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January 16, 2013

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Lights were still shining brightly Tuesday on View Street in Brunswick. Despite rumors to the contrary, Maine has no laws regulating when holiday displays must be taken down.

Let there be lights: Christmas in Maine can be lawfully long

By Edward D. Murphy
emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Procrastinators can breathe easy. So can those who aren’t ready to leave the holidays behind.

There is no legal deadline for taking down your Christmas lights – no matter how often your neighbor might drop a hint, and despite persistent Internet rumors about a Maine law that requires homeowners to remove holiday decorations by Jan. 14 or face a fine.

The law that reportedly mandates the removal of blow-up Santas and motorized, light-bedecked reindeer doesn’t exist, though it does make dozens of online lists about stupid state laws, including a list on the Huffington Post website.

The phantom law was even picked by Fox Business News last year as the second-dumbest state law in the country.

But not as dumb as the list. Sue Wright, a reference librarian at the legislative law library in Augusta, said that while she’s heard the rumors, no such law ever actually existed. She believes it might have been a local ordinance at one time.

“Out on the Internet, they don’t do fact-checking and they don’t understand the difference between an ordinance and a law,” Wright said. “They just say ‘Maine has a law.’”

But no such ordinance has ever been enacted in South Portland or Portland.

“I get people all the time saying it must be the law because my neighbor said so,” but South Portland has never weighed in to dictate to its residents the appropriate time to leave the holidays behind, said Pat Doucette, the city’s code enforcement officer.

Likewise, Portland has no rule for when holiday lights – even its own – must come down, said spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.

The municipal Christmas tree in Monument Square usually stays up until after New Year’s Eve, Clegg said, but other public lights stay up until at least mid-February. The timing may vary from year to year because the city’s public works employees are in charge of removing the lights and their availability is determined by snow-plowing and other duties.

A few strands of lights in city trees also come down shortly after the new year, but the more decorative lights are “seasonal displays,” Clegg said, and stay up longer.

Those lights, she said, provide some additional illumination during long northern nights, she said, as well as a nice backdrop for events like ice-carving.

For example, the lights in Deering Oaks, designed by artist Pandora LaCasse, provide a nice backdrop for skaters on the park’s pond and other nighttime activities in the Oaks.

Clegg said Friends of Deering Oaks pays the city to put up and take down the lights and those, along with other seasonal lights in the city, are removed shortly after Valentine’s Day, before the nights get a lot shorter and daylight savings time resumes in early March.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:
emurphy@pressherald.com





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