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Small Town Traditions in New England >>>

10 Small Town Traditions That Make Living in New England Truly Special

Small town traditions in New England: Sitting on an old-fashioned front porch in New England
Front porch life at the Vermont Country Store in Weston, Vt.

Article, photos by Eric Hurwitz -- created for
on 11/7/2022. @newenglandinfo

Everyone seeks a sense of community and a feeling of belonging. What better way to experience those joys on a daily basis than by enjoying small town traditions in New England?

While our society might have reached the point of no return with incivility and moral degradation, living in or visiting small towns in New England can often remind us of the simple things in life that matter most. People coming together as a close-kit community, faith, family and a few traditional destinations along the way can do wonders for the soul. While the good old days weren't always good -- far from it -- somehow we have lost our way in slowing down, enjoying the moment and counting our blessings.

New England living, a day trip or a vacation can bring us back to another place and time with timeless joys. Here are just a few to make one feel good about living in the 21st century...

Gathering at the Town Green in New England

Community event at a town green in Massachusetts.
Uncommon Art on the Common, Walpole Town Common, Walpole, Mass.

Many small New England towns still prominently feature town greens (also known as town commons). These greens often date back to Colonial times where they served as the physical and spiritual centers for these early towns. Today, many town greens continue to be the center of town events, fairs, and other gatherings. That could mean, for starters, a Christmas tree lighting event, a fall harvest fair, winter festival, a summer concert -- or, just a simple thing like an idyllic place to have lunch or read a book at your own pace.

relaxing at the Town Green in Guilford, Connecticut.
Classic New England tradition: Enjoying the Town Green in Guilford, Conn.

All six New England states still feature town greens with Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont leading the way with these charming, quaint parcels of land that not only bring people downtown but bring them together. It is so heartwarming to experience these community gatherings, no matter what time of the year.

Shopping at an Old Fashioned Country Store in New England

New England living: The special feeling of being in a country store.
Brown & Hopkins Country Store, Chepachet, R.I.

If you've had your fill of faceless big box stores and cookie cutter shopping centers, then an old fashioned New England country store could restore your shopping soul. After hundreds of years in business, many of these rustic places to shop are still thriving.

There's something so magical about shopping in these classic, nostalgic places that date back to the colonial days. Perhaps it is the penny candy, maple syrup, jams and jellies, homemade fudge, local cheeses, the peanut butter-making machine and the old-fashioned pickle barrel. Then again, it could be the aromas of candles and soaps. Maybe it is the mix of clothing, hardware items, toys, gifts and puzzles, as well as the hard-to-find merchandise that we thought was gone forever. I suspect, though, that the greatest thing about a New England country store is its folksy, New England character, characters and customer service. Once stepping into a traditional New England country store, you know you are in New England.

Going to Church on a Sunday Morning in New England

Going to church on Sunday in New England.
United Church of Christ, Keene, N.H.

The historic church with the tall white steeple has been a mainstay, often in the downtown areas of small New England towns. Once often part of a town common, these churches were moved or rebuilt when the separation of church and state occurred in the 1830s. Although church attendance is sadly down, it's not uncommon to see community in numbers walk or drive to church on a Sunday morning. For many, it is a way to continuously connect to a higher ground, pray for a better world and keep the faith with like-minded people who are believers, seek that sense of belonging and work together as a community to help each other overcome personal and societal issues.

Plus, that Sunday morning at church can be preceded or followed by some bacon, eggs and coffee at the local diner!

Summer at the Ocean Beaches in New England

Enjoying a beach day in New England.
Short Sands Beach, York Beach, Maine.

When in New England, do as the locals do. Since so much of New England is located by the coast, going to an ocean beach is an essential summer tradition.

Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island features many publicly-accessible ocean beaches. There's nothing like setting up a towel or chair on the sand and taking in the salt sea air, ocean waves and, if deemed safe by the lifeguards on a given day, enjoying a dip in the water.

Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island offer the most ocean beaches with Cape Cod taking first place for many choices in one region!

My favorite beach destination in New England, though, has to be York Beach, Maine. Here's why.

Leaf Peeping and Other Autumn Traditions in New England

Autumn vibes in Wolfeboro, N.H.
Foliage at Cate Park, Wolfeboro, N.H.

