Every year as the days become darker and darker, there are pockets of Maine that fill with light.

Holiday light displays are brightening the skies all over the state, just in time for the winter solstice on Dec. 21. That will be the shortest day of the year, so you could go see a light display in the late afternoon if you wanted to.

Several drive-through or drive-by holiday light shows have popped up since the pandemic began. That means you don’t even have to brave the cold to see illuminated trees, buildings or figures of Santa and his reindeer.  You can stay in your heated car, blasting Christmas tunes while you gaze at the twinkling and sparkling outdoor displays, like those in Cumberland, Winthrop and Boothbay.

City-wide illuminated decor can also be found in the downtowns of Portland and Westbrook, whether you drive or stroll by. Here are some specifics about a few of Maine’s holiday light displays currently shining bright.

Roskva, one of the Guardians of the Seeds by Thomas Dambo at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, stands among trees covered in holiday lights Friday for the seventh annual Gardens Aglow. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

TROLLING FOR LIGHTS

The Gardens Aglow event at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay is once again a driving tour. But this year, the recently-installed giant wooden garden trolls, built by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, will be part of the display. The trolls are known as “The Guardians of the Seed” and range in height from 15 to 30 feet. So as you drive through massive strands of trees and greenery lit up from top to bottom, you’ll see some quiet giants staring back at you. Gardens Aglow used 650,00 LED bulbs this year to decorate all around the grounds, including along ponds, on and under bridges, and into the woods.

With a speed limit of 5 miles an hour, the drive takes about 20 minutes, and tickets for timed admissions are $40 per car. The Gardens Aglow driving tour runs through Jan. 1. For tickets and more information, go to mainegardens.org.

While in Boothbay, you can see even more lights by following the map for the Gardens Aglow Community Lighting Contest. The route takes you past some four dozen or so homes and businesses all spiffed up for the holidays, and the map also shows rest rooms and the best places to get out of your car and take photos. By using the property numbers on the map, you can vote for your favorites. For more information and to see the downloadable map, go to mainegardens.org and look for contest info on the Gardens Aglow page.

Pandora LaCasse has been designing Portland’s annual lights for years. This is a view of Longfellow Square in 2018. Photo by Corey Templeton

BIG CITY LIGHTS

Portland has had an extraordinary light display, spread across the city, for years. The mix of inventive colors and shapes are the work of artist Pandora LaCasse. In some places, the lights are part of spheres or balls on trees or buildings. In other places, trees are wrapped in lights. Basically wherever you go in the downtown, the Old Port or nearby areas, you’ll see the lights. More specifically, you’ll find them in Longfellow Square, Tommy’s Park, Boothby Square, Lincoln Park, Pleasant Street Park and Congress Square Park. Because the lights are out in public, there’s no cost to see them. So you can stroll a small area or drive the whole city in one night, at your leisure. To get a printable map detailing the light displays and their locations, go to portlandmaine.com. 

TWICE AS BRIGHT

Portland’s neighboring city, Westbrook, has upped its holiday lighting game this year. The city’s public services arborist – Doug Eaton, also known as Decoration Doug – says the city is installing 100,000 lights, compared to 50,000 last year. The focus is on the downtown area, but there will also be lights along the River Walk and on every tree from the Riverbank Park gazebo to Main Street. Donations helped increase the number of lights this year. We can only hope that the world-famous Westbrook Ice Disk reforms in time to bask in the glow of colored lights. The 300-foot-wide rotating frozen mass that formed in the Presumpscot River in the winter of 2019 literally captivated the world, attracting media from all over. If it happened to reappear while the holiday lights were on, it would make one heck of a Christmas color wheel.

A car drives past curtains of lights at Winter Wonderland at Augusta West Kampground in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

UPTA CAMP

The owners of the Augusta West Kampground in Winthrop came up with a festive idea this year, to basically light up their campground for holiday revelers. The result is the campground’s Winter Wonderland light show, featuring some 200,000 lights spreading out for nearly a mile. SkyBox Holiday & Event Lighting designed and set up the display, which lights up trees, fences, an antique pickup truck and a playground, among other things. People can drive or walk among the light display. The event is open various days through Jan. 9 and tickets are $25 per car, with a maximum of six passengers or $75 for a minibus or other large vehicle. Walking tickets are $10 each. For information and to book a reservation, go to augustawestkampground.com. 

A tunnel of lights is a highlight of the drive-thru holiday light show at Cumberland Fairgrounds through Jan. 2. Rachel Vitello / The Forecaster

THAT’S FAIR

Another locale that’s found a cheery holiday use is the Cumberland Fairgrounds. It is hosting a drive-through attraction called Maine Celebration of Lights. The event is organized by Fiesta Shows, which sets up amusements at carnivals and fairs. The driving tour includes a lighted display of presents and one depicting the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” plus a drive-through tunnel of lights. More than a million lights were used in the mile-long display, which takes about 20 minutes to drive. It’s open through Jan. 2. and tickets are $25 to $50 per vehicle. For tickets and information, go to fiestashows.com.


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