The holiday season seems to sneak up on us every year, yet here we are.

The good news is that you don’t need to sit at home until Santa slides down the chimney or it’s time to light the menorah to start celebrating. You can get out there now and experience the many ways holiday magic manifests itself.

Here’s a rich array of events, from tree lightings to Nutcracker performances, that will brighten the season before we fully settle into winter.


Northern Lights
Daily through Dec. 31. L.L. Bean, 95 Main St., Freeport.
L.L. Bean presents its annual wonderland throughout its campus and on Main Street in downtown Freeport. Activities include festive photo ops, the giant snow globe, letters to Santa writing sessions, visits with Santa and his reindeer, curling demonstrations, craft activities and more. Additionally, Visit Freeport presents its annual Sparkle Celebration from Dec. 1-10. Head to Main Street at 6 p.m. on Dec. 1 for the Parade of Lights and be sure to have a chat with the famous talking Christmas tree.



Santa Claus makes the rounds aboard the “Polar Express,” presented by the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, as it rolls along Portland’s waterfront. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Polar Express
Friday through Dec. 23. Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, 49 Thames St. Portland, $35 to $100.
It’s Polar Express season at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad. You’ll board one of nine passenger coaches that are festooned for the holidays. From the fancy Presidential Class to the standard coach tickets, the rides are a blast for everyone, and all riders enjoy hot chocolate, a cookie and a hello from Santa Claus. All children will also receive a souvenir silver bell. These tickets disappear in a flash, so jump on them fast.

19th Annual Festival of Trees: Joy of the Holidays
Friday through Dec. 30. Saco Museum, 371 Main St., Saco, free.
The Festival of Trees theme this year is Joy of the Holidays, and joyful it will be. Along with viewing the delightfully decorated trees, you can vote for your favorite one while scooping up raffle tickets for a bunch of prizes. Silent auctions will also be happening for premium goodies, like one of the trees, gift certificates, dinners, local crafts and more. Other activities throughout the festival include tea with Mrs. Claus, children’s craft day and visits with Santa. Check the site for complete details and to register for the tea; space is limited.

Maine Celebration of Lights
Friday through Dec. 30. Cumberland Fairgrounds, 197 Blanchard Road, $20 to $50 per vehicle.
Cumberland Fairgrounds is transformed into a wonderland of more than a mile of roads that you’ll drive through. Along the way, you’ll feast your eyes on more than a million LED lights with animated scenes, a 300-foot tunnel and towering displays upwards of 50 feet tall. Book your slot and load up your car for a ride to remember. Fried dough and hot cocoa will be available for purchase to enjoy during the ride.

Holiday on the Rocks at Quarryside
Friday to Dec. 31. Quarryside, 87 Rock Row, Westbrook.
Westbrook is embracing the holidays bigtime with more than a month of events at Rock Row’s Quarryside. Festivities include visits with Santa, live music, light displays, makers’ markets and  ice sculpting. There will also be s’mores making with free kits and happy hours at Lone Pine Brewing. You’ll find plenty of things for kids to enjoy and a heated tent to warm up in. Hit the website for the full schedule of events. P.S. Do yourself a favor after you leave Quarryside and take a ride through downtown Westbrook, because the city’s light display is spectacular.

Christmas at Victoria Manson
Friday through Jan. 7. Victoria Mansion, 109 Danforth St. Portland, $19.25, $17.25 seniors, $8 college students, $6 for 6 to 17, free for six and under, $42.75 family.
A visit to Victoria Mansion is a surefire way to find your holiday spirit as you get a glimpse into what Christmas was like long before Amazon Prime and even electricity. The home was built in the late 1850s as a summer retreat for Ruggles Sylvester Morse and his wife, Olive. It changed hands in 1894 and became a museum in 1941. This year’s decoration theme is Colors of the Season, so you can expect plenty of pop, but also a graceful, elegant nod to days gone by. Take the nostalgic tour and experience the magic for yourself. Check out the mansion’s calendar for other holiday events happening there, including Night of the Nutcracker with Portland Ballet and Mr. Dickens and His Carol.

