If you’re craving a comprehensive holiday experience with all the trimmings, Kennebunkport is the place to find it. Taking place this weekend and next, the 31st annual Christmas Prelude will deck the halls and fill the streets, shops, inns and community spaces with holiday cheer.
From classy adult parties and classic holiday happenings to children’s events and meals of comfort food, Christmas Prelude offers more than 150 events. There’s so much to do, you’re guaranteed to discover something to please everyone in your party.
Those who love to shop will not only find festive boutiques filled with gift ideas but numerous art shows and craft fairs. Music lovers will enjoy traditional carolers, cabaret concerts, string music, chamber concerts, medieval music, modern Christmas tunes and even Christmas karaoke.
But those who attend Prelude don’t need to attend a concert to enjoy holiday music.
“The first weekend is so chock-full of things,” said Sheila Matthews-Bull, who owns the Rhumb Line Resort and is chairing the Prelude committee for the seventh year.
“The (Patriot) Fife and Drum (Duo) will walk through town,” Matthews-Bull said. “We have a wandering minstrel, and we have the barbershop quartet. So at certain times of the day, there’s music throughout town.”
The majority of the Prelude festivities take place in Dock Square and the Lower Village, with a smattering of events in Cape Porpoise.
Each day brings hands-on activities for kids, including Christmas card making, photos with Frosty, gingerbread house making, ornament workshops, breakfasts with Mrs. Claus and Santa, and trolley rides.
The Dock Square tree lighting happens at 5:30 p.m. Friday, and is expected to draw close to 5,000 people. At 7 p.m. Friday, you can either take in the bonfire and Christmas carols in the Lower Village or drive to Cape Porpoise to see the lighting of the Lobster Trap Tree.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, the graduating seniors of Kennebunk High School will host a Christmas Tree Tour. A fundraiser for project graduation, the driving tour features six homes decked out for the holidays with massive Christmas trees decorated by designers. Homes on the tour are located in Kennebunkport and along historic Summer Street in Kennebunk.
At 3 p.m. Saturday, the very popular and festively silly Hat Parade takes place in Dock Square. Last year, 200 people marched in the parade. If you don’t have a hat, head to the hat-making workshop from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Saturday and try your hand at a little millinery.
“The hats are store bought or reindeer antlers, and then we get some that are incredibly extravagant,” Matthews-Bull said.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, Santa and his elves arrive by lobster boat and pose for pictures at the Community House in Dock Square. He’ll return again at the close of the festival at 2 p.m. Dec. 9, when he motors into Cape Porpoise Square on a fire truck.
A second tree lighting in Dock Square takes place at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7, followed by a fireworks display at 6:15 p.m.
After a unexpectedly large turnout last year, the Pooch Parade returns this year at 11 a.m. Dec. 9.
“We thought we might get 20 or 25 dogs, and we got over 100,” Matthews-Bull said. “They all had costumes on, and if the dog didn’t have a costume on, the owner did.”
Each Friday and Saturday of Prelude, the Kennebunkport Historical Society will offer guided tours of the house museum, White Columns, and walking tours of the historic village. Each tour costs $10, or you can purchase tickets to both for $15.
Food and drink lovers could spend both weekends just enjoying good eats.
The celebration kicks off Thursday night with two foodie parties: A release party for Shipyard’s Prelude Ale at Federal Jack’s Brew Pub and a Champagne Reception at White Columns, followed by a prix fixe dinner at On the Marsh Bistro.
The reception and dinner are a benefit for the Kennebunkport Historical Society. This is the first year the Champagne Reception takes place in White Columns. Built in 1853, the Greek Revival home contains period antiques and wallpapers.
“The house will be completely decorated by a team of designers,” said Susan Edwards, executive director of the historical society. “This year, they’re using primarily natural greens and fruits, so it’s very traditional.”
In addition to sipping sparkling wine, guests at the party will be the first to see the Treescapes exhibition.
“Two years ago, we initiated a new event called Treescapes,” Edwards said. “This year, they will be mostly table-top trees made by different decorators, designers and volunteers with design expertise. We expect to have close to 20 wreaths and trees (for sale).”
Each day of Prelude offers plenty of festive fare, including hot chocolate, eggnog, mulled cider, fish chowder suppers, chili luncheons, lobster stew fundraisers, outdoor barbecues, lobster bakes, wine tastings, blueberry pancake breakfasts and a cookie tasting contest.
There will even be a cookbook signing with Michael Sanders, author of “Fresh from Maine,” at Keys to the Kitchen at 10 a.m. Saturday. During the event, chef Joshua Mather of Joshua’s Restaurant will serve finger foods.
The highlight of the final weekend is the Fire and Ice Bar at the Nonantum Resort on Dec. 7-8. Nonantum general manager Tina Hewett-Gordon said the response to the two-night party, now in its third year, has been “beyond our expectations.”
Last year, the outdoor event attracted 1,000 people; Hewett-Gordon said ticket sales are on track to double that this year.
The party features three carved ice bars — one with a shot luge, one devoted to beer and a third featuring champagne — paired with a bonfire, individual fire pits and ice sculptures placed throughout the property.
Foods from local restaurants will accompany all the drinks, and should guests need to warm up, they can head inside the resort, where there will be live music. Tickets to the 21-plus event cost $20 each.
“It’s the perfect ending to Christmas Prelude,” Hewett-Gordon said. “It sets the tone for community and thankfulness and being together, with a whole lot of Christmas spirit.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: