Participants in a previous year's Prelude Hat Parade in Kennebunkport sport gingerbread-house hats. This year's parade will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. Credit: Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — With the last of the Thanksgiving turkey tucked away, it’s time to gear up for the most festive two weeks of the year in Kennebunkport, with the 37th annual Christmas Prelude set to begin Nov. 29 and running through Dec. 9.

Last week’s snow added to the festive spirit around town, as the crew of long-time dedicated volunteers led by Prelude Chairman Sheila Matthews-Bull began decking the halls — or rather the light posts, telephone poles and store fronts in preparation.

The Kennebunkport Business Association has been working for months to put together a schedule that includes all the favorite events Prelude fans have come to know and love over the years, and a few new ones sure to delight revelers of all ages.

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At the center of the week-long festivities are three tree-lighting ceremonies and Santa’s arrival by lobster boat. The Dock Square tree will be lit at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, and the iconic lobster trap tree in Cape Porpoise will be lit at 7 p.m. the same evening. The Lower Village Tree lighting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, followed by candlelight caroling at the Franciscan Monastery. Santa’s arrival by lobster boat has been a tradition since the very first Christmas Prelude in 1982, and he will be pulling into Dock Square this year at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 2.

After docking at The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel on Ocean Avenue, follow Santa and his Lobster Elves through Dock Square to the Community House on Temple Street for photos and a chance for the little ones to tell Santa their Christmas wishes.

What began in 1982 as a way for merchants to thank local residents for their support has grown into a holiday destination event, filling hotel rooms, restaurants and shops with visitors and locals for a full two weeks of festive shopping, dining and revelry.

The Dock Square tree is one of the most photographed Christmas trees in the country during the two weeks of Prelude, with its simple white lights, classic lobster buoy decorations, and the signature tree topper featuring a red lobster holding a gold star.

This year’s tree was donated by Kennebunk resident Deb Lightbody in memory of her husband Bill, who died from ALS in 2015.

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“Personal connections are what Prelude is all about,” Tina Hewett-Gordon, general manager of The Nonantum Resort said. “That’s why people come back year after year. And this year’s tree has a special personal connection.”

The beautiful, full 35-foot tree began as a tiny evergreen planted as a housewarming gift from Bill’s cousin, Joe Lightbody in 1993. Joe trimmed and groomed it over the years to make sure it grew round and full. Deb wanted to share her late husband’s memory by donating the tree for Christmas Prelude, and will have the honor of flipping the switch to light the tree, officially kicking off the Prelude celebration.

The signature events like the tree lightings, the Hat Parade, candlelight caroling and Santa’s arrival are always a must for Prelude guests according to Ashley Padget, president of the Kennebunkport Business Association.

This year a few new events have been added to spark creativity and liven up the evenings during Prelude.

“It’s the biggest schedule that we have ever had, both late night and weekday. We can’t wait to enjoy with everyone,” Padget said.

Visitors can enjoy a serene moment amidst the bustle of Prelude by joining the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust for “Walking the Light Labyrinth” at the Trust’s Grist Mill property on Mill Lane, just a short walk from Dock Square. From 3:30 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30 and Friday, Dec. 7, visitors can walk the labyrinth to the center and out again, enjoying the beauty and magic of the lights.

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This new event will kick off plans for a permanent labyrinth project at KCT headquarters on Gravelly Brook Road.

For those looking for a break from shopping, and a bit of refreshment, Mornings in Paris is offering a Chocolate Bar suitable for all ages, with make your own hot chocolate decorations, cupcakes, and a chocolate fountain. The Pilot House will host an outside Spiked Cider Bar on their heated patio, and if craft beer is your jam, don’t miss The 12 Beers of Prelude Tap Takeover at Alisson’s Restaurant. Check Alisson’s Facebook events for the tap lineups.

See the full Prelude schedule for dates and times, and look for more block parties, wine tastings and cocktail sampling events to enjoy with family and friends.

The Annual Hat Parade will take place at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. It’s a must-see event as every manner of crazy, elaborate Christmas creations that can be made in the form of headwear, often with costumes and props, parade through Dock Square.

Friday night, Dec. 7 anyone who is downtown for Prelude festivities can take in the fireworks, which have become another favorite addition to the schedule.

The second weekend of Prelude draws more locals, according to Matthews-Bull, and they can watch the tree be lit again, and enjoy the fireworks as well.

“We’re so lucky,” Mathews-Bull said. “We have all of these wonderful things right in our backyard.”

Santa’s arrival by fire engine in Cape Porpoise on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. will signal the end of Prelude 2018.

For a full schedule of events, and more information, check out the print edition of the official Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude Guide, included in this week’s York County Coast Star or find one at a local business, or visit ChristmasPrelude.com.