Quaint Beacon Hill and fashionable Back Bay are separated by their own large spaces: Boston Common and Boston Public Garden respectively, as distinctive in settings as these two famous neighborhoods. Boston Common and Boston Public Garden are also among the jewels of the Emerald Necklace.

Boston Common

Across from formal Boston Public Garden lies the expanse of utilitarian Boston Common–the country’s oldest public park. Originally a pasture for farm animals, this is to Boston what Central Park is to New York and Hyde Park is to London, but without the thickly wooded areas. Bostonians and tourists picnic here, read, yack on cell phones and people watch. Back in the 60s and 70s Hare Krishnas happily sang and danced about, but haven’t been seen in years, even though a Hare Krishna temple is in the Back Bay. During the Vietnam War, protests started or ended at The Common, keeping in step with past generations using The Common as a gathering place.

Beacon Hill overlooks Boston Common

Beacon Hill overlooks Boston Common

The Common was once the public meeting place for disgruntled colonists prior to the American Revolution and is located several yards from the site of the infamous Boston Massacre in 1770. For now, the Common is at peace as Beacon Hill’s playground and winter wonderland. At Christmas the rather plain 50-acre park undergoes a dramatic change for the celebrations.

Boston's official Christmas tree at Common

Boston’s official Christmas tree stands on Boston Common

Many of the Common’s large trees are loosely strung with strands of gaudy colored lights and the City of Boston’s huge official Christmas tree–always from Nova Scotia–is ceremoniously lit with much fanfare.

The story behind the annual Nova Scotia gift is a heartfelt one worth knowing. VISIT:  http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/beacon_hill/2012/11/nova_scotia_tree_makes_trek_to.html

The Frog Pond transforms from a popular summer wading pool with a large spraying fountain, into a busy ice skating rink that is fun for skaters and passersby.The sounds of laughter and music can be heard across the park. It’s a cheerful sound during the cold winter months.

Boston Common Frog Pond ice rink

Boston Common Frog Pond ice rink

Skaters have impressive views of Beacon Hill, the State House’s Gold Dome and Park Street Church. On New Year’s Eve a dazzling skating and fireworks event takes place at the rink during First Night.

Generations of Bostonians have sled the Common’s gentle slopes, built snowmen and enjoyed the many colorful lights. In years past, barnyard animals were stabled on the Common at Christmas. Surprisingly, the crèche is still displayed.

State House & Boston Common Crèche

Park Street Church–a relative newcomer to ‘The Baystate’ at 203 years-old–sits just off the Common on the corner of Park and Tremont, across from the Park Street T station. The church’s bell tower tolls melodically and the almost ‘tinkling’ chimes are especially poignant to hear at Christmas, but its sweet tones ring out across the Common all year.

Park Street Church doorway

Park Street Church doorway

History abounds on every corner in Boston: “America” (“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”) was first sung at Park Street Church on July 4, 1831;  William Lloyd Garrison delivered his first major public address in Boston against slavery at the church July 4, 1829, and the church’s first organist, Lowell Mason, composed the music for “Nearer My God to Thee” and “Joy to the World.”

Boston Common facing Park Street Church bell tower

Boston Common facing Park Street Church bell tower

Listen to Park Street Church bells:


BTW: Old North Church in Boston has the oldest church bells in North America:1745.

MIT has The Boston Bellringers, but they follow some English mathematical permutation of bell ringing. Leave to a bunch of MIT campanologists to take the fun out of bell ringing!

Boston Public Garden

Back Bay’s Com Ave. mall ends at Arlington Street before the wrought iron gates of lush, manicured Boston Public Garden–the country’s first botanical garden. The 24-acres have served as a Victorian-style promenade for fashionable Back Bay for more than a century.

The gardens and grounds resemble a magnificent estate, complete with a delicately shaped pond where the famous Swan Boats ‘nest.’

Main Gates at Arlington Street & Comm Ave

Gates at Arlington Street & Com Ave

Boston Public Garden bridge

Boston Public Garden bridge across the duck pond

Boston Public Garden Bridge

Boston Public Garden Bridge strung with lights

Bronze statues and spurting fountains are interspersed among 80 species of plants and numerous varieties of native and introduced trees.

The beloved park is a showy profusion of color in warmer months and designed to have structural elements in winter to provide pleasing points of interest year-round.

Public Garden gate by Sharon Shea

Public Garden gate by Sharon Shea

At Christmas the shrubs and trees at the main gate, and the bridge spanning the duck pond are festooned with white lights, wreaths and garlands of greenery offset with cheerful red bows.