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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: November 30, 2015

Free holiday fun for families in southern Maine this December

Written by: Ray Routhier

This time of year most us our richer in spirit, but holiday hoopla will also leave many of us poorer in the wallet.

That’s because holiday bills add up so fast. The presents alone will put a big dent in most household finances. But add in some holiday concerts, house tours or other events, and the dent becomes a sinkhole.

But you don’t have to ask Santa for a loan just to go out and have some holiday fun in southern Maine. We’re lucky in this area to have lots of free events and activities aimed at helping us stay jolly through the holidays. Freeport, Bath, Portland, South Portland and Biddeford are just a few of the places where the shopping districts or downtowns host free wagon rides, caroling, visits with Santa, and other holiday hoopla.

The local baseball team, the Portland Sea Dogs, will host Holiday at Hadlock Saturday, where the highlight is Santa’s arrival via helicopter at 11 a.m. And just walking around Portland to look at the holiday lights is a real treat.

So free yourself from calculating how much you can spend on the holidays this year, and go out and find some free family fun. Here is a list of some things to do and places to go between now and the new year:

Biddeford’s Downtown Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting, 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, City Square area, Main and Alfred streets, Biddeford. heartofbiddeford.org
The evening begins with a stage at City Square, where the Academy of Dance will perform “Nutcracker” scenes and the Biddeford Middle School choir will sing holiday favorites. Santa is scheduled to arrive via horse-drawn sleigh for a tree lighting at 5:30 p.m. There are also free horse-drawn carriage rides those of use who are not Santa.

Holiday lights in Mill Creek Park, South Portland. Jack Milton/Press Herald file photo

Holiday lights in Mill Creek Park, South Portland. Jack Milton/Press Herald file photo

Holiday Fest 2015, 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, Mill Creek Park, corner of Broadway and Ocean streets, South Portland. Facebook: Holiday Fest 2015
Families can take a free horse-drawn carriage ride around Mill Creek Park, then visit with Santa Claus at City Hall. Be sure to gather around the gazebo near the pond by 5:45 p.m. to hear chorus members from South Portland High School and both middle schools sing holiday songs. Then at 6 p.m. the trees (lots of trees in Mill Creek Park) are lit with one flip of a switch. Then there’s more singing.

Light wrapped trees frame the traditional Christmas Tree on the L.L. Bean campus in Freeport. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald file photo

Light wrapped trees frame the traditional Christmas Tree on the L.L. Bean campus in Freeport. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald file photo

Sparkle Celebration Parade of Lights, 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, Main Street, Freeport. sparklecelebration.com
Freeport’s annual Sparkle Celebration weekend kicks off Friday with a parade down Main Street, featuring lots of well-lit floats, music and song. The parade ends when Santa brings Freeport’s “talking” Christmas tree to life. The tree, or perhaps a volunteer with a mic and headphones, sings and chats with passing shoppers. Also Friday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. there will be visits with Santa on L.L. Bean’s patio on Main Street. On Saturday there will be free carriage rides leaving from L.L. Bean, and a free tuba concert at Freeport Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. For a complete list of the Sparkle Celebration activities, including the free ones, go to sparklecelebration.com. The events run through Sunday.

 Holiday at Hadlock, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, Hadlock Field, 271 Park Ave., Portland. Facebook: Holiday at Hadlock
If you think the home field of the Portland Sea Dogs is dormant all winter, think again. The Sea Dog staff open it for a great holiday event, now in its fifth year. The highlight of the free event is watching Santa arrive from the North Pole in his official helicopter, Elf One. The plan is for the helicopter to touch down in the infield, with fans watching from the stands. There will also be, in and around the stadium, a petting zoo, carriage rides, free hot chocolate and s’mores, face painters, balloon twisting and songs by The Kastaways, the Sea Dog’s official mascot band. The band is made up of various mascots, in full costume, playing and singing. There’s also a room where people can decorate used baseballs and turn them into Christmas ornaments.

Two Belgian horses give wagon rides around Monument Square. Jill Brady/Press Herald file photo

Two Belgian horses give wagon rides around Monument Square. Jill Brady/Press Herald file photo

Portland Downtown, a merchants group, organizes free horse-drawn wagon rides around downtown and the Old Port on weekends for the holiday seasons now through Dec. 20. The wagons leave Monument Square on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 2 to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. You can combine a wagon ride with some downtown store window browsing. Shop windows should be very festive, since some two dozen businesses are participating this year in Portland Downtown’s window display contest. For more information Portland Downtown’s free holiday activities, go to portlandmaine.com

An Old Fashioned Christmas in Bath is a season-long array of events in Bath, a historic ship-building city with a downtown right out of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Starting this weekend, and through Dec. 19, there will be free carol singing and trolley riding event on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Trolley buses leave City Hall every 30 minutes. Passengers then join their voices in holiday song, as they ride around the town. If you go for the trolley ride on Dec. 11, a downtown business open house will be going on. Shops and restaurants will be open until at least 8 p.m., and the sidewalks will be lit with luminaria as holiday music fills the air. For more information go to visitbath.com.

Lighting designer Pandora LaCasse’s displays have twinkled all over Portland, including on the facade of the Time & Temperature Building.

Lighting designer Pandora LaCasse’s displays have twinkled all over Portland, including on the facade of the Time & Temperature Building.

Portland’s holiday lighting, if you’ve never stopped to think about it, is very impressive. Some of the most impressive are the work of artist Pandora LaCasse, who has created than 150 light structures, featuring thousands of lights, that are displayed all over Portland, including on Congress Street, in Deering Oaks, in Old Port parks, and near the waterfront. So a great free thing to do is just pick an area, when it’s dark, and explore the lights. Whole tree trunks are wrapped in lights, and giant bells and stars and balls hang from buildings like ornaments on a great brick tree. Read Ray Routhier’s story about how to best take in Portland’s holiday lights, and where to find them: See the lights! Take a self-guided walking tour of downtown Portland’s stunning holiday lights

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