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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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
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
“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
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
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
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
375 Fore St., Portland. 207-773-7210. www.facebook.com/BullFeeneys
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