Take a drive through the lights at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Photo by Tory Paxson/Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Pandemic or not, Maine’s holiday happenings are shifting into overdrive, literally.

Several holiday events this year are designed to allow people to drive around to see festive light displays or holiday decorations, including Gardens Aglow in Boothbay, Downtown Holiday Ride in Biddeford and Saco and the Holiday Trail of Lights in the Kennebunk area. People can stay in the warmth and comfort of their cars instead of walking among throngs of others to view the merriment, which is not prudent while COVID-19 is still with us.

Many of southern Maine’s annual holiday activities will continue this year, but with safety changes. Some will be held virtually, others will be held outdoors or in ways that keep crowds small. You can also celebrate with annual holiday cultural events,  like Portland Ballet’s “A Victorian Nutcracker” being shown on local TV this year or live, small-crowd performances of a “A Christmas Carol” at Portland Stage and The Footlights Theatre in Falmouth.

But if you want to focus on lights, trees, tinsel, gingerbread, Santa Claus and other jolliness, the list below should give you plenty of ideas of what to do for holiday fun this year.

Gardens Aglow in Boothbay this year will be a drive-thru event. Photo by Tory Paxson/Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens


This annual event at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay has been transformed into a driving tour of the property, with trees, rocks and ledge covered with lights of all colors. There are many free-standing light displays too, including brilliant replicas of moose, deer, dragonflies, loons and frogs. There’s also a drive-thru tunnel of lights. The tour, using the gardens’ cart paths, takes about a half hour. Admission is $40 per vehicle, and individual arrival times are booked in advance. Tours began Saturday and run through Jan. 2, mostly Thursdays through Sundays. For more information and tickets, go to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens website.



The holiday light installations of artist Pandora LaCasse have graced Portland for years. In some areas, trees are wrapped in colorful lights, in other areas the lights appear as giant pom poms or bells sprouting from light poles or clinging to buildings. This may be the year to see them all, in one fell swoop, by driving all over downtown using a map and guide created by Downtown Portland. Areas of light displays described on the map include Longfellow Square, Congress Street, Congress Square Park, Lincoln Park, Tommy’s Park, Boothby Square, Commercial Street, Pleasant Street Park, Deering Oaks, Maine College of Art and several other locations. The lights will be illuminated for the season Friday. There’s a map and guide you can use to find all the light displays on the Portland Downtown website. You can also request to have a map mailed to you by contacting Portland Downtown.

This might be a good year to drive around downtown Portland to view all the light displays by artist Pandora LaCasse. Photo by Corey Templeton


There’s a change in the annual tree lighting in Portland’s Monument Square this year. Instead of making a big ceremony out of lighting the tree and attracting crowds, the tree will be lit early Friday morning. People can then see the tree and watch downtown happenings on a new Monument Square Tree Cam, streaming 24/7 and accessible through the Portland Downtown website.


The Holiday Trail of Lights is an area-wide decorating contest, with a downloadable map, so people can drive around and see all the entries. The contest allows businesses and residents of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel to enter the contest, for $25, and get their display put on the map. Then, between Dec. 1 and 28, people can drive to as many of the displays as they want, for $5, which includes the map and allows people to vote for their favorite. Proceeds will go to not-for-profit organizations that partner with each home or business. People are encouraged to stay in their cars at all times and not block traffic in front of homes and businesses. For more information, go to the website of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport Arundel Chamber of Commerce.


Another driving tour of lights, called Downtown Holiday Ride, is being planned for Biddeford and Saco this year on Dec. 4 from 6-8 p.m. To see a map of where the lights are and more details about the event, check out the Heart of Biddeford website.

The annual Festival of Trees at the Dyer Library/Saco Museum will feature outdoor decorations and lights instead of the usual indoor tree display. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer


The Dyer Library and Saco Museum in Saco are turning their annual Festival of Trees inside out. Instead of having dozens of decorated trees – plus wreaths and gingerbread houses – indoors, the library and museum will turn their joint property into an outdoor holiday display of lights and ornaments. Visitors will be invited to drive through the campus of the library and museum to see the displays from their car. The free festival runs Friday though Dec. 30 and will be lit up 4-10 p.m. Mrs. Claus will be handing out bags of goodies for kids on Dec. 5, and Santa will make appearance on Dec. 12. For more information, go the Dyer Library/Saco Museum website.


L.L. Bean always does up the holidays big, but this year there is more to see from outside of the store. The retail campus in Freeport will be decorated with thousands of lights and a giant Christmas tree, with nightly holiday music in Discovery Park and light shows. There will also be heated benches, “whimsical” window displays and a light-up tunnel for people waiting to get into the store. There will be photo ops, as usual, including inside L.L. Bean’s giant snow globe. The event, which started Monday, runs through Dec. 31. For more information, go the L.L. Bean website.



The Moonlight Cinema series at Thompson’s Point in Portland is continuing its outdoor movies right into winter. On Friday at 5:30 p.m., the movie will be the 2018 version of “Dr. Seuss’ the Grinch.” The animated film features Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the Grinch. Tickets are $70 for a groups of up to six, with fire pits included. There is also a bar and concessions, but people need to bring their own chair or blankets. For information and tickets, go to Moonlight Cinema at Eventbrite.com.


The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor will host its Gingerbread Spectacular, indoors, with dozens of gingerbread houses and castles on display and vying for prizes. Because of COVID-19, the number of people viewing the displays at one time will be limited and masks will be required. The free event runs Dec. 2-5. For information, go the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor website.


The Christmas Prelude celebration in Kennebunkport runs Dec. 3-13, with a mix of virtual and live events. The virtual events include the Hat Parade, tree lightings in Dock Square and Cape Porpoise and Santa arriving by lobster boat. Live activities include a Christmas Market, the Prelude Cocktail Trail and live music. For a full schedule of events, go to the Christmas Prelude website.


In Portland, the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum will host train rides on its Holiday Express on various days, from Friday through Dec. 23., from its Thames Street platform. Ten historic coaches are decked out for the holidays, and the train goes along Portland’s waterfront past holiday lights and decorations during the 45-minute ride. Face coverings are required and social distancing is followed. Tickets are $30 to $45. For more information and tickets, go to the Holiday Express event page at Porttix.com.


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