L.L. Bean crews, or “L.L. Elves” as they’re otherwise known, work on the retailer’s 55-foot Christmas tree outside the flagship store in Freeport on Wednesday. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

FREEPORT — The 55-foot Northern Spruce in the center of L.L. Bean’s discovery village is the centerpiece of the company’s popular annual Northern Lights celebration, which kicks off in mid-November each year and runs through the end of December. 

This year, as the coronavirus pandemic swells in Maine and across the nation, the company has had to shift plans, and the huge Christmas tree (20-feet taller than the one in 2018) is one of the few remaining pieces of the celebration that has drawn thousands to the area each year for the last 15 years. 

Dean Bartley, 2, from Cape Elizabeth, takes a sip from his hot chocolate at last year’s annual L.L. Bean Northern Lights Celebration in Freeport. Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record

Gone are the thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights of the discovery forest, Santa and his reindeer, the warming hut, hot chocolate and the treats.

However, despite the absence of so many favorites and no official tree lighting celebration, L.L. Bean is doing what it can to make the season festive and keep people safe while still capturing a little bit of holiday magic.

“This year’s celebration brings the magic of the season to life, but we’ve reimagined it to reduce the spaces where crowds typically gathered,” company spokesperson Amanda Hannah wrote in an email. 

Guests this year can sit on heated benches to take in the central Christmas tree, decked out with more than 25,000 lights, and watch the daily light show set to music that runs every half hour from 5 to 9 p.m. There will also be a “larger-than-life snow globe,” decorated window displays and a new Holidays Around the World installation teaching visitors about other holidays celebrated this time of year.

The entrance to the flagship store is now graced with a festive, illuminated tree tunnel, which Hannah said can also serve as coverage if a line forms outside the store as they enforce social distancing. 

L.L. Bean crews, or “L.L. Elves” as they’re otherwise known, work on the retailer’s 55-foot Christmas tree outside the flagship store in Freeport on Wednesday. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

The Northern Lights celebration also traditionally serves as an official kickoff for L.L. Bean’s holiday shopping season. 

Retailers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and even L.L. Bean had to temporarily close its famously open doors, but the retailer has rebounded quickly. 

“We continue to see amazing results this year as more and more people continue to connect with the outdoors during this time,” she said. 

The company’s winter sports category is up 165%, as snowshoes (up 300%), sleds and snow tubes (170%) and cross-country skis (130%) fly off the shelves. 

Creature comforts and unofficial work from home gear, like sleepwear and sweatshirts are also up, with sweatpants performing especially well, with a 180% increase. 

“Overall, we expect to perform slightly better than last holiday season – which is incredible given the strong performance we had in November and December last year,” Hannah said. 

Comments are not available on this story.