Roskva, one of the trolls lit up during Gardens Aglow at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Gardens Aglow
Saturday through Dec. 31. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, 105 Botanical Gardens Drive, Boothbay, $19, $17 seniors and veterans, $10 kids 3 to 17, under 3 free, $48 family of four.
It’s the ninth year for Gardens Aglow in Boothbay, and it sure is worth trip to bask in the multi-colored radiance of more than 750,000 LED lights spread over the garden’s 14 acres. There will be new walking routes and paths to discover, and the displays are breathtaking. You’ll also encounter the giant wooden trolls Roskya and Lilja lit up for viewing, nature-inspired sculptures, themed areas, and more lights than you can possibly imagine to make the visit one you’ll long remember.


Peter Salsbury as Santa and Jeff McNally as Buddy in City Theater’s production of “Elf The Musical.”

‘Elf The Musical’
Dec. 1-17. City Theater, 205 Main St., Biddeford, $25, $30.
It’s been 20 years since the classic holiday film “Elf” hit the theaters, and now you can see a staged, musical version of it in Biddeford. Jeff McNally plays Buddy, a human who thinks he’s an elf, and understandably so, as he works at the North Pole making toys. When Buddy sets off to Manhattan to track down his father, there’s a severe shortage of Christmas cheer that he needs to do something about. With numbers like “Nobody Cares About Santa” and “Sparklejollytwinklejingley,” “Elf” will put a skip in your step, a smile on your face, and a renewed belief in holiday magic in your heart. McNally is joined by a cast of 23 characters.

A scene from Fenix Theater Company’s production of “12th Night: A Holiday Musical.” Photo by Michelle Handley

12th Night: A Holiday Musical
Dec. 7-17. Stevens Square, 631 Stevens Ave., Portland, $20 suggested donation, $40 per family.
Fenix Theatre Company invites you to the jubilant 12th Night: A Holiday Musical. Shakespeare’s comedy has been transformed to include 25 holiday songs making for a jolly good time for fans of all ages. The show features impressive physicality, including sword play. You’ll see first-rate performances as characters untangle a web of mistaken identities and forged documents on a stage with giant presents. Heck, there’s even a pillow fight.

Rabi Levi Wilansky of Chabad of Maine lights the Menorah at Portland City Hall as part of a community Hanukkah celebration. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Grand Menorah Lighting
5:30 p.m. Dec. 7. Portland City Hall, 389 Congress St., Portland.
The annual lighting of the 12-foot menorah happens on the first day of Hanukkah outside City Hall in Portland. Leading into the lighting is a car menorah parade at 4:30 p.m. It leaves from the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine at 1342 Congress St. and ends at City Hall for the menorah lighting ceremony and celebration that includes music, entertainment and chocolate gelt. Reach out to Chabad of Maine to receive a car menorah that gets attached to your roof for the parade.

Magic of Christmas
Dec. 8-17. Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland, $32 to $99.
Celebrating its 44th year, the Magic of Christmas is a longtime, much-loved tradition presented by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, led by music director Eckart Preu and featuring municipal organist James Kennerley and the Magic of Christmas chorus. This year’s program features a sleigh of chestnuts including “Carol of the Bells,” “Christmas Time is Here,” “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah and the Hanukkah Festival Overture. Come with your vocal chords warmed up, because one of the best parts of the show is the sing-along.

Gingerbread Spectacular
Dec. 15-17. Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, 86 Townsend Ave.
It’s always worth the ride to Boothbay Harbor for one of the season’s sweetest events. The Gingerbread Spectacular is a three-day visual feast you can really sink your teeth into. The preview party (with cash bar) is on Friday and features holiday dance tunes of Barney Balch and the Novel Jazz Quartet. You’ll also get the first look at this year’s gingerbread entries, continuing Saturday and Sunday. Houses, castles and other structures made by both professional and amateur bakers will be on display and voting categories are most spectacular, best traditional gingerbread house design, most hilarious, best representation of a local landmark, and best holiday spirit, among others. Be sure to hit the bake sale to take home a slew of holiday desserts, cakes and pies.

