Winter 2011

There are many holiday displays this time of year, but few to rival the 10th annual Lighthouse Contest at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk in Connecticut. It is one of several unique treats awaiting visitors to Fairfield County, including a lavish moving Trainscape exhibit built with Lego blocks.

Luminous Lighthouses

Two dozen fantastic handcrafted lighthouses, entries three to six feet tall and with working lights, will be found throughout the Norwalk Aquarium galleries from November 12 through January 16, 2012. Many entries will be crafted from unexpected materials. Along with wood, metal, stone and papier-mache, creations in past years have ranged from paper and string to candy and paper clips. The winner of the $1500 first prize will be chosen by visitors, who vote for their favorite creations. Cash awards are also given to the next five favorites.

The galleries also are filled with unique family-pleasing exhibits from adorable meerkats to Africa: From the Desert to Sea, featuring amazing fish, turtles and snakes from the Nile River, Red Sea, and lakes of Africa's Great Rift Valley. For more information, see www.maritimeaquarium.org

Amazing Legos

All Aboard with Bill Probert and Friends II brings back the creator of a 2008 Lego display that was the best-attended exhibition ever at the Stamford Museum. Probert, a train and Lego lover, puts together his two passions to create an amazing 365-square-foot Trainscape that will fill the Museum's entire Leonhardt gallery. The scene includes several moving trains and a constantly evolving whimsical town, all created with Lego blocks. The exhibit runs November 12 to January 2. See www.stamfordmuseum.org for details.

Creative Crafts

Original talent also will be on display at the Silvermine Arts Center in Norwalk, where the juried exhibition Craft USA 2011 from November 13 to December 23 will showcase original works of art made by hand by over 400 artists from throughout the U.S. The triennial competition draws over 1000 entries, in a mix of mediums including ceramics, fiber, glass, jewelry, metal, paper, wood and basketry.

The Arts Center is also an excellent place to find original gifts. It is home to the Silvermine Guild of Artists, founded in 1922, a community of over 300 professional artists working in all visual art media. The Gift Shop offers a variety of beautiful handcrafted items specially designed and made by guild Artists and artists from across the U.S. Jewelry, ceramics, sculptures, paintings, prints and photographs are among the offerings. See www.silvermineart.org for details.

Original Gifts

More original gift ideas will be found at several arts centers. The 17th Annual Holiday Gift Show at the Rowayton Arts Center will show the work of 30 talented local crafters from November 19th December 22nd. The choices including cards, sweaters and other hand knits, ornaments, jewelry, pottery, and paintings. www.Rowaytownartscenter.org

To prove that big gifts can come is small packages, "Smallwork" at The Carriage Barn Arts Center in New Canaan November 20 to December 30 will offer paintings and art works in several media, none measuring larger than 20 inches, including the frame. www. carriagebarn.org

Holiday House Tour

For inspiration on displaying new gifts as well as ideas for holiday decorations, the popular annual Antiquarius Holiday House Tour to benefit the Greenwich Historical Society will be held on Wednesday, December 7.th Described as "a handbook for high style," the tour will include five fabulous Greenwich homes, contemporary and classic, from the shore to the back country. Among the homes are the ultra-elegant residence of a sought-after interior designer; a Victorian restoration, a shingle-style family home and a gentleman's European-inspired stone residence as well as a bachelor's sophisticated backcountry abode. The homes are even lovelier dressed in holiday finery.

The Antiquarius Holiday Boutique at 19 Doubling Road in Greenwich will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. showcasing over 30 specialty vendors with unique gift ideas from fine jewelry to antiques. The shop will also be open for preview shopping on Tuesday evening December 6, when hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar will be available. For details and reservations, phone 203-869-6899 or see www.greenwichhistory.org

Pose with Santa and his Reindeer

Santa and his live reindeer will be in residence at McArdle's Florist and Garden Center in Greenwich from November 25 to December 24 for the 2011 Greenwich Reindeer Festival and Santa's Workshop presented by Mercedes-Benz of Greenwich to benefit Kids in Crisis.  Santa and the reindeer will be ready and willing to pose for photos with kids and families, with all proceeds benefiting Kids in Crisis.   Reindeer feeding times will be at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily. Check www.greenwichreindeerfestival.com for hours and information.

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, www.visitwesternct.com.