse table for a holiday feast and decorating with greenery.

Immerse Yourself in Christmas Stories

Gather the entire family together for 12 Days and Night Before Christmas on Dec. 24 at the Hennage Auditorium in Colonial Williamsburg. Watch two classic Christmas stories come to life.

Participate in a 19th-Century Christmas

Spend an hour with the Colonial Singers for a re-creation of a 19th-Century Williamsburg Christmas in the “living room” of the famous Tucker family home in the Hennage Auditorium in Colonial Williamsburg on Dec. 26. Clad in beautiful 19th-century costumes, they share stories and songs centered around the Civil War, the college town of Williamsburg, circa 1850, and tales of Charles Dickens. Enjoy decorating the Tucker family Christmas tree.

Re-Live Four Centuries of Virginia Christmases

Enjoy early hymns, English songs of roast beef and revelry, Irish and Scots dance tunes, poetry, prose, and stories galore during Four Centuries of Virginia Christmases at the Hennage Auditorium in Colonial Williamsburg on Dec. 28. Sing, clap, toe-tap, and share the fun of beloved holiday traditions as veteran Williamsburg musicians Kelly Kennedy, David Gardner, Cliff Williams, and Doug Austin celebrate Christmases past in the Old Dominion. 

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Palm Beach Zoo’s Holiday Spectacular Returns Starting Nov 19; Tickets Now on Sale

November 5, 2021
While the animals slumber, Palm Beach Zoo is illuminated for the holidays with over one million eco-friendly lights, with the return of the “Zoo Lights“ festival taking place Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 19-Jan. 2, 2022.

WEST PALM BEACH – While the animals slumber, Palm Beach Zoo is illuminated for the holidays with over one million eco-friendly lights, with the return of the “Zoo Lights“ festival taking place Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 19-Jan. 2, 2022.

Each evening of Zoo Lights, the Zoo reopens from 6-9 pm, aglow with themed displays throughout its 23 acres. The festive holiday fun also features photos with Santa (until Dec. 23rd), a DJ holiday dance party, and seasonal treats.

Advanced ticket purchase is recommended, and Zoo Lights attendees can select from two specific times for entry; 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Tickets are limited each evening to allow for plenty of room to move about the Zoo.

Tickets for the event are available at http://www.palmbeachzoo.org/zoolights. Palm Beach Zoo Annual Members receive special pricing. Ride sharing is encouraged.

Palm Beach Zoo, 1301 Summit Boulevard, West Palm Beach, Florida 33405-3035, 561-547-9453 (WILD) www.palmbeachzoo.org.

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Winter Village With Free Skating, Holiday Market Returns to NYC’s Bryant Park

November 4, 2021
NYC’s celebrated Bank of America winter Village at Bryant Park, featuring the city’s only free-admission skating rink, holiday market and delicious food offerings, has returned for its 20th season,Friday, October 29, 2021 – Sunday, March 6, 2022 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NYC’s celebrated Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, featuring the city’s only free-admission skating rink, holiday market and delicious food offerings, has returned for its 20th season, Friday, October 29, 2021 – Sunday, March 6, 2022.  While still proceeding with an abundance of caution for the safety of its guests, Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park is thrilled to be welcoming back its most popular attractions this winter season:

  • The Rink: the only free-admission ice skating rink in NYC is open daily. The Rink is completely outdoors, and skate time and rentals can be reserved in advance online. New skate reservation dates will be released on a rolling basis throughout the season. Masks are encouraged, and Bryant Park is continuing to implement additional cleaning protocols throughout the day to ensure high-touch surfaces and shared rental equipment are sanitized and safe for use.
  • Holiday Shops: the open-air holiday market are open daily through January 2, 2022, and features more than 170 new and returning merchants. 
  • Small Business Spotlight presented by Bank of America: fourNew York City minority-owned small businesses with annual revenue of $1 million or less will have the chance to showcase their products in a rent-free booth, made possible by Bank of America, as part of this season’s Holiday Shops. 

Last year’s featured small businesses were sustainable candle and soap company TREE*STAR, Brooklyn-based bakeshop Annie Mae’s Bakery, custom-designed hat shop Harlem’s Heaven Hats, and Tibet Tree of Life, a business selling incense, shawls, and other products made in the Himalayan region.

