Jane Seymour, Devlin Stark and Charles Shaughnessy in a scene from “Buttons,” which was shot at several Maine locations, including in York, Kennebunkport and Victoria Mansion in Portland. Photo from Tim Janis

The holidays are here, and we’re feeling kind of conflicted about it, honestly. COVID precautions (and basic common sense and decency) mean Zoom calls and mailed gifts instead of in-person fun with family and friends. A solid 10 months of isolation and binge-watching has depleted our collective tolerance for rewatching the same movies yet again. And even the bittersweet pleasures afforded by the time-honored tradition of checking out the annual crop of indifferent Christmas movie releases during frenzied shopping breaks is gone, with our movie theater refuges still dark and cold.

But still, it’s Maine at holiday time! Snowy nights, the scent of pine and fireplaces all around, and those cool Portland tree lights that make the city look like a Dr. Seuss drawing. Maine’s a tailor-made setting for holiday movies, which makes it a continued puzzle why so few holiday movies are set, or made, here. But there are some, and if you haven’t seen these Maine-related holiday films yet, this year – with its excess down time and relative lack of other festive activities – would be the one to do it.

‘The Preacher’s Wife’

It’s always going to be a feather in Portland’s winter cap that this 1996 remake (of the 1947 Cary Grant-starring “The Bishop’s Wife”) saw director Penny Marshall and stars Denzel Washington, Sterling K. Brown and the late Whitney Houston slip-sliding all over the Deering Oaks park’s skating pond. It’s as sweet and twinkly a holiday treat as Maine can claim (plus Houston sings), and we can all take perverse delight at the same time that the New York City-set movie came all the way to Portland to find a setting Christmassy enough to immortalize on screen. Available to stream for free on Fubo, Roku and Direct TV. 

Katlyn Carlson as Sloan in “Holly Star,” which was filmed in 2016 in Biddeford, Saco, Cape Elizabeth and other Maine locations. Photo from The Orchard

‘Holly Star’

Of course, if you’re looking for your pleasant, charming, Maine holiday fun to actually, you know, be set and filmed in Maine, then this 2018 film is your best bet. Shot during a very cold 2016 Maine winter in Biddeford, Saco and Cape Elizabeth, the movie is a rom-com about a suddenly unemployed puppeteer who flees back to her Maine hometown and becomes embroiled in both a romance with her childhood sweetheart and an improbable hunt for long-lost treasure. Apart from playing spot-the-neighbor and wondering why more movies don’t shoot adorable wintertime rom-coms in Maine (cough – tax incentives – cough), “Holly Star” is the sort of uniquely Maine holiday nog that goes down just right. Available on Netflix. 


’12 Dogs of Christmas’

A little girl and her dozen cuddly dog friends teach Depression-era depressed folks about the true meaning of Christmas! C’mon, are you made out of stone? This 2005 holiday favorite was filmed in Bethel and Portland. (There’s even a sequel, “12 Dogs of Christmas: Great Puppy Rescue,” but it was filmed in Utah, so we shall never speak of it again.) Available on Amazon. 

Yamilah Saravong of York has a part in “Daddy’s Home 2” with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

‘Daddy’s Home 2’

Sure, it’s a sequel to a movie that wasn’t very good in the first place, and it co-stars noted awful person Mel Gibson, but at least this 2017 Will Ferrell holiday movie cast York native Yamilah Saravong in the role of “Casey.” (Young Saravong was also in the Stephen King adaptation “NOS4ATU” – although that was filmed in Rhode Island.) “Daddy’s Home 2” is available on Fubo, FXNow, Direct TV and Sling. 

‘Happy Christmas’

This indie holiday talk-fest (which is genuinely pretty great if you like that sort of thing) might be shot and set in Chicago, but the story of two very different women forced to get along over an eventful holiday season stars the always-stellar Melanie Lynskey and Portland’s pride, Anna Kendrick. Available on Roku, Hoopla, Vudu, Kanopy and other places with silly names. 


Dick Van Dyke and Alivia Clark in a scene from “Buttons.” Photo from Tim Janis

‘Buttons: A New Musical Film’

This 2018 holiday romp is about as Maine as Maine gets, being directed by Maine resident (and full-time Celtic music star) Tim Janis, and filmed at locations from Portland’s Victoria Mansion to Kennebunkport’s Seashore Trolley Museum. Oh, and did I mention it re-teams “Mary Poppins” legends Dick Van Dyke and Dame Angela Lansbury as a pair of guardian angels helping some adorable orphan girls find a real home for Christmas? Again – are you made of stone, people? Available on Fubo, Starz and Direct TV. 

‘Saving Christmas’

Hey, remember that Christmas movie where beloved actor Ed Asner plays old Saint Nick? No, not “Elf.” Everyone’s heard of “Elf.” But have you seen this 2017 flick about a grumpy Maine janitor dragooned into pretending he’s Santa for a gaggle of rambunctious tots? OK, so it’s made for pennies, has a 3.2 rating (out of 10) on the Internet Movie Database, and I’m pretty sure that this Rhode Island-shot film thought that Maine actually might have a small town named “Norpole.” But, well, the movie exists, and you can see it for free. Available on Peacock. 

‘Home Alone: The Holiday Heist’

It was filmed in Winnipeg and stars nobody from the original two movies (though it does have Ed Asner again), but this fifth(!) “Home Alone” tale of family-friendly home invasion hijinks is set in Maine. We’ll take what we can get. Available on HBO and Direct TV.

And then there’s the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime, which, at last count, had set (but not filmed) at least four of their avalanche of recent holiday TV movie slate in Maine. There’s “Let It Snow” (filmed in Vancouver), starring Candace Cameron Bure as a driven New York executive planning to revamp a rustic Maine ski lodge. There’s the perfunctorily named “Nostalgic Christmas” (filmed in Ontario), where a driven New York toy buyer comes home to her Maine family’s rustic toy shop to learn the true meaning of Christmas. Then you’ve got “Christmas on My Mind” (Vancouver again), where a driven young woman gets amnesia and reconnects with her old flame while she discovers the true meaning of Christmas. And, of course, there’s “A Sugar & Spice Holiday” (non-Maine filming locations unavailable) where a driven young architect returns to Maine to win the local gingerbread house contest – and learn the true meaning of Christmas. (This one does have the slight edge of being one of the few such movies where the lead actress isn’t a white blonde woman, as its lead is played by Jacky Lai of “V-Wars.”)

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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