Picturesque Kennebunkport, Maine, with its sandy beaches, working harbor, and stately homes, has been a popular summer destination for over a century. Not long after its sidewalks clear of warm weather tourists, the community gears up for its largest annual event: Christmas Prelude.
For two consecutive weekends, Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, nearby Kennebunk, and Cape Porpoise light up (literally) with more than 100 holiday-themed happenings, from tree lightings to parades, crafts to caroling, and fireworks to Santa’s arrival. Called simply “Prelude” by locals, the event was created by area businesses more than 35 years ago as a thank-you to year-round residents for their support during the sometimes chaotic summer season. This year’s celebration kicks off November 30 and continues through December 8, 2017.
Read on for Prelude’s do-not-miss highlights.
Who doesn’t like a brightly lit Christmas tree? Prelude features three of them. Score a spot in Dock Square, the quaint retail center of Kennebunkport, for one (or both) tree lighting ceremonies, the first on December 1, the second on December 8.
Photo courtesy of Melanie Kratovil Photography & Design
Also on the first Saturday of Prelude, head over to Cape Porpoise for the lobster trap tree lighting, and enjoy refreshments provided by the Cape Porpoise Fire Department. Then head back to Kennebunkport for a cheery bowl of clam chowder or a burger at Allisson’s Restaurant, recently included in country music singer Kenny Chesney’s “Bar at the End of the World” series on Sirius XM Radio. Or deck yourself in holiday finery for an Ugly Sweater Party at The Boathouse Bar at The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel, a hotel with a cool contemporary vibe overlooking the Kennebunk River.
If all this celebrating makes you long for a comfy chair or cozy bed, The Kennebunkport Inn, just steps from Dock Square, offers both: comfortable, upscale accommodations in a Federal-style mansion built in 1899 by wealthy coffee and tea merchant Burleigh S. Thompson. The bright rooms tastefully combine antique and contemporary furnishings; amenities include a Keurig coffeemaker for early morning caffeine fixes, complimentary WiFi and cable television. The Burleigh, the hotel’s intimate restaurant and bar, is a convivial gathering place for locals and visitors to enjoy cocktails and dinner. The fried Brussels sprouts and lobster mac n’ cheese are worth the calorie splurge.
Saturday festivities get spirited with the festive Hat Parade through Dock Square. Make your own chapeau or buy a new favorite (working lights and attached stuffed animals are always fun) and join the crowd.
Be sure to make time for a little retail therapy. Browse the charming shops along Dock Square and Western Avenue or seek out one of numerous local arts and craft fairs, artisan markets, and holiday gift events where you can find the perfect ornament to trim your own tree or a unique handmade gift.
Refuel over a cup of coffee or cocoa at Dock Square Coffee House, then browse the Maine-themed gifts or pick up a special Prelude coffee mug at H.B. Provisions, a general store and deli that’s a local institution. Former President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara have been known to stop in for coffee during summers at nearby Walker’s Point. Saturday night, there’s yet another tree lighting in Kennebunk, followed by a candlelight stroll to the St. Anthony Franciscan Monastery for roasted chestnuts and caroling.
No holiday celebration is complete without a visit from Santa Claus. In true Maine fashion, he arrives by lobster boat on the first Sunday of Prelude. Shake his hand and snap a selfie with one of his lobster “elves.”
The second weekend of Prelude is highlighted by fireworks on Friday night, then, on Sunday, the Pooch Parade. Bring your favorite dog or stand and watch the festively-costumed canines and their owners take a leisurely stroll through Dock Square. It’s one of Prelude’s most entertaining sights.
Finally, if you’ve still got a holi-yay or two left, toast the season at the Nonantum Resort’s Fire+Ice 2017. You need advance tickets to this annual event featuring cocktails under the stars from hand-carved ice bars. Warm up around the outdoor bonfire or by dancing to live music. You’ll head home with a smile, magical memories and plan a return to Kennebunkport next December.
Debbie Kane is a freelance Garnet Hill writer based in Exeter, NH.