The Lodge by Prime Video: a covered, outdoor après skate escape is where visitors can cozy up with a festive cocktail, enjoy delicious food, watch the ice skaters or admire the tree.

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Vermont’s Woodstock Inn & Resort Transforms into a Magical Holiday Destination

November 4, 2021
The Woodstock Inn & Resort in the quintessential Vermont town transforms into a magical destination for the winter holidays.

WOODSTOCK, VT– As the town of Woodstock, VT, prepares for its annual Wassail Weekend celebrations, the Woodstock Inn & Resort joins the festivities by decking its halls with handmade decorations, including a life-sized gingerbread house, while offering luxuriously cozy nooks for its guests.

The tradition of Wassail Weekend, taking place from December 10-12, features an Equestrian Parade showcasing holiday costumes and period dress from the early 19th century, decorated historic homes, and streets full of twinkling lights amid the distinctive shops.  The resort’s annual Wassail Dinner on Saturday, December 11, is available for guests of the Inn, which includes an a la carte menu as well as a three-course meal of holiday favorites and traditional desserts.

Throughout the winter holidays, the Inn is transformed by the Master Gardener, Benjamin Pauly, who harvests natural materials to handcraft traditional décor. This year’s decorations include 25 wreaths, 13 grapevine trees, a live tree in the lobby with dried flowers from the on-site Kelly Way Gardens, five Charlie Brown-style Christmas trees, 1,000-plus garlands, 1,000-plus white lights, homemade ornaments, and more. A life-size gingerbread house and winter vignette will be constructed in the Inn’s lobby, continuing the resort’s Christmas tradition. The house will stand six feet tall for kids to explore.

The resort’s 10,000 square-foot LEED-designed Spa offers nature-inspired ambiance that features nourishing, seasonal treatments and organic products. This winter, guests can enjoy the Signature Experience, a customizable 100-minute body treatment that utilizes an infrared sauna blanket made of 96 smooth Jade and Tourmaline stones, and includes a full-body exfoliation, as well as a scalp, foot, and body massage.

The nearby Billings Farm & Museum celebrates Wassail Weekend from December 10-12 with cider donuts, Wassail Punch, a gingerbread recreation of the historic 1890 Farm Manager’s House, horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides on Sunday, and holiday stories. Travelers can warm up by an outdoor fire and take photos in front of Christmas trees in the decorated barn.

From December 4-5 and December 18 – January 2 (closed Christmas Day), visitors to the farm can try candle dipping, make s’mores, and go snowshoeing. Guests can enjoy daily horse drawn wagon or sleigh rides from December 27-January 2. Wassail and holiday horse-drawn rides and snowshoeing are available weather permitting.

Outdoor activities at the Woodstock Inn include downhill skiing at the resort’s historic Suicide Six Ski Area along with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing from the Nordic Center. The family-favorite retro Game Room is draped in Vermont flannel and fully equipped with a giant Scrabble board, foosball table, vintage pinball machines, board games, and more.

Guests of the Woodstock Inn & Resort will find cozy dining at the Red Rooster, the award-winning fine dining restaurant, which emphasizes fresh, local ingredients sourced from the best purveyors in New England. The woodburning fireplace in the lobby is a legendary spot to unwind with a drink or book, while the library nearby offers a place for quiet relaxation. 

Travelers can ring in the holiday season by booking the resort’s Pre-Holiday Bed & Breakfast Package, which includes:

  • One night of luxury accommodations
  • Vermont gourmet breakfast for two
  • Available Sunday, October 31 through Thursday, December 23, 2021
  • Rates starting at $302 per night on weekdays and $446 per night on weekends

Located in idyllic Woodstock, Vermont, the Woodstock Inn & Resort defines country sophistication in one of New England’s most charming and popular year-round vacation destinations.  The 142-room, AAA Four Diamond Resort and a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts LVX Collection, offers award-winning dining in two restaurants, ranked among the finest in New England.  The Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs.

