By Kathleen Pierce
Holiday magic doesn’t depend on the forecast. Snow or no snow, the festive spirit arises when the weather turns crisp, the fire is blazing, and you are surrounded by friends and family.
This year, Cliff House—which is open past Halloween for the first time in 144 years—celebrates the season and its rebirth with a host of ho! ho! happenings to spark joy in guests big and small. And it’s all just a little over an hour north of Boston.
Emanating good cheer, the 30-foot tall holiday fir tree anchors the lobby and sets the tone for an upbeat yuletide season. The tree is lit on Nov. 25, accompanied with gingerbread cookie decorating and hot apple cider all around. Relax by the fireplace in Tidemark with a warm, spiked beverage and embrace the spirit of the holidays.
The last weekend in November kicks off the resort’s transformation into a winter wonderland. An event room becomes Santa’s workshop on Saturday Nov. 26, and will be headquarters for family fun all season. Learn to make a gingerbread house, holiday crafts, and cookies, or build a bear or moose stuffed animal as a Maine keepsake for years to come. Every weekend leading up to New Year’s Day, something new and creative takes place, be it appearances from Santa and Mrs. Claus, story time by the fireplace, or milk and cookies. “We want families to come make new memories and build new holiday traditions,” says Alex Bousquet, the resort’s recreation leader.
To balance all that good cheer, hike or snowshoe along trails on the hotel’s serene 70-acre campus. These newly blazed paths in the woods provide guests with a needed escape from the “holidaze.” Traversing stone churches, a pond, and following along the crashing surf is a peaceful way to lose yourself in the great outdoors and the rugged beauty of Maine.
With so much bustle this time of year, don’t fret over dinner plans. There is a table waiting for you at The Tiller, the resort’s full service gourmet restaurant with the best views around. Chef Rick Shell is creating a special Christmas Day brunch and four-course dinner combining traditional holiday dishes with local seafood-inspired specialties.
December is also the perfect time to visit Ogunquit. Instead of the sidewalks rolling up, everyone comes out to celebrate at the annual Christmas by the Sea. The weekend-long celebration (Dec. 9 through 11) will jumpstart your holiday mood. Carolers fill the streets, a bell choir concert fills the air, and bonfires fend off Jack Frost. Santa arrives at Perkin’s Cove, where there is a chowder fest, a chocolate fest, and even a live manger. Add to the list shops arrayed in festive finery, and you’ll see this summer town in a whole new light.
Thrust northward a bit up Route 1 to join the cheerful throngs at Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude. This 11-day extravaganza packs enough fun and festivity to keep you in good cheer all winter long. Watch the Cape Porpoise lobster trap tree come to life, don your best cap or bonnet, and join the hat parade. Or bundle up to sip festive spirits at The Nonantum Resort’s ice bar, surrounded by ice sculptures and bonfires. Not enough bang for your bah humbug? Fireworks on Friday Dec. 9 will boost your mood for good.
Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude; Photo: Robert Dennis
There’s a pooch parade and so much more in The Bunks. Get your shopping done in the fun and diverse independent shops along Dock Square. And when you’ve sufficiently shopped and walked and caroled, it’s time to relax with a spa treatment at Cliff House. Temper the season of indulging with a detox or facial. Rise early for yoga and soak in the adults-only outdoor hot tub (a true delight when snow is falling).
Once you are pampered and rested, now it’s time to step out for more. Head south over the bridge to Portsmouth N.H. for a Vintage Christmas. When this historic town goes dark and the candles come on you’ll think you’ve stepped back 200 years. This year’s theme of the popular Candlelight Stroll is “Gift from the Sea.”
Portsmouth Vintage Christmas; Photo: David J. Murray, Clear Eye Photo
Walk along candlelit dirt lanes, and enter a historic portrayal of winter, Christmas, and Hannukah. The glowing historic homes and costumed role players will remind you of a Dicken’s novel, while the magical experience is accompanied by a full program of musical performances and theatricals. From skating to concerts to parades, the enchantment runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 18.
Not to be outdone, Wells kicks off its 31st holiday parade on Sunday, December 11, at 2 p.m. The theme this year is “Christmas Fun for Everyone,” a rolling party of red and green along Route 1. Think marching bands and elves on unicycles, after which you’ll be ready for quietude and contemplation of possibilities in the coming year.
Pooch Parade; Animal Welfare Society
And if you decide to ring in the New Year at Cliff House, bring your dancing shoes and something sparkly. Crowds will be bopping to a Motown band in the Lounge until well after the clock strikes midnight. Stay sated with a four-course dinner at The Tiller and toast your family, friends, and good fortune with complimentary bubbly. The crashing surf outside and midnight revelry is as festive as Maine gets.
If you’re a morning type, start 2017 off on a holistic foot with the “New Year, New You” sunrise hike. At 5:30 a.m. Bousquet takes a group of resort guests up Mt. Agamenticus in neighboring York for an exhilarating welcome to the new year. Be among the first Americans to experience the first light rays of 2017 and be inspired all year long.