In a typical year, putting up holiday decorations nearly a month before Thanksgiving might be considered a bit overkill. But as everyone is painfully aware, 2020 is anything but a typical year.
For many families and municipalities alike, as soon as November rolled around, the orange and purple lights of Halloween were immediately cast aside, in favor of the typically red, green and white lights of the holiday season. Some have even put up Christmas trees, even though some Maine tree farms haven’t even started selling them yet.
The phenomenon of “Christmas creep” has been more commonly associated with large retailers starting their push for holiday shopping weeks before most people have started actively celebrating, with decorations up and Christmas music blaring before the jack-o-lanterns have even begun to rot.
This year, however, starting Christmas early seems to be less about crass commercialization, and more about trying to wring as much joy and light as possible out of an otherwise stressful, dark and lonely time, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the country, making gatherings of friends and family ill-advised, and as political animosity lingers from the elections.
In some cases, lights were put up by some towns back in March, when the pandemic was just starting, as symbols of hope, as in Camden, which lit up the star on top of Mount Battie, which is typically only lit up for the holidays. Efforts like that mostly faded as the first surge abated and the weather warmed up.
It’s different now, however. In neighborhoods in towns and cities across the state, outdoor lighting began appearing weeks ago, and the twinkle of lights from trees could be seen from windows even as far back as the first week of November. Kaitlyn and Dominic Allard put their tree up at their Bangor home on Nov. 1, several weeks earlier than they normally would, as a way to lighten the spirits of their children, Gavin, 7, and Calliope, 3.
“COVID has really put a damper on most of our year, as it has with many people,” said Allard. “When we told our kids that we were going to decorate for Christmas they were both excited, but my 7 year old was a little confused because it was the day after Halloween, and he said ‘that’s pretty early.’ But I said to him, ‘Why not bring a little extra happiness a little earlier this year?’ And he agreed.”
Towns like Belfast also put up their holiday decorations well ahead of schedule, with Belfast’s famous “broke-neck Santa” making his debut last weekend, a week earlier than usual. Chase Hall, a Northport resident, put his tree up this week, and his two children, Riley and Jack, spent yesterday decorating it.
“I just keep thinking of that song from [the musical] ‘Mame,’ ‘We Need a Little Christmas,’” said Hall, who also will be decorating his vintage shop in downtown Belfast, Epoch, later this week. “We’ve all had a rough year. I think we all need a little Christmas.”
The Festival of Lights, the ever-popular evening holiday parade through downtown Bangor, was canceled earlier this year by Bangor Rotary, the parade’s organizers. In lieu of the parade, Bangor Rotary is hosting a storefront decoration contest among downtown merchants, and the city’s holiday tree — a 39-foot balsam fir donated by Sprague’s Nursery — is being put up in West Market Square on Thursday, nearly ten days ahead of the day it is normally installed.
Though there won’t be a public tree-lighting ceremony, Bangor Rotary has invested in some significant lighting upgrades for the tree, which will be lit on Dec. 5. The city also will host a special light installation from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 5 along the front facades of 6 through 44 Central St., created by students from the University of Maine’s Intermedia MFA program.
Betsy Lundy, Bangor’s downtown coordinator, said public works crews put up the city’s traditional holiday lights last weekend, weeks earlier than normal.
“This year, more than ever, citizens and businesses alike need to feel the holiday spirit early,” said Lundy. “We are all feeling COVID fatigue and looking for bright spots anywhere we can find them. And with some spectacular lighting upgrades, the tree will definitely put smiles on people’s faces for the whole season.”
Correction: A previous version of this report misspelled Chase Hall’s last name.