For more information about the resort visit www.woodstockinn.com

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Iconic New Orleans Music Venues Unite for Historic ‘NOLAxNOLA’ Live Events Series OCT 7 – 17

October 5, 2021
Maison is one of the venues participating in an unprecedented coalition of New Orleans’ iconic nightclubs and music venues, in partnership with New Orleans & Company, to create NOLAxNOLA, a branded series of live music events throughout the city during the dates of the city’s lost New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, October 7-17, 2021 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NEW ORLEANS – An unprecedented coalition of New Orleans’ iconic nightclubs and music venues, in partnership with New Orleans & Company, have proactively combined to create NOLAxNOLA, a branded series of live music events throughout the city during the dates of our lost New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, October 7-17, 2021. The goal of NOLAxNOLA is to keep New Orleans’ music venues, musicians and culture bearers strong and supported during this difficult time, while following all safety guidelines. 

NOLAxNOLA strives to illustrate that we can create a national model of promoting and supporting live music in a safe way that calls for proof of COVID vaccine or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours for entrance into the venue. We are asking locals and visitors to join our musicians and employees in getting vaccinated and continuing our way of life. We want locals to have safe venues to attend shows and we will promote to travelers that they keep their travel plans, while following all vaccination and safety guidelines, because the shows must go on. 

NOLAxNOLA will feature over 170 events across over 20 music venues in 10 days. More shows are being added by the day. 

NOLAxNOLA Music Venues: 
– Buffa’s Bar 
– Café Istanbul 
– Café Negril 
– Carnaval Lounge 
– Civic Theatre 
– d.b.a. 
– Gasa Gasa 
– Hi-Ho Lounge 
– Howlin’ Wolf 
– Joy Theater 
– Mid City Lanes Rock ‘n’ Bowl 
– NOLA Brewing Company 
– Preservation Hall 
– Republic NOLA 
– Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro 
– The Broadside 
– The Maison 
– The Metropolitan 
– The Starlight 
– Three Keys 
– Tipitina’s 
– Voodoo Two Lounge 
– Zony Mash Beer Project 

NOLAxNOLA Supporters: 
– 7S Management 
– BackBeat / Hypersoul 
– Fandiem 
– Fox Pocket 
– Hotel St. Vincent 
– MaCCNO 
– New Orleans & Company 
– Red Light Management 
– Sigfest Events 
– Them People Productions 
– WWOZ 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on New Orleans’ critical cultural economy for locals and visitors, despite months of optimism and a resurgence of leisure travelers earlier this year. Spring 2021 festivals rescheduled for the fall such as French Quarter Fest and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival have been cancelled due to the delta surge, as well as Buku Planet B, Beignet Fest, Fried Chicken Fest and Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. 

NOLAxNOLA, designed to safely and immediately support clubs, musicians and culture bearers in a time of financial peril, could become an annual tradition, created in 2021, but lasting and growing for many years beyond. 

New Orleans maintains the highest vaccination rate of any Louisiana parish with nearly 80 percent of eligible adults receiving at least their first vaccine. New Orleans & Company has been a strong advocate for COVID vaccines for the safety of all residents, employees and guests of the city. 

Sig Greenebaum, Co-Founder of NOLAxNOLA and President of Sigfest Events said, “New Orleans festival seasons mean so much to the city. It is essential that we all band together to support the city and our vibrant artistic community in our time of need. Shows will go on and we will turn this challenging moment into a historic celebration!” 

“We want to send a clear message to all travelers, regionals and locals who previously had planned to attend New Orleans music festivals or club concerts this fall: Visitors, please keep your travel plans and get vaccinated, locals…. get vaccinated and retain and buy other tickets to safe music venues this fall. Our live music shows and performances must survive, must go on and flourish,” said Stephen Perry, President and CEO of New Orleans & Company, the official destination sales and marketing organization for New Orleans’ tourism industry. “New Orleanians and our critical visitor economy deserve a rich array of music, delivered in wonderful safe club environments, instead of mass-attended festival events right now. Our music clubs are the lifeblood of the most authentic live music scene in America, and they and our musicians are in peril. This unprecedented coalition of venues, artists and New Orleans & Company has come together to plant a flag in the ground, book scores of concerts throughout venues and neighborhoods all over the city and drive the message that the music continues, and does so

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit neworleans.com/nolaxnola.

See also:

New Orleans: ‘It’s Not All About The Jazz,’ Guest at Destination Wedding in NOLA Discovers

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