29 November 2011

The Christmas Prelude--a tribute.

Last month, Down East magazine invited its readers to share and submit their favorite Maine holiday memories to be featured in its December issue that hit the stands a couple weeks ago.  When I received this email invitation, I pounced on it, knowing exactly what I'd write, and that once I started, the words and memories would flow freely.  To my delight, a mere snippet of my entry was published yet not enough to convey the essence of my memories and experiences.  

This entry is really a tribute to my parents, who unfailingly each year in winter and summer, gave my sister and me these wonderful memories, leading to my eventual move to Maine (and theirs as well).  With this week being the start of the Christmas Prelude, I found it fitting to want to publish the entry in its entirety. The italicized portion is what was published in Down East.

Growing up in Connecticut, Maine was always our vacation spot. We weren’t the family that went to Florida to seek warm, tropical waters.  Instead we summered and wintered in Maine, where the icy frothy Atlantic numbed our toes and dared my sister and me to always run right in. 

For as long as I can remember, the first weekend in December always meant coming up for the Kennebunkport Christmas Prelude festivities.  It wasn’t often that we were excused from school, but this was one of those times.  We always left early Friday morning, the anticipation of crossing the “big green bridge” as we called it back then, fueled us to be packed and ready to go on time.  I always knew we were in Maine when we made our pit stop at Congdon’s in Wells, for a sugary cream-filled donut that melted in our mouths and left me wondering how I could live 3 hours away from such a tasty treat.  

We would check in to our motel, always greeted by our hosts, as we had become familiar faces over time.  Most years it would be bone-chilling cold, where feet, hands, and heads could not be wrapped up enough to escape the wintery freeze. In the late afternoon on that first Friday, we would meander our way to Kennebunkport—delighting in the holiday decorations that adorned the stately mansions along the way.  The famous ‘Wedding Cake House’, lit up and magnificent, signaled that we were close.  

Once parked, we’d make our way to Dock Square.  Back in the day, one of our first stops was Plum Dandy.  It was a gorgeous shop, filled with many Maine treasures, the owner recognizing us year after year.  We’d climb the spiral black staircase where we’d burn our tongues on the tangy hot apple cider that was percolating, and munch on the buttery cookies that begged to be sampled.

Across the square, the enormous fragrant Christmas tree sat dark, awaiting the 5:30 lighting. Lobster traps and buoys acted as ornaments.  We trudged up the sometimes snowy stairs to my favorite shop—the Book Port.  Sitting atop a candle store, this shop was where I spent much of my childhood allowance. I couldn’t wait to pull out the latest mystery, or lose myself in the tiny nooks that held so many stories waiting to be found.  At the front of the store, a giant picture window decked out with white lights in the shape of a Christmas tree cast a cozy glow on a table that was overflowing with cookies, cheese and crackers, and so many other delectable treats.  Two huge punch bowls beckoned, Sangria for the adults, juice for the kids.
The tree lighting was accompanied by a group of Kennebunk High School choir singers.   We’d sing along to Christmas carols as the crowds wedged in closer to secure the best view.  Anyone looking down from above would see that this was, most certainly, the quintessential Maine Christmas scene.  

When it was over, we’d make our way to whatever restaurant had a short wait, but knowing that on this popular night, there would be a wait wherever we went.  Soon it was back to the motel, where we slipped comfortably into our warm pjs and dreamt of Santa arriving by lobster boat.  

Saturday was spent breakfasting in town, then making the trek to South Portland.  The Maine Mall, mobbed with its holiday shoppers, was first on our list.  We weaved throughout the crowds, getting some early Christmas presents taken care of, sometimes visiting Santa.   That evening, we would return back to the Port, visiting some of the shops we may have missed the night before.  Let’s face it, we loved the shops that offered snacks.  My sister and I would make up stories, pretending to be secret agents, and that the billowy curtains sitting above these shops in darkened windows held some mystery we were meant to uncover.  

Sometimes we would walk over to the Franciscan Monastery for candlelight caroling.  There was always something magical to me about being a part of this event.  I remember looking around the sea of endless faces behind me, the candles casting a warm shadow across faces that were serious in their carol singing. I had to be careful not to let the hot wax from the tiny stick candle drip onto my mitten.  A live manger sat at the front, a wonder to my child eyes.

Sunday came too soon.  Maybe we’d head back to Kittery via the coastal route, through picturesque villages like Ogunquit and York.  My mom snapping photos of the rocky shoreline covered in a frosty icing of snow.  We’d stop at the outlets, have lunch, before heading across the big green bridge, southward.  I’d always look back to see the bridge until it faded completely from view, thus officially ending our weekend in Maine. 
Fast forward 30 years later. My parents have since retired to Kennebunk.  I moved to Maine from Washington, DC 7 years ago.  The Christmas Prelude this year celebrates 30 years and my folks have gone to 29 of them.  

Now living in Maine, with a toddler of my own, I can’t wait to begin this tradition with him so that he grows up experiencing some of the magic that was the kick off to our family’s holiday season.  Things have changed. Plum Dandy long ago disappeared.  The Book Port no longer exists in its prime spot above the square.  My dad’s old adage of “nothing stays the same” couldn’t possibly ring truer. With that in mind, we will create new traditions, built upon the old; encourage new memories, based upon previous ones and make sure our son will have his own favorite Maine holiday memory.

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