FREEPORT – The Sparkle Weekend celebration that will attract thousands of people to a brightly illuminated Freeport Village this weekend is a much “bigger and better” event than when it was created 20 years ago, says one of the founders.

“The volume of people in the parade, and just all the activities, has grown over the years,” said George Denney, who helped create the Freeport Merchants Association, which evolved into the event sponsor, FreeportUSA.

Even more now, Sparkle Weekend makes Freeport a sensory feast – mostly visual, but there are great sounds, smells and tastes, as well.

Janet Dutson, executive director of FreeportUSA, describes the Parade of Lights and the Talking Christmas Tree as magical moments.

“The Parade of Lights on Friday night, the kickoff to the Sparkle Weekend, is a family tradition for so many people in the Freeport area,” Dutson said. “And, of course, the culmination when Santa brings the Talking Christmas Tree to life, is a great magical moment for little ones. We hear from young adults, every year, that one of their fondest childhood holiday memories is talking to the Christmas tree.”

It would be difficult to identify the most popular event at Sparkle Weekend. One of the newer ones is “The Polar Express,” a round-trip train ride from Freeport to Brunswick Saturday on the Amtrak Downeaster. It is sold out – and has been for some time. The Parade of Lights, which sets off Sparkle Weekend at 6 p.m. Friday, brings the village alive with Christmas lights and song. From Friday night through Sunday, there is much, much more.

So what just might be at the top of the list?

“The Talking Christmas Tree is something that is pretty unique to Freeport,” Dutson said. “We’ve actually had young adults come to us and tell us that it was one of the most magical events of their childhood.”

The Talking Christmas Tree will be located on the corner of Main and Bow streets, and children will be able to converse with it on all three days of Sparkle Weekend. The tree will be talking from 6:30-8 p.m. Friday – right after the Parade of Lights begins – and from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

As people walk past the tree in front of Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen restaurant, they’ll notice it can talk, it can listen and it can sing. Dutson said that volunteers are hidden in the restaurant’s balcony. Amy Holway, an L.L. Bean employee from Brunswick, has been part of the team that has been delighting people visiting the talking tree for the past five years.

“It’s part of what’s so special about Freeport,” Dutson said. “We have this village experience.”

Most Sparkle events will take place on and around the L.L. Bean flagship store, right in the middle of this lit-up extravaganza. In concert with the spirit of “The Polar Express,” Nordica Theatre offers a free holiday movie of the same name, at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Donations of canned goods or money will be accepted for the Freeport Community Services Food Pantry.

Dutson credits Denney, one of the town’s entrepreneurial pioneers, with helping move the Sparkle Weekend concept forward. Just as Denney’s Cole Haan shoe store was one of the first to follow L.L. Bean into town in 1982, his desire to make Freeport a cohesive community helped to create the Freeport Merchants Association – which spawned Sparkle Weekend. FreeportUSA evolved from the Freeport Merchants Association.

Denney, who sold Cole Hahn to Nike in 1988, was and still is interested in the success of his town.

“Sparkle was doing something additional to make Freeport that much more interesting to visit and shop,” said Denney, 76. “I like the whole thing. It is very unique. It helps make Freeport, Freeport.”

The Crooked Village is among the holiday displays near the Christmas tree outside L.L. Bean in Freeport.

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