The window is short for brilliant fall colors in small town New England (and everywhere else, for that matter) with peak foliage occurring in October. It starts north and then works it way down south and is all good, no matter what part of New England! When combining fall leaf peeping with other seasonal delights -- like apple picking (see the next section), drives through the mountains, fall festivals in quaint towns, comforting nights by the fire pit, and brisk walks and hikes with that unmistakable chill in the air  -- the autumn vibes prove overwhelmingly satisfying to the soul. Thank you, New England, we love all these traditions!

Apple Picking in New England

The fun of going apple picking in New England.
Family at Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Mass.

September and part of October in small town New England bring apple picking in New England. It's such a great feeling getting outside in a rural place with, often, a refreshing chill in the air and the chance to walk or perhaps take a horse-drawn wagon to an apple field and fill your bag with apples -- or for finding that perfect pumpkin from a patch. Plus, many of these apple orchards have farm stands where apple cider, apple dumplings, apple cider slush and apple cider donuts can be purchased -- and, oh yes, I almost forgot -- fresh produce, too!

Celebrating Christmas in New England

Celebarting Christmas in New England: a lighthouse dressed in Christmas lights.
Nubble Lighthouse at Christmas, Cape Neddick, Maine.

The Christmas holiday season is where traditional small town New England living really shines. Despite the cold weather, many New Englanders love to celebrate Christmas at tree lighting ceremonies, Santa parades, sleigh rides, caroling, concerts, trolley rides, holiday arts and crafts fairs, hot chocolate bars and more.  Some towns have multi-day Christmas celebrations located by the sea. Imagine seeing a lighted lobster trap Christmas tree and Santa arriving by boat!

Maple Sugaring in New England

New England in March: maple sugaring!
Parker's Maple Barn, Mason, N.H.

We all love maple syrup, right? Savoring this delicious food treat straight from the source in New England, however, is an even sweeter experience. The fresh taste that comes right off the maple trees is a game changer with a far sweeter experience than buying at the local market. While visiting a maple sugar house can stand on its own to fully appreciate and enjoy this New England experience, some places have their own on-the-premises restaurants where maple-based breakfasts, lunches and drinks prove to be irresistibly delicious.

March is a great time to go out into the country and experience great New England traditions like the maple syrup season!

Seafood Shack Dining in New England

Loving New England: seafood shacks!
Petey's, Rye, N.H.

An informal, unpretentious no-frills seafood shack often turns out the best seafood in New England -- not to mention generally better value for the money. Some specialize in fried clams, New England clam chowder, lobster and lobster rolls while others source, locally, a fuller spectrum of seafood dishes. These inviting, comforting type of places -- many with water views -- tend to comee across like huge family gatherings with long tables, loud conversations and celebrating over the blessings of good food. Only this time, it's New England and the fresh, local seafood takes center stage!

No Particular Reason

Motif #1 Red Fish Shack Building during May in Rockport, MA.
Motif #1 Red Fish Shack, Rockport, Mass.

One of the great things about New England is its spontaneous nature. The six-state region can never be fully covered by a travel guide as virtually every twist and turn on the back roads and main streets provide scenic delights.

Idyllic downtown look during autumn in Walpole, MA.
Downtown Walpole, Mass.

Your New England travels don't have to be relegated to vacation towns, either. Proof: Some of the photos you see in this story were taken in Walpole, Mass. -- a pleasing small town 18 miles southwest of Boston. it is not a vacation town by any stretch of the imagination but rather a close-knit residential town that people happily lay their roots. Like many small towns in the six-state region, Walpole has plenty of "New England" pop!

Covered bridge in Dummerston, Vt.
Covered bridge in Dummerston, Vt.

Just know that a treasure of traditional New England surprises await you if fully engaged in the travel process. That means putting the cellphone away and seeing the world around you -- this time, in the form of New Englandd, one of the most beautiful regions in the united States!

5 Essential Places to Stay in New England
Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont | Cliff House Resort and Spa, Cape Neddick, Maine | Omni Mt. Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, N.H. | The Chanler at Cliff Walk, Newport, R.I. | Chatham Bars Inn, Chatham, Massachusetts (Cape Cod)

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Explore Massachusetts travel! Read the Massachusetts Town Greens book -- Discover New England's first travel attractions: town commons.

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