Free ice skating is part of Northern Lights at L.L. Bean in Freeport. Photo courtesy of L.L. Bean

“Maine is a joy in the summer,” fiction and travel writer Paul Theroux once observed. “But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter.” That he pegged joy only to summer here must mean that he’s never found his way to the winter celebrations of so many Maine towns – where not only are joy and soul both abundantly apparent, but the two are arguably intertwined.

And that’s especially so this year, when town leaders and local businesses have been raring for so long during the pandemic to gather crowds beneath lights strung all around their downtowns, dispense hot chocolate and roll out parades. So it isn’t surprising that, this season, towns are putting on a larger production than usual – adding new events, more twinkling trees and glowing decor with renewed enthusiasm.

“The energy and community spirit here in Saco is phenomenal,” said Jennifer Day, the new executive director of Saco Main Street. “Generations of Saco residents are contributing to not only keeping the annual traditions alive but helping make them better.” There, the Annual Saco Holiday Tree Lighting will get festivities underway with plenty of music and hot chocolate at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Saco Transportation Center.

The Parade of Lights is among the Saco’s abundant seasonal festivities. Photo courtesy of Saco Maine Street

The next day brings the 11th Annual Holiday Festival & Parade of Lights around Main Street starting at noon, and for the rest of the month the town will host a slew of activities, including the Saco Museum’s 18th Annual Festival of Trees, which runs from Nov. 25 through Dec. 29.

“It’s very pretty and everything’s free,” said Carolyn Roy, who coordinates the indoor event. “Local businesses sponsor decorated trees and spaces, and thousands of visitors come in to see it.”

Freeport’s hugely popular Sparkle Celebration gets going with the Parade of Lights (6-7 p.m. Dec. 2), complete with a marching band and procession of floats. And there are brand new events like the Sparkle Stroll (5-7 p.m. Dec. 8) during which shops offering discounts and treats. During the annual decorating contest, Dec. 2-22, local businesses compete to win votes for their indoor and outdoor decorations and creative window displays. Also new: Frosty Frolic on Dec. 10, with food trucks, fire pits and local crafts.

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And throughout the month, once again at the center of Freeport’s illuminated frenzy, will be L.L. Bean. Each year, the outfitter transforms its Freeport campus into Northern Lights, a winter wonderland encompassing a life-size snow globe, a Twinkle Light Tunnel made of thousands of white lights, and an interactive trail that teaches about holidays in cultures and countries around the globe. Meanwhile, every day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., there’s free ice skating in the lit rink at Discovery Park, beside Bean’s home store.

The annual lighting of the Nubble Lighthouse is a popular holiday event in York. Photo by Allan Wood Photography/Shutterstock.com

One of the most iconic seasonal sights has to be the Nubble Lighthouse in York glowing with beautifully simple white lights. From Nov. 26 through New Year’s Day, the 41-foot conical tower and its adjoining house will be lit up in Sohier Park from 4 p.m. to midnight daily. And the illumination extends through the rest of York, too: Dec. 1-11 is The Festival of Lights Celebration, with a parade at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 3, and the Winter Community Concert is on Dec. 11 at York High School.

People crowd Dock Square in Kennebunkport for a tree lighting ceremony during a past Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In Kennebunkport, the lights that illuminate the Christmas Prelude festival stick around deep into January, keeping the town shining past the holidays. Prelude, which runs Dec. 1-11, begins with two tree lightings on Dec. 2: at 4:30 p.m., a “tree” constructed of lobster traps is lit up in Cape Porpoise Square, then at 5:30 p.m. in Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, the Kennebunk High School Chamber Choir serenades attendees of the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony with carols.

At 3 p.m. the next day, don a holiday hat (of pretty much any design) and join in the Hat Parade, led by the Patriot Fife and Drum Duo, through Dock Square.

“Everyone is so excited Prelude is fully back,” said Ashley Padget, director of the board for the Kennebunkport Business Association. “It’s been more than two years when very little has been done for the festivities, and now it’s back to its old self – with all of the families who’ve been coming for years for its decorations and traditions.”

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who lives in Maine.


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