Merrymakers bundled in coats and hats whisked past Christmas shoppers on Commercial Street late Saturday afternoon, headed for Casco Bay Lines and the Maine State Pier.

The gift list could wait. These folks were streaming toward the waterfront, where they would be able to view the 2017 Boat Parade of Lights sailing through Portland Harbor.

It was about 4 p.m. Dusk was coming on fast, and the Casco Bay Ferry – bedecked for the holidays itself – was scheduled to leave at 4:30 to provide revelers with a view from the water, snacks, and a cash bar, all for just $10. That particular party was sold out.

But there were still a few parking spaces left on the Eastern Prom, along the horseshoe drive that cuts through Fort Allen Park, which provides an expansive view of the harbor. Michelle Orne and Brian Hanson, both of Portland, walked down the hill to the park’s overlook to scope out a viewing spot, but just a few minutes later were headed back to their car.

“I think we’re going to stay right here,” Orne said.

“Inside a warm car,” Hanson said, laughing.

This was the couple’s first time watching the parade together. “It’s something to do,” Orne said. “It’s festive. We’re only missing a hot toddy.”

As night fell, children in Santa hats played in the park’s gazebo. One family brought a sled to slide down the crusty, snow-and-ice-covered hill. A maroon Lexus drove by with a curious white terrier (wearing a little scarf or sweater) sticking its nose out the window. Every once in a while, the whistle of the Polar Express, chugging away on the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway below, pierced the air.

Justine Beaudoin and Cassandra Beaudoin of West Gray couldn’t coax their father out into the cold, so Cassandra brought her camera to take photos of her sister at the boat parade to show him later. Justine, wearing a bright blue scarf and sparkly gray boots, said this was their first time at the parade as well. “It’s just something to do, and it’s free,” she said.

By 4:30 all the parking spots were taken, but a line of cars circled through continuously anyway, as if they were out looking at displays of neighborhood Christmas lights. None of the kids were in pajamas, though – it was 28 degrees outside.

A few minutes later, boats festooned with Christmas lights – what looked like a tugboat, a couple of sailboats, and some lobster boats – began to gather in the waters in front of the park. Their red, white, purple and green lights twinkled on the water. If Santa was aboard one of them, he wasn’t visible from the shore. The boat parade has been held since 2001, and in some years more than 30 boats have participated. This group appeared to number around a dozen or so.

After a few minutes, the boats lined up properly and began sailing in a straight line toward the inner harbor and the viewing spots at the Maine State Pier and DiMillo’s restaurant, where presumably there were people enjoying those hot toddies Orne craved in the warmth of the dining room.

Watching from the warmth of their SUV in Fort Allen Park were Nancy McCarthy-Marsden and Alicia Coyne of Portland. They had arrived early, and had two small Amato’s pizzas sitting between them as they enjoyed some “sister time” while watching the boat parade.

“If it was 40 degrees,” McCarthy-Marsden said, “we’d be in the gazebo.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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