Mike Wagemann, farm manager at The Old Farm Christmas Place in Cape Elizabeth, directs traffic on Sawyer Road on Friday morning. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Mike Wagemann went to work at a Christmas tree farm on Friday and immediately turned into a traffic cop.

By midmorning, parked cars lined a half-mile stretch of rural Sawyer Road in Cape Elizabeth, where the Old Farm Christmas Place is located. Clad in a reflective orange vest, Wagemann stood in the road by the farm’s driveway, using one arm to wave drivers into the parking lot and the other to hold off traffic in the road. Friday was the first day the farm was open for cutting and hundreds of people were there within the first hour.

Wagemann shouted “Merry Christmas” and “the lot is full” every few minutes. He told people to park on the road while they were picking out and cutting down their trees. When they were ready to come to pick up their evergreen, he told them to “give me a crazy wave” so he’d know to let their car in.

“This is our busiest weekend. We anticipate it, but it’s still madness,” said Wagemann, 44, the farm’s manager for eight years. “I’ve been working on these trees since March. So when you think of all the hard work that goes into this, it’s nice to see these trees going home with customers.”

Wagemann is part of what could be called southern Maine’s cheer squad, the people who work at the various holiday attractions and businesses that help the rest of us get in the Christmas spirit. While many of us had a day off Friday, Wagemann and others were on the job helping to kick the holiday season into high gear.

Heather Cuzzi, center, a volunteer backstage manager for Maine State Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” helps a dancer into a soldier costume before Friday’s matinee. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Some are paid employees, like Wagemann or the retail associates at L.L. Bean in Freeport, where the annual Northern Lights holiday celebration of lights and activities was well underway on Friday. But many are volunteers, who gave up part of their Thanksgiving weekend in the name of a festive Yuletide season.


Tom Lafavore, a retired teacher and school administrator who lives in Yarmouth, is a volunteer docent at Victoria Mansion on Danforth Street in Portland. On Friday, he took up his post in the opulent reception room, answering questions about the furnishings, the home’s history, and the two prominent families who lived there. Other volunteers were doing similar duty in the dozen or so other rooms of the mansion, as visitors slowly swirled around them.

The elegant Victorian home, built in 1858 and open to the public, is decorated by local designers for Christmas every year and typically sees 8,000 visitors during the season. Friday was the first day the mansion’s holiday splendor was on display.

“I’ve noticed the women have been dressed in the holiday spirit, but the men, not so much,” said Lafavore, 69. “It’s nice to see all the return visitors who make this a tradition every year, but we’ve had new visitors, too.”

Tom Lafavore, a docent at Victoria Mansion in Portland, gives a tour of the reception room on Friday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Heather Cuzzi’s holiday duties on Friday afternoon had her lining up bottles of bright red makeup that are used to create red circles on the cheeks of the Toy Soldiers in Maine State Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”  Cuzzi, 44, of Scarborough, volunteers as the backstage manager. The production features more than 300 cast members and more than 200 costumes, and Cuzzi, who runs an event production company, thought her job skills might come in handy. Her daughter Maegan is in the cast.

About a half hour before the 2 p.m. curtain, Cuzzi began getting supplies and other volunteers ready to apply the makeup to the Toy Soldiers and dress them, in assembly line-fashion. She had a few last-minute reminders.

“A few things about putting the hats on. Make sure they can get them on themselves, and also pull the elastics over their chins. Make sure that the hats are coming down to just above their eyebrows, and that the elastics stay in front,” said Cuzzi.


Cuzzi said later that the fun part, for her, is seeing “the dancers’ excitement” as they get dressed and take part in such an elaborate production. “It’s a big deal for many of them, their first time on stage,” said Cuzzi.

Heather Cuzzi, a volunteer backstage manager for Maine State Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” instructs dancers before wardrobe and makeup for Friday’s matinee. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

David Oliver drove about 90 minutes from his home in Essex, Massachusetts, on Friday to be part of many youngsters’ first ride on a historic steam train. More specifically, Oliver is a volunteer conductor on the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad’s annual “Polar Express” holiday excursion along the Portland waterfront, which kicked off for the season Friday.

Wearing a tall conductor’s hat, a long wool coat, and holding a classic conductor’s pocket watch, Oliver greeted youngsters who entered the train’s waiting room at the Ocean Gateway marine terminal. Around 2:15 p.m., he took part in a safety meeting with other crew and volunteers and got ready for the first departure of the day at 2:45 p.m. Oliver, who is 68 and retired from the automotive parts and service business, would be conductor on five trips before the end of his shift Friday.

“It’s exciting for me, every year when you first see the kids and families in matching pajamas and the train all lit up, smoke coming out of the steam engine,” Oliver said.

David Oliver in his role as the conductor on the Polar Express on Friday in Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

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