A Victorian Nutcracker
Dec. 16-23. Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Road, Brunswick and Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland, $34 to $95.
With sets and backdrops inspired by Portland’s Victoria Mansion, a Victorian Nutcracker promises to be a visually stunning and nostalgic retelling of Clara’s legendary Christmas Eve dream after being gifted a nutcracker. In this version, the characters are drawn from Portland’s past, and the show features live music from the Portland Ballet Orchestra.



Tree Lighting
4:30-6:30 p.m. Dec. 1. Mill Creek Park, South Portland. On Facebook.
The tree lighting at Mill Creek Park in South Portland is a delightful gathering presented by South Portland Parks and Recreation and the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber of Commerce. You’ll hear carols from the high school chorus and welcoming remarks from the South Portland mayor.  Other entertainment is being planned, and hot cocoa and treats will be available. Also, rumor has it Santa Claus will be dropping by for selfies and to hear your gift requests. Donations of non-perishable food items, unwrapped gifts and kids’ winter clothing will be collected.

‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’
Thursday through Dec. 3. Various showtimes. Cumston Hall, 796 Main St., Monmouth, $23, $30.
Theater at Monmouth winds down its 54th year on a spirited note with a funny take on a holiday gem. “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol” stars Paul Hanley, and the show, based on the Charles Dickens tale, is written from the perspective of Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley. Might Marley escape his hellacious eternity? Only if he can lead Scrooge onto the path of redemption. Expect plenty of laughs, frights and smile-inducing moments. Haley is a one-man tour de force portraying not only Marley but also the roles of Scrooge, the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, Fezziwig and Cratchit while serving as the show’s narrator.

Portland Festival of Trees
10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m Friday and Saturday. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Through Dec. 3. 415 Congress St., Portland, $5, free for 12 and under with adult.
The Portland Festival of Trees features silent auctions on fancy goodies, a craft fair with nearly 30 vendors, visits with Santa Claus, and more than 30 decorated trees you can buy raffle tickets for, and if you’re lucky, get to take home.  This year’s festival is a benefit for the Children’s Dyslexia Center. Hop on the site to see the complete schedule.

Portland Tree Lighting
1-7 p.m. Friday. Monument Square, Portland.
One of the most festive ways to get into the holiday spirit is to assemble at Portland’s Monument Square for the annual tree lighting. It’s now an all-day affair that includes an open-air viewing party of a Bruins game, screenings of holidays films and TV shorts, an outdoor winter artisans market, Hood eggnog samples, ice sculpture demos, face painting, live music and dancing. The magic moment when the tree gets lit is at 6 p.m.

‘The Nutcracker’
2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 2, 2 p.m. Dec. 3. Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland, $28 to $82.
You’ll already be hearing Tchaikovsky’s iconic score in your head as you make your way to Merrill Auditorium for Maine State Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker.” The artistic director is former New York City Ballet dancer Linda MacArthur Miele, so you can trust that the show will be sensational. Travel with Clara and the Nutcracker Prince to the Land of Sweets, where they’ll meet with the Sugar Plum Fairies.

‘The Nutracker’
6 p.m. Friday, 1 and 6 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday, 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 2, 1 p.m. Dec. 3. Star Theatre, 120 Rogers Road, Kittery, $34, $26 seniors and kids 12 and under.
The Star Theatre in Kittery celebrates its seventh year of presenting “The Nutcracker.” Over the course of two weekends, there will be two different casts that include more than 50 students and several dancers from New Hampshire, Maine and New York City. Naomi Sawyer of Northeastern Ballet Theatre and Assaf Benchetrit, formerly of The Joffrey Ballet, will return as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier the first weekend and will dance as the Snow Queen and Snow King during the second. After Saturday matinee performances, fans can chat with cast members and see tutus and tiaras up close during Land of the Sweets meet-and-greet sessions.

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