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Shannon Bryan

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Posted: November 19, 2015

How to have a quintessential New England Christmas: Caroling, tree lightings & horse-drawn sleigh rides

Written by: Shannon Bryan
-Standing by the Christmas tree made of lobster traps at the Annual Lighting of the Nubble in York. Jill Brady/Press Herald file photo

-Standing by the Christmas tree made of lobster traps at the Annual Lighting of the Nubble in York. Jill Brady/Press Herald file photo

New England winters get plenty of criticism. Our distant friends and family like to rib us about the snowfall and the cold. They’re dumbfounded by the fact that we’d choose to live in a place where shovels, snowpants and buckets of sand are required just to leave the house sometimes. But even the fiercest southern-living cold-haters in the country probably daydream – just a little – about New England at Christmastime.

I’m talking about the fir trees layered with snow, the streets bright with holiday lights, the jingle of bells on shop doors, the dashing-through-the-snow-thrill of a horse-pulled sleigh and the almost-too-hot heat that floods your cheeks when you step inside after being outside – and are promptly handed a hot toddy and placed in front of the fireplace.

Yea, New England kind of owns the Christmas season.


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But even here, we sometimes forget to take advantage of the splendid holiday pomp, because we’re busy, we’re broke, it gets dark out too early and that makes us sleepy. But not this year. This year, we’re going to have the New England holiday we deserve. We’re going to actually do the things people in Florida wish they were doing. The things we see on postcards and the covers of the L.L. Bean catalog.

To help, here’s a holiday plan of attack – the simple elements of a quintessential New England Christmas that will have you reveling in the season:

Press Herald file photo

Press Herald file photo

GO ON A SLEIGH RIDE

Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh. We’ve all sung it – but most of us haven’t ever actually dashed through the snow in a sleigh of any kind. Change that this year with a snowy ride in a horse-pulled sleigh.

Maine Horse Drawn Services
100 Covell Road, Fairfield. 207-453-0128. www.mainehorsedrawnservices.com
Horse-drawn sleigh rides through the fields and woods on well-groomed trails at the horse farm. Moonlight sleigh rides also available, as are wagon and buggy rides.

Rockin Horse Stables
245 Arundel Road, Kennebunkport. 207-967-4288. www.rockinhorsemaine.com
Horse-drawn sleigh rides that start at 100-year-old barn and end with hot chocolate by the fireplace.

MAKE YOUR OWN CHRISTMAS CARDS

Sure, a hilarious greeting from Shoebox is nice, but a homemade card says, “You’re so special, I put effort in.” And that’s the best greeting of all. Keep your eyes peeled for card-making workshops, make cards at home or sign up for this Paint Your Own Christmas Cards class in Gray.

Paint Your Own Christmas Cards
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. December 1, Adult Ed Office, 10 Libby Hill Road, Gray. $30. maineadulted.coursestorm.com
Step-by-step instructions on using watercolor pencil to paint a set of poinsettia cards. No experience is necessary and all supplies are included.

People crowd into Dock Square in Kennebunkport for a tree lighting ceremony that kicks off the town's annual Prelude. Gregory Rec/Press Herald file photo

People crowd into Dock Square in Kennebunkport for a tree lighting ceremony that kicks off the town’s annual Prelude. Gregory Rec/Press Herald file photo

ATTEND A TREE LIGHTING

The best time to be near a Christmas tree is on Christmas morning when it starts spitting out all the presents (get there early!). But the second-best time is when the tree is dressed with lights and lit up for all the world to see. It’s like the tree world’s version of a Debutante Ball. “World, I present to you this tree, all dressed up and ready for marriage!” Or maybe it’s just fun to look at trees with lights while singing a few carols.

Some upcoming tree lightings:
Portland: 5:30 p.m. Nov. 27 in Monument Square (live music from Rick Charette beforehand).
Brunswick: 5 p.m. Nov. 28 on the Town Mall (horse and carriage rides beforehand. Santa arrives at 3 p.m.)
Gorham: 5 p.m. Dec. 1 at Robie Park (light parade starts at 4 p.m.).
York: 6 p.m. Saturday at Sohier Park (Lighting of the Nubble. York High School Singer and hot cocoa beforehand).
Yarmouth: 5 p.m. Dec. 5 at Memorial Green (YHS chorus and band lead caroling, plus cookies and hot cocoa).

Long shadows are cast he sun begins to set on a perfect day for ice skating at the Lee Twombly Pond at Falmouth Family Ice. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald file photo

Long shadows are cast he sun begins to set on a perfect day for ice skating at the Lee Twombly Pond at Falmouth Family Ice. Gordon Chibroski/Press Herald file photo

GO ICE SKATING

Ice skating. It’s such a simple – and simply fun – winter activity. Sure, you can ice skate for months after Christmas, but it’s also an inexpensive and family-friendly way to embrace the cold. FMI: 5 free outdoor ice skating venues in southern Maine

Orland H. Blake Skating Pond, Yarmouth
196 Main St., Yarmouth. Open daily, conditions permitting, lighted until 11 p.m. yarmouthcommunityservices.org

The Waterhouse Center, Kennebunk
51 Main St., Kennebunk. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. kennebunkmaine.us

Goddards Pond, Bath
High and Marshall streets, Bath. Dawn to 9 p.m. daily, warming hut 3 to 9 p.m. weekdays, noon to 9 p.m. weekends. cityofbath.com

