Instead of Waterville’s Parade of Lights, a “Light Up the Town” contest is underway, where people were asked to hang as many lights as possible on their homes or businesses, and Santa Claus and a panel of judges will drive around late Friday afternoon to inspect them. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The city of Waterville kicks off the holiday season this week, but with a new twist to keep children and adults safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of launching the annual Parade of Lights on Friday, a “Light Up the Town” contest is underway, where people were asked to hang as many lights as possible on their homes or businesses, and Santa Claus and a panel of judges will drive around late Friday afternoon to inspect them.

Mix Maine Media will follow along and broadcast live. The winner will receive an in-person visit with Santa at a later time.

A map of the homes and businesses featuring lots of lights will be posted Tuesday on the website www.kringleville.org, according to Amarinda Keys, executive director of the Children’s Discovery Museum, which organizes Kringleville and other holiday activities in the city.

More than 50 places in and around Waterville, including in Winslow and Oakland, are listed on the map, she said.

Keys said those who did not get a chance to put lights on their homes before the map was made may post a photo of their location on Facebook and tag Kringleville or the Discovery Museum, and those pictures will be posted on both websites.

The map was created by Serena Sanborn, a member of the Discovery Museum’s Board of Directors.

“Serena did an amazing job,” Keys said.

While Santa Claus will not meet children in person at Kringleville this year, children may meet with him during individual, virtual, online video calls, Keys said.

People must register to schedule a virtual visit by texting 207-956-0334 and listing their name, email address, children’s names, if desired, and anything else they would like to mention to Santa.

Video calls are scheduled between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, and people should sign up soon as possible.

“We have about 150 of 315 slots left, so they’re going quickly,” Keys said Monday.

Children can also mail letters to Santa by dropping them off in the box at Kringleville, beginning Tuesday, or by placing them in the mail, addressed to Santa at the North Pole. Santa will write back if children leave their names and addresses on their letters.

The skating rink at Kringleville will be open when it is cold enough, according to Keys.

“That’s exciting,” she said. “They just put it up this weekend, and we’re going to fill it with water when it’s cold enough.”

The Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce will continue its tradition of passing out books to children in person, according to Keys.

“With extra precautions, the distribution will be from the Mid-Maine Chamber Visitor Center this year (at 50 Elm St.),” she said. “Children who have a virtual visit with Santa will receive a ticket to pick up a book during normal business hours. Thank you to Marden’s and Sappi Fine Paper for making this possible.”

Kringleville is sponsored by Central Maine Motors Chevrolet Buick, Bangor Savings Bank, Selah Tea, New Dimensions Federal Credit Union, MaineGeneral Health and Day’s Jewelers.

Meanwhile, Matt Skehan, director of the Waterville Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments, said Monday that Santa’s house will be delivered Tuesday morning to Kringleville at Castonguay Square downtown, where a 25-foot evergreen was erected Friday.

Skehan for several years had admired a tree on an old farm in Augusta, and stopped recently to ask if Waterville could have it for the holidays this year. The owner, who has asked to remain anonymous, obliged.

“We’re happy and thankful for that,” Skehan said. “It’s probably the biggest one we’ve ever had.”

Skehan’s staff had hoped to hang lights from the tree beginning Monday, but heavy rain got in the way.

“We’ll be putting the lights up tomorrow and Wednesday,” Skehan said.

Last year, the city decided to try a different location for the annual holiday tree, erecting it at the RiverWalk at Head of Falls, off Front Street.

This year, the tree is back at its traditional spot at Castonguay Square.


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