Winter 2010

Families in search of a different holiday outing need look no further than Connecticut's Fairfield County, where three museums have come up with original displays guaranteed to delight.

Lighthouses, Penguins and Meerkats

Start with the Ninth Festival of Lighthouses, a unique contest at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, where visitors are invited to choose the winners by voting for their favorite entry. Two dozen models, three to six feet tall, are competing for prizes for the best hand-crafted working lighthouse, with the first prize garnering a $1000 reward.  Some entrants take on the challenge of building a detailed replica of a real lighthouse, like this year's mini-version of the nearby Sheffield Island Light House. Others take a more off-beat approach, with materials on display ranging from bottle caps to gingerbread. North Pole Lighthouse, Serpent Light and Frighthouse are some of the titles of entries, giving a hint of the fun ahead. The display continues until January 17, when prizes will be awarded.

The Aquarium is also featuring a family-pleasing exhibit of penguins (through January 2) and adorable meerkats (though February, 2012).  For more information, see http://www.maritimeaquarium.org

Nostalgia trips

Smiles are guaranteed, promises the Stamford Museum and Nature Center where the annual holiday exhibit Dolls, Toys and Teddy Bears through January 9, pays homage to the toys enjoyed by parents and grandparents.  The exhibit features favorite toys dating from the late 1800s through the 1950s, including many treasures from private collections. Dolls, accessories, toy cars, teddy bears, and tin toys are part of the display, along with a special section featuring soft toys inspired by much loved storybook characters.  Several of the Museum's pedal cars also will be featured, together with automobile toys from the 1930s and 1940s.  Parents will enjoy this nostalgia trip as much as the kids.  Learn more at http://www.stamfordmuseum.org.

The Bruce Museum in neighboring Greenwich has its own enchanting exhibit this season. A Child's View: 19th-Century Paper Theater featuring 35 small tabletop theaters from a private collection.  Before children had access to mass-produced toys, tabletop theaters built of printed paper mounted on cardboard and placed on a wooden frame were a popular home entertainment.  Mirroring the grandeur of the great stages of London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen and other world capitals, these colorfully designed paper backdrops were an outlet for the imagination of budding young actors and storytellers. They may well inspire youngsters today.  A Paper Theater Family Day on Sunday, December 12 will feature performances at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. by Joe Gladwin and his Paperplays Puppet Theater.  Children grades one to three can learn to make their own theaters at Paper Theaters School Vacation Workshops December 28 through 30 a 10:30 a.m.. For more information, see www.brucemuseum.org or phone 203-869-6786.

For more information about these and other holiday events and a free copy of the Fairfield County Getaway Guide, contact the Western Connecticut Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759,  (860) 567-4506, http://www.visitwesternct.com.