The holiday tree in West Market Square lights up amid a stormy evening sky on Dec. 1 in downtown Bangor. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

With holiday parades, festivals and visits with Santa being canceled to slow the spread of the coronavirus, most towns in Maine this year simply do not have any public holiday events planned for their communities.

But that hasn’t stopped organizations and people in some towns from getting creative, and from planning different types of events that will allow for social distancing while keeping the holiday spirit alive.

In Bangor, the Festival of Lights parade downtown followed by the tree lighting is one of the many signs of the start of the holiday season. But the Rotary Club of Bangor, which organizes the parade, decided months ago it would have to cancel this year’s events. So organizers instead put all their efforts toward buying new lights for the holiday tree in West Market Square, and to getting businesses and homeowners all over the region to go all out in decorating their properties.

This year’s holiday tree sports more than double the number of lights as it did last year, and it’s been brightening West Market Square since before Thanksgiving. The Rotary will install a new, decorated base for the tree this weekend, which will double as a photo opportunity for families, who can come downtown whenever they’d like to take a picture, according to Roland Narofsky, the Festival of Lights coordinator.

Narofsky also said that as of Monday nearly 60 businesses, nonprofits and homeowners in towns throughout the Bangor region had signed on for the Festival of Lights “Hits the Road” event, with more signing up daily. A driving map to all displays will be available on the Rotary website, where people can vote for their favorite display, with the winner of the Best Overall Display receiving a $500 prize.

“The parade has always been all about community involvement, so this is really doubling down on that idea,” Narofsky said. “We think it’s a really cool way to spend an evening safely. You can get in your car with your family and spend the whole night seeing what your neighbors have done to celebrate.”

Additionally, on Saturday, students from the University of Maine’s Intermedia Master of Fine Arts program will present “Light Bright,” an art installation using projection mapping, set to cover the facades of 6 through 44 Central St. in downtown Bangor. Between 5 and 7 p.m., anyone can drive by to see the buildings “covered” in colorful images inspired by Maine, set to a soundtrack by local musician Jackson Greenlaw.

Camden’s Christmas by the Sea event has canceled its traditional parade and tree lighting, and organizers are also encouraging people in Camden and surrounding towns to decorate their homes and businesses with lights displays. A virtual tree lighting with Santa and a Zoom Christmas concert are also set for Saturday.

In Orono, one family is taking the matter of holiday cheer into their own hands. Jess and Anthony Francis have decorated the 600 feet along the Stillwater River Trail from their home near 92 Bennoch Road all the way to Brownie’s Park, stringing thousands of feet of lights along the wooded area to create a magical holiday display.

Jess Francis said she and her husband had decorated portions of the trail with overhead lights before, but nothing on this scale.

“We’ve been wanting to take that idea and expand on it, but it wasn’t until this year that we decided to make it happen,” said Francis, who also runs a Little Free Library with her husband at their house. “It’s been a particularly rough year for so many and, with many area holiday events being canceled, we thought this would be a good alternative to lift the spirits of those in our community.”

The Stillwater Trail of Lights display will be up for the month of December, and the public is welcome to enjoy the display anytime after dark — masked and socially distant, of course.

In Boothbay, the Gardens Aglow event at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens has been a top attraction for the region for years, bringing thousands of visitors to the gardens to marvel at acres of lights set up throughout the holiday season. This year, Gardens Aglow is still happening — but instead of ticket-holders walking through the gardens, they will instead drive through the displays, at a cost of $40 per carload.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.