After the 2020 holiday season was marked by pandemic-related cancellations, some Maine communities are bringing back their traditional in-person festivities this year.
Rockland’s Festival of Lights event will return next weekend after being canceled last year. The following weekend, Belfast’s annual tree lighting ceremony will be held downtown after taking a one year hiatus.
While some changes have been made to accommodate pandemic precautions, organizers feel giving the communities a way to connect around the holidays is needed this year.
“This holiday season feels like a moment where people are really excited to get back to what makes the holiday so special, and that is connection and community,” Rockland Main Street Executive Director David Gogel said.
Holiday trees in both Rockland and Belfast were put up last year, and in Belfast a menorah was also lit, but the public was not able to gather in person to celebrate the ceremonial lightings. This year both cities are welcoming the public back to enjoy these moments in person, along with other events aimed at attracting customers to downtown businesses for holiday shopping.
Rockland will hold its Festival of Lights event on Saturday Nov. 27. The event culminates in the lighting of the city’s beloved lobster trap tree at 6 p.m. The 40-foot-tall tree consists of 200 lobster traps and 600 feet of garland. It was constructed Nov. 17 by a team of community volunteers and members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The tree lighting is part of the daylong Festival of Lights celebration, which also includes appearances from Santa and a parade down Main Street featuring holiday light-strewn floats. A full schedule of events can be found on Rockland Main Street’s Facebook page.
This year, Rockland Main Street has also raised funds to purchase a menorah that will be lit on Nov. 28 in recognition of the first night of Hanukkah, followed by a celebration on Dec. 4.
Since most of the events will be outside, people can spread out and mask based on their comfort level, Gogel said, but masking will be required at a breakfast with Santa for anyone who is not vaccinated. Wagon rides are typically offered during the Festival of Lights, but organizers did not feel comfortable bringing back this event this year, he said.
“Yes, we’re not through the woods, but as best as possible, we’re trying to get back to tradition,” Gogel said.
The Rockland event coincides with Small Business Saturday, a national event aimed at encouraging people to shop locally for the holidays. Gogel said shopping locally will be logistically important this year as shopping online will likely include shipping delays.
The city and Rockland Main Street are teaming up to add more decorative lights to trees along Main Street this year. The addition of lights has inspired business owners like Ann Hoppe, of the Puffin’s Nest, to add more decoration to their own establishments to add to the downtown’s holiday vibrancy.
“It just brings that excitement. You drive down Main Street and it looks pretty and festive. To me it just makes you want to get out and stroll,” Hoppe said.
Belfast will kick off its holiday events with the annual lighting of the city’s menorah in Post Office Square at 4 p.m. on November 28th to mark the start of Hanukkah. The following weekend, on Dec. 4 at 4:30 p.m., Our Town Belfast will also host the annual tree lighting in Post Office Square. This year, to allow for more room for people to spread out, a portion of Church Street will be closed, according to Our Town Belfast Executive Director Zach Schmesser.
The tree lighting will include carolling and appearances by both Santa and Mrs. Claus. The event coincides with the downtown’s annual early bird shopping sale. At all events, Our Town Belfast is encouraging folks to wear masks when distancing isn’t possible, Schmesser said.
While some pandemic precautions are still in place, and some events have been tweaked, both Schmesser and Gogel said they feel there is a desire in the community to connect over holiday traditions in whatever way possible this year.
“These are outdoor events and there is definitely a yearning for people to be together,” Schmesser said. “These are traditions that have been around for a really long time and I think are kind of foundational for our community.”
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Other ways coastal communities will kick off the holiday season include:
– In lieu of holding a tree lighting ceremony this year, a 24/7 live camera feed of the Monument Square tree sponsored by the group Downtown Portland.
– Kennebunk’s Christmas Prelude, which kicks off Dec. 2 with two weeks of events, including a trap tree lighting in the village of Cape Porpoise.
– Camden’s annual Christmas by the Sea festivities, which returns Dec. 3 with a parade and tree lighting marking the start of the weekend-long event.