Few others could top Fred Paine’s enthusiasm for Kennebunkport’s 40th annual Christmas Prelude, a multiday celebration with craft sales, hot chocolate, caroling and other holiday merriment in the quant southern Maine town of about 5,900 residents.

Paine stood out among the 200 or so people participating in the popular hat and costume parade, pulling inspiration from some of the holiday’s funniest films. Dressed like Buddy from the movie, “Elf,” the 62-year-old Massachusetts man was wearing a homemade plywood replica of the green, wooden-panel station wagon from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

The station wagon had working headlights and was topped with an uprooted Christmas tree from the film’s opening scene and the squirrel that causes havoc later. It also had a fishnet stocking leg lamp from another movie, “A Christmas Story.” He estimated his hat weighed about 40 pounds, but the weight was dispersed to his shoulders by two braces.

“This is my favorite part,” Paine said of the parade he discovered about five years ago when his son was a student at the University of New England. “We make it a tradition now. We come up on Friday and just have a great time for the whole weekend.”

A group calling themselves the Festive Flamingoes greets parade marchers at the conclusion of the Prelude Hat Parade on the Mathew J. Lanigan Bridge. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The multiday celebration was scaled back last year because of the pandemic. So people like Leslie Eisenberg, a New Hampshire resident, were very excited to be back. Her family owns a second home nearby and the event has been a family tradition. She and her mother, Ann Green, 84, were decked out with Christmas tree hats and colored Christmas tree light necklaces, as they listened to a group of carolers singing in front of storefronts draped in wreaths, garland and ribbons.

“It’s like a story book,” Eisenberg, 60, said. “It’s such a great way to kick off the Christmas season with the family. There are so many memories from when we were little and having families and bringing our kids. It’s just very special.”

Christmas Prelude is organized by the Kennebunkport Business Association and features dozens of events outdoors and at area businesses. It began Thursday and will run through this weekend and next from Thursday through Sunday.

On Saturday afternoon, throngs of people – both masked and unmasked – crowded sidewalks, the town square and local businesses. There were s’mores, campfires, live music in bars and many other holiday-themed festivities.

It appeared as though business was brisk, much like the weather, which offered clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid-30s. Lee White, who has owned the Whimsy Shop for the last 12 years, said it was great to see everyone getting back together and supporting local business – something that folks were not comfortable with last year.

“For it to be the year following 2020, I would say it’s pretty excellent. We’re really thrilled this many people would come,” White said. “We thought it would be busy, but you just never know.”

Just outside White’s shops was the town Christmas tree, which was decorated with lobster buoys. The tree was lit Friday night and topped with a red lobster holding a golden star.

John and Maureen Cote of Old Orchard Beach were among the steady stream of people posing for photos in front of the tree. Both were decked out in full holiday regalia, with Maureen wearing a snowman sweater and John dressed up as the Nutcracker. Both had small hats atop their heads, but insisted that they were only there to watch the hat parade.

Christopher Radley pauses while his father, Kyle, takes a photo of him on a light-covered walkway in Kennebunkport during the Prelude Opening Festival on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“It feels great to be back,” said Maureen Cote, 60. “What a gorgeous day. The weather is perfect.”

The parade got underway a little after 3 p.m., with people dressed up as reindeer, Santa Claus, lobsters and even turkeys and a chicken. Hats ranged from the simple, including paper bags made to look like reindeer, to the elaborate, including stacks of Christmas presents. There were even a group of witches, who tossed candy to kids along the parade route.

It quickly became clear that, if the parade had been a competition, Paine’s plywood hat would likely be the best in show.

As the parade came to an end on the bridge spanning the Mousam River and near the village center, Paine was swarmed by people who wanted to take a picture with him. He accommodated as many as possible before being moved along by a police officer eager to reopen the road.

When a reporter observed that he seemed as popular as Santa Claus, Paine turned and flashed a big smile.

“It’s great,” he said. “This is so awesome.”


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