Michael Brennan became Portland’s first elected mayor since 1923 on Monday, and he’s already called for a number of initiatives that range from making investments in education to revisiting the city’s long-term planning vision and reinstituting heavy-item trash pickup.

I wish Brennan luck with all these endeavors, but there’s something he did not talk about in his inaugural address that I’m hoping he will take on: The city’s meager, almost non-existent, approach to the holidays.

It’s painfully obvious during the winter season. While other communities are hosting holiday celebrations that include parades, caroling, visits with Santa Claus, children’s activities,  dancing and more – in some cases lasting for days or weeks at a time – Portland has for the most part limited itself to a one-hour tree-lighting ceremony in Monument Square accompanied by children’s music from Rick Charette.

You can currently ride a horse-drawn carriage through downtown Portland. Other than that, you’ll have to rely on the city’s merchants to serve up some holiday cheer, and while they do an admirable job of that (with such events as Shop for a Cause Day and Merry Madness), it would be nice to see Maine’s largest city do something more.

Christmas isn’t the only season Portland chooses to all but ignore. There are no city-sponsored Easter egg hunts. No New Year’s Eve celebrations (I addressed this in my Dec. 30 column last year). And if it wasn’t for a last-minute reprieve by local businesses (including the owner of GO) a couple of years ago, there wouldn’t be a July 4 celebration.

You could argue that Portland is too cash-strapped for such things. But so are smaller communities, yet they manage to host much larger events. You could argue that the failure of past initiatives have soured city officials on hosting more. But perhaps the failure of those initiatives was that they were flawed from the beginning – a New Year’s eve celebration that ended before midnight, for example, or a winter celebration that consisted largely of outdoor winter sports that the public could only watch.

Yes, hosting holiday events costs money. That’s why many communities get help from local businesses and corporate sponsors. But such events also lure people downtown, providing a boost to local retail, hotel and dining establishments.

When it comes to the holidays, Portland’s message seems to be: Get in your car and go somewhere else, because all we will offer is the status quo.

I know it’s easy to sit back and complain about something without offering solutions, so I will end this column by giving the city of Portland an idea for next year’s holiday season: Instead of giving the Public Art Committee tens of thousands for a few artsy benches along the Bayside Trail, use those funds to kick-start a campaign for a downtown celebration worthy of the City by the Sea.

I have a feeling it would not only fill people with holiday cheer, it would save them from sore backsides as well.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

[email protected]

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