The native butterfly and moth house at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is transformed into the Aurora Borealis display during the fifth annual Gardens Aglow celebration in Boothbay Harbor. Jason Pafundi photo

BOOTHBAY HARBOR — Billy and Joel Edwards live in New York City, where storefronts along Fifth Avenue and buildings in all five boroughs are covered in holiday lights as soon as someone takes the last bite of Thanksgiving turkey. When the couple decided to visit Maine for the first time last week with their young son, attending a holiday light show at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens wasn’t on their to-do list.

“A friend of ours said that we had to check this out, and we sure are glad we did,” said Billy Edwards. “This [show] rivals anything you can see in Manhattan or Brooklyn or anywhere in New York City.”

The Edwards’ are among the more than 90,000 people expected to attend the fifth annual Gardens Aglow event, which runs from 4-9 p.m. every day except Christmas Eve through Dec. 31.

More than 90,000 people are expected to attend the fifth annual Gardens Aglow celebration at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor, which runs until Dec. 31. Jason Pafundi photo

“It’s a testament not only to our staff and volunteers, but to the Boothbay peninsula at large,” said Erin MacGregor-Forbes, the Gardens’ chief financial and chief operating officer. “At this point, in our fifth year, we’re a finely-tuned machine. We’ve already had so many compliments about every aspect of the event.”

The display features hundreds of thousands of lights and more than 300 illuminated trees. Wrapping the trees in all those lights is a process that typically takes about two months to complete. There are about 650,000 lights that would extend roughly 66 miles if stretched out. It would take one person more than 2,100 hours to string all the lights alone.

For the first time, the Gardens will incorporate one of the grounds’ art installations, the large-scale root structures by contemporary artist Steve Tobin on display at the Gardens through May 31, 2020. He is known for his Trinity Root 9/11 memorial sculpture honoring the victims of the World Trade Center attack in 2001.

“What began as a way to celebrate and extend our season, Gardens Aglow has challenged us to find new ways to express our creativity,” MacGregor-Forbes said. “Personally, every year, I can’t wait to see what amazing features our remarkable staff will come up with.”

At last year’s show, the Gardens debuted its new $30 million visitor center, parking area and native butterfly house, part of a 20-year master plan that will continue through 2035. The native butterfly and moth house is home to the Aurora Borealis display that features a programmable lighting display. It’s one of the first things guests can see when they enter the Gardens.

“We just keep creating every year, bringing something new to our visitors, making Gardens Aglow a special winter tradition for families,” MacGregor-Forbes said.

This is one of three illuminated moose displays at the fifth annual Gardens Aglow celebration at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor. Jason Pafundi photo

Joel Edwards said one of the highlights for he and his husband were checking out the different fairy houses, traditional little structures built by children, families, gardeners and nature enthusiasts to highlight the outdoors.

“Fairy houses, while so small, are very big and important to our family, and we love making them and reading about them,” Joel Edwards said. “The displays on fairy houses at Gardens Aglow was a joy to see and something we won’t soon forget.”

Gardens Aglow is one of the many events in the Boothbay Region during the holidays that make up Boothbay Lights, the umbrella for all winter happenings in the area. Its high attendance—about 78,000 people attended last year—allows the region to benefit during its off season.

“We’ve been coming to the Boothbay Harbor region for more than a decade, and the addition of the Gardens Aglow at the Botanical Gardens has made the area that much more of a destination and can’t-miss part of Maine,” said William Wallace. “If you have the opportunity, you have to go.”

Aside from walking around enjoying the lights, holiday music and food and drinks, visitors have a chance to see a couple get engaged or even married. There were three pop-up weddings at Gardens Aglow in 2017, according to Kris Folsom, the Gardens’ marketing director.

For the first time, the Gardens has capped attendance each night to avoid over-crowding. Tickets are valid only for the date and time for which they were purchased.

For more information, visit mainegardens.org. Tickets for Gardens Aglow are $9 for members and $6 for a member child; $16 for adults; $14 for seniors 65 and older; $9 for children. Tickets purchased on site cost an additional $5.

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