Scarborough Ice Rink, Scarborough
20 Municipal Drive, Scarborough. 2 to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends, holidays and school vacations. scarboroughmaine.org

Ice Rink at Wainwright Recreation Complex, South Portland
125 Gary L. Maietta Parkway (off Highland Avenue), South Portland. 2 p.m. to 8 p.m Monday to Wednesday, 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. southportland.org

Gregory Rec/Press Herald file photo

Gregory Rec/Press Herald file photo

SING CHRISTMAS CAROLS

Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. There was a time when caroling was a thing (and I’m pretty sure lots of mulled wine was involved). And while the door-to-door singing isn’t as prevalent these days (and there’s less likelihood you’ll be given mulled wine at each stop), there are a number of organized opportunities for you to partake in some old-timey caroling.

Trolley Christmas Caroling in Bath
5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 4, 11, 18 and 25, on a trolley in downtown Bath. Free (first come, first served). visitbath.com

Carol Slam in Portland
2:30 p.m. Dec. 19, Bull Feeney’s, 375 Fore St, Portland. Free. carolslam.me

Caroling with the Gaslight League in Portland
6 p.m. Dec. 22, starts at Bull Feeney’s and will travel through the Old Port (singing all the way, of course). Free. www.facebook.com

Yarmouth Hometown Holidays Carol Sing and Tree Lighting in Yarmouth
5 p.m. Dec. 5, Memorial Green, Yarmouth. Free. yarmouthmaine.org

WATCH A PERFORMANCE OF “A CHRISTMAS CAROL”

“A Christmas Carol” is such a pervasive story – we all know the plot, we all know exactly who Scrooge is, and we can all quote from the play (at least the famous Tiny Tim line). But even so, catching a live performance brings the whole story to life again. And it’ll warm your wee little heart!

“A Christmas Carol” at Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath
7 p.m. Dec. 17, 18 and 19, 2 p.m. Dec. 20, Chocolate Church Arts Center, 804 Washington St, Bath. $12 in advance/$15 at the door. chocolatechurch.com

“A Christmas Carol” at The Public Theatre,
7 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12, 2 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13, The Public Theatre, 31 Maple St., Lewiston. $5-$20. www.thepublictheatre.org

Michael G. Seamans/Press Herald file photo

Michael G. Seamans/Press Herald file photo

CUT YOUR OWN CHRISTMAS TREE

Leave the artificial tree in the basement this year and make the trek out to one of Maine’s many tree farms to cut-your-own. Yes, it costs more. Yes, you’ll have to strap the tree to the roof or figure out a way to jam it into your sedan (and the needles!). But forget all that. Focus on the smell of balsam, the experience of pacing the farm to find just the right one, and the smell of balsam (did I mention that already). If only once, do it.

Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm, 140 Egypt Road, Raymond. 207-655-4474. www.balsamridgechristmas.com

Staples Christmas Trees, 18 Christmas Tree Way, Windham. 207-892.7231. www.facebook.com

Holmes Tree Farm, 193 Whitten Road, Kennebunk, 207-985-3778. holmestreefarm.com

Jack Milton/Press Herald file photo

Jack Milton/Press Herald file photo

TOUR THE HOLIDAY LIGHTS

Our own Ray Routhier said it best in a story he wrote last year: “Portland has an amazingly creative and festive collection of holiday lighting, which is unmatched by most cities of similar size. But if you only drive through town, or walk from your parking garage to your office, you might not appreciate just how many lights Portland has or how spectacular they are.” So get out and LOOK.
You can wander downtown Portland or, if you prefer some guidance, check out the walking tour:
See the lights! Take a self-guided walking tour of downtown Portland’s stunning holiday lights

Customers enjoy a glass of wine near the fireplace in the bar area at Eve's at the Garden. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Press Herald file photo

Customers enjoy a glass of wine near the fireplace in the bar area at Eve’s at the Garden. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Press Herald file photo

DRINK HOT COCOA (OR HOT TODDIES) IN FRONT OF A FIREPLACE

If your home possesses a fireplace, this one’s easy. Just make a hot drink, put on your favorite sweater, lit a fire and relaaaaax. If your home doesn’t possess a fireplace, you’ll have to go looking for one. Luckily, we have some recommendations, which makes finding one pretty easy, too. FMI: 5 Portland-area restaurants with fireplaces

Twenty Milk Street (inside the Portland Regency Hotel)
20 Milk St., Portland. 207-774-4200. theregency.com

Eve’s at the Garden
468 Fore St., Portland. 207-523-2075. portlandharborhotel.com/portland-dining

DiMillo’s on the Water
25 Long Wharf, Portland. 207-772-2216. dimillos.com

Bull Feeney’s
375 Fore St., Portland. 207-773-7210. www.facebook.com/BullFeeneys

Snow Squall
18 Ocean St., South Portland. 207-799-0811. snowsquallrestaurant.com

If you really want to dive in to an old-fashioned Christmas experience, check out these Maine towns, which have weeks of events, from horse-drawn carriage rides and caroling to craft fairs, tree lightings, letters to Santa, luminaria and more:

An Old Fashioned Christmas in Bath
Nov. 28 to Dec. 31 in downtown Bath. visitbath.com

Christmas Prelude in Kennebunkport
Dec. 2 to 13. Downtown Kennebunkport. www.christmasprelude.com

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