Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By ROD HARMON Deputy Managing Editor
Welcome back! Hope everyone had a happy holiday, whether you were celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, the start of Kwanzaa or just a day off from work. Now that the holiday meals have been relegated to leftover status and the last scraps of wrapping paper have scurried under the sofa to be discovered in April, it's time to set our sights on New Year's Eve.
For the past three years, GO has endeavored to provide you with the most comprehensive New Year's Eve planner possible, and this year is certainly no exception. You'll find a plethora of events welcoming in 2013, from community festivals and family-friendly celebrations to concerts and adult-oriented nightclub blow-outs. There's even a clam drop in Yarmouth and a Mexican wrestling match at Space Gallery.
Unfortunately, one thing you won't be able to do -- for the seventh straight year -- is usher in the new year with a city festival in downtown Portland.
Two years ago, I bemoaned that fact in this very space. I pointed out that other communities in southern Maine held New Year's Eve events to great success, including Freeport, Old Orchard Beach and Gorham (all of which are doing so again this year).
I suggested that Portland host a First Night event that would showcase all that the downtown has to offer, from art galleries and performing arts to unique retail shops and fine dining. I opined that the city could take a cue from other festivals around the country and host two events -- a family-friendly one that ended by 6 p.m., followed by an adult-oriented one that ended after midnight.
I gave the city a pass last year, because I hoped that Portland's first publicly elected mayor in 88 years would reinstate a downtown New Year's Eve celebration in 2012. But once again, nothing happened.
So here were are, five days away from New Year's Eve, with no community festival in Maine's largest and culturally diverse city.
Given Portland's annual Christmas celebration, I shouldn't be surprised. Look at what other communities did for the holidays this year, and compare them to Portland. Freeport, Gorham, York, Kennebunkport, Biddeford, Camden, Boothbay Harbor, Ogunquit, Saco and more all held holiday events that featured everything from parades and children's activities to brass bands and live theater. A few of them lasted for weeks.
Portland held a one-hour Christmas tree lighting on Monument Square with music by Rick Charette (again) and horse and buggy rides on the weekends. Three weeks after the tree lighting, we could stand on the shore and watch lighted boats pass by.
If it wasn't for the city's downtown merchants, who kept their stores open late and held a "Merry Madness" night aimed at shoppers, you would be hard-pressed to know it was Christmas at all in downtown Portland.
It shouldn't be up to merchants and/or corporate sponsors to do all the work (although they certainly can help, as L.L. Bean does in Freeport). It's time for the folks at City Hall to step up and start planning the New Year's Eve celebration -- and Christmas festival, and Easter egg hunt, and other holiday events -- that the people of Portland deserve.
Until then, enjoy the last day of 2012 on Monday -- and hope that Portland gets its act together for Dec. 31, 2013.
Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or: