I love the holidays in Maine. The landscape is blanketed with snow, the air is filled with good cheer, and towns all across the state participate in amazing holiday festivals and brilliant light displays. And while the festivities are wonderful, I also love to break away for a moment of solitude at one of the state’s botanical gardens, arboretums, or nature preserves.
Camden has one of Maine’s most iconic harbors, with thousands of visitors flocking to it every summer. But one of my favorite times to visit the area is over the first weekend of December, for the town’s holiday bash — Christmas by the Sea. The town is abuzz with festivities including a parade down Main Street ending at the village green where a huge Christmas tree, decorated in a dazzling array of lights, tinsel, and ornaments is lit for the first time of the year. Santa also makes an appearance during the festivities, arriving to town by lobster boat in true coastal Maine fashion.
If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by all the holiday cheer, I suggest leaving downtown and visiting Merryspring Nature Center. Tucked away on an unassuming, dead-end road, Merryspring is one of Midcoast’s hidden gems. The nature center’s longest trail is about a 45-minute walk, taking you through a densely-forested arboretum, a large, sweeping meadow, and scrubland abundant with juniper, bayberry, and goldenrod.
Head south along the coast to Boothbay’s Festival of Lights. From mid-November to the end of December both Boothbay and Boothbay Harbor are aglow with Christmas lights hanging from stores, inns, and homes. Don’t miss the Gingerbread Spectacular, where professional bakers to grade schoolers square off in a gingerbread-house building contest. After inspecting delicious confectionary creations, take a ride on the North Pole Express, a train that whisks passengers through a snow-covered forest to the North Pole Station where Santa will be waiting to greet everyone.
Though all of Boothbay is beautifully decorated during the festival, the Gardens Aglow light display at theCoastal Maine Botanical Garden is the piéce de résistance. Over 500,000 lights adorn the central gardens and buildings making it the biggest and brightest display in Maine.
During December, I always make the trip to Gardiner for the towns Days of Lightfestival. On the first of December, festivities kick off with a tree lighting ceremony, hot cocoa, and a performance by the Ampersand Academy of Dance. Two nights later, head downtown to Water Street for the Parade of Lights, a mesmerizing symphony of lights, floats, and people.
Looking for a quiet walk in the woods while you are in the area? I suggest heading to the Viles Arboretum in Augusta. With over 300 plant species, 224 acres of land, and six miles of trail, the arboretum is a great way to spend an afternoon exploring nature. None of the trails are very difficult, which is perfect for a leisurely winter stroll. As you walk along, be sure to keep an eye out for the stone sculptures placed throughout the arboretum.
There are so many fun festivals all across our beautiful state it is impossible for me to pick just one. But I can safely say, that no matter which one you choose, you will have a wonderful time full of holiday cheer. So, bundle up and take part in the festivities.