OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Several hundred people gathered on the snow-covered sand Friday to kick off New Year’s Eve festivities in the warm glow and community of a roaring bonfire.

The event organized by OOB365 drew people of all ages and backgrounds – some who weathered 2021 relatively unscathed, others who struggled through the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and all who looked forward to a better 2022 for everyone.

Scott Kern of Old Orchard built the bonfire of dry split pine and donated Christmas trees piled high within sight of Palace Playland and the Old Orchard Beach Pier. Pop music blared as town firefighters lit the bonfire at 4:30 p.m. and tended the blaze through the evening.

Debbie and Glenn Paradis of Reading, Mass., walk by a giant pile of donated Chrismas trees on Old Orchard Beach Friday evening. The Paradis’s spent the week in Maine for the holidays. A bonfire made of donated Christmas Trees was the centerpiece for the Last Blast New Year’s Eve Beach Party held by OOB365. Many of the trees were collected for free by Maine Dump Runners.

With temperatures in the high 30s, the crowd grew from about 500 at the start to about 2,000 by 7:30 p.m., when a fireworks display exploded above the beach, said Sharri MacDonald, president of OOB365.

Organizers sold soups, chili, cotton candy and hot cocoa, while families toasted marshmallows over fire pits. Among them were Josie Pillsbury and Joe Carter of Arundel, with their daughters Lila, 9, and Belen, 6.

“It was just a chance to burn our Christmas tree and be at the beach,” Pillsbury said, adding that the girls had written resolutions on slips of paper that they planned to toss into the bonfire.


Lakelyn Johnson, 4, of Saco watches the bonfire while attending the Last Blast New Year’s Eve Beach Party Friday evening with her brother, Hugo, 2, and their parents, Samm and Stephen Johnson. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

“Each promised to stop arguing with her sister,” Pillsbury said.

Pillsbury said she hoped travel would become safer and easier in the coming year because her husband is a photographer and videographer who travels widely for work.

Also at the bonfire was Glenn Paradis, 56, a cancer cell biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who lives in Reading, Massachusetts.

It was a relatively good but challenging year for Paradis and his wife, Debbie, both native Mainers. They spent the holidays at the beachside condo they bought in 2021, and their daughter got married in a ceremony that was postponed from 2020 because of COVID-19.

But like many people, they’ve been dealing with the relentless uncertainty of the pandemic, and they’ve been largely separated from family and friends. Their usual New Year’s Eve plans were called off again this year because a close friend is a nurse who cannot risk getting sick during the holidays.

“It seems like we’re constantly making adjustments,” Paradis said. “I think we’re looking forward to being able to make plans and stick with them.”


The bonfire gathering included Elijah Coleman, 20, and his fiancée, Cassidy Tierney, 18. They spent most of 2021 homeless and living out of his car, he said. Now, they’re each staying with family members in Sanford.

“To be honest, 2021 really wasn’t the best year,” Coleman said. “We both had jobs, but we weren’t making enough to afford an apartment because (rental costs) were going crazy because of the pandemic.”

Mary Burson, center, of Townsend, Mass., smiles while receiving fresh cotton candy from OOB365 president Sharri MacDonald, left, at the Last Blast New Year’s Eve Beach Party Friday evening. Mary’s husband, Justin, right, waits for his order. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Coleman and Tierney said they are grateful to people who helped them in recent months, dropping off food and water when they were living in his car. Now, they’re both looking for work and plan to save money to rent an apartment together.

“We’re hoping to have our own place and give back to the community for helping us out so much,” Coleman said. “We’re hoping 2022 is a much better year.”

For Willow Larrimore and Jordan Moore, 2021 brought a reunion 20 years in the making.

The two dated as teenagers in Atlanta, Georgia, and lost track of each other when he went off to college.


Moore, 40, a hair stylist who grew up in Maine, returned last year and settled in Biddeford. Then Larrimore, 38, came to Portland to work in the cannabis industry. She spotted him on social media a few months ago and the two reunited.

“I can’t complain,” Larrimore said as the couple canoodled in the firelight. “Energetically, Maine feels like a good place right now.”

A classical pianist since childhood, Larrimore said he’s looking forward to having room for a grand piano in 2022.

“And more music for everybody,” Moore said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.