Waterville’s annual Parade of Lights —seen marching down Main Street on Nov. 24, 2017 — is canceled this year because of COVID-19. Instead, a cruise of light decorations at homes and businesses is planned. Michael G. /Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The annual Parade of Lights and visits with Santa at Kringleville in Castonguay Square downtown have been canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but organizers have other fun activities planned for the city’s holiday season.

A “Light Up The Town” contest is being launched where businesses and individuals are asked to decorate their properties with as many lights as possible, and Santa Claus and a panel of judges will drive by the sites on Nov. 27, Black Friday, the day the parade and opening of Kringleville normally occur. Judges will announce a winner the following week.

“We’re going to do the ‘Light Up the Town’ theme in place of the parade,” said Amarinda Keys, executive director of the Children’s Discovery Museum.

Keys said she spoke with the Waterville Police Department about whether to hold a parade this year, but all decided it was too risky.

“There’s just too much uncertainty to plan something that is a mass gathering,” she said.

Keys dreamed up the idea for the lighting contest, drawing on a childhood memory.

“When I was a kid, we used to get in the car in our pajamas and drive around and look at Christmas lights,” she recalled.

Registration forms for entering the contest were placed online Tuesday at www.facebook.com/Kringleville and www.facebook.com/cdmplay, according to Keys. The names of those who register for the contest will be placed in a drawing to win a gift card to a local restaurant.

Keys said a map will be developed of all the locations taking part so people can drive or walk by to see the decorations and lights. While she expects most participants will be in the Waterville area, others are welcome to take part.

Piper Gilbert, with TNT Dance Studio, performs with other members of the studio during the annual Parade of Lights in Waterville on November 29, 2019. This year’s parade has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and replaced with a cruise of lights at homes and businesses. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

“We’ll include anyone who wants to register on the map,” Keys said. “If it goes well, we could always do this — and the parade — next year. I think people will like this.”

Mark Huard, owner of Central Maine Photography which supports the holiday events, said he loves the idea of having the lighting contest, which will allow for people, including Santa and the judges, to ride around and enjoy the sites. Huard will be supporting this year’s activities with community photos.

“I love the magic of the holiday season,” Huard said Tuesday. “I think this year is even more important to do anything we can to help make it a joyful season.”

A special “Letters to Santa” activity will be offered where children may write letters to Santa and leave them in his mailbox at Kringleville in Castonguay Square — and they will receive a letter back if they include the child’s address in the letter, according to Keys. The museum will keep that information confidential.

In place of in-person visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus at Kringleville, children may visit with them virtually by scheduling an appointment. Families will be asked to fill out an online form to sign up for a time slot and the video calls will last 10 minutes. Time slots will be available between noon and 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those who do not have access to video may have phone calls with Santa, according to Keys.

Also, pre-recorded, individualized video messages from Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available on the museum and Kringleville Facebook pages.

Last but not least, a giant holiday evergreen tree will be placed in Castonguay Square this year to help usher in the holiday season. The Waterville Parks & Recreation and Public Works departments will organize the tree effort and the museum will supply the lights for it.

Major “North Pole” sponsors of the holiday events this year are Maine Chevy Dealers and Central Maine Chevrolet, as well as Bangor Savings Bank.

Keys said the RiverWalk at Head of Falls, including the gazebo there, will be decorated for the holidays again this year.

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