Christmas in Maine has come a long way from being banned in the early days to being one of the most picturesque holiday destinations. It’s no surprise that Hallmark and Lifetime have used Maine towns for holiday movie plots, but too often, they change the name or (gasp!) shoot the movies in Canada.
Downeast seems to deck the halls with a magical layer of holiday spirit, and that’s before we get to those forests filled with “Oh, Christmas Trees.” Just like Santa, we’re making a list and checking it twice, trying to find the best Hallmark-esque towns for the holidays in Maine that really bring Christmas to life.
“Christmas in Bar Harbor” is the latest book in a series about MDI. Then “You Must Remember This” happens during the holidays in Bar Harbor but leans more toward the Brothers Grimm than Charles Dickens.
Bar Harbor is everything you want on an idyllic Christmas trip. Shopping is prime, especially when the stores stay open until midnight for the Village Holidays Celebration. Find that special gift at the Christmas Vacation Shop.
Acadia National Park offers seemingly endless miles of cross-country skiing trails lined with stone bridges and carriage roads. Then, you can choose between a Christmas morning sunrise on Cadillac Mountain or a night sky sparkling with stars.
Foodies? Yep. From fancy dining to lobster rolls the length of your arm, you can eat your way to holiday heaven.
Hallmark Movie Moment: An unemployed college student works at her aunt’s Bar Harbor bakery over the holidays. She gets lost during a guided hike and ends up falling in love with her rescuer with a closing credits kiss during a traditional Maine Christmas Eve lobster bake.
Your ship has come in when you celebrate an Old Fashioned Christmas in Bath. The old-fashioned street clock proudly stands among brick-lined sidewalks that lead you through a treasure trove of stores.
What’s that sound? Oh! It’s the Trolley Caroling! Hop aboard and sing your favorite tune while waving to dozens of people you don’t know but somehow feel like family.
If you can only pick one day to be there, don’t miss Bright Night Bath, which has live music throughout downtown and a warm holiday spirit that will make you forget how cold it is.
Hallmark Movie Moment: Just as you head home, giant snowflakes start falling, and oops! Because of this once-in-a-Hallmark-movie storm, you’re stuck in Bath until the new year.
Bethel’s Christmas can double as a ski getaway with Sunday River so close by. Here in western Maine, they celebrate a Country Christmas among the 19th Century homes and buildings. A travel website recently ranked it among the 50 Most Magical Winter Wonderlands in the U.S.
Enjoy a free carriage ride and tour the historic Mason House before heading up to Sunday River, where you can stay at one of the resorts, like the Grand Summit Hotel. The ski resort celebrates its birthday in mid-December with Winterfest Weekend, and Santa is often seen skiing the slopes.
You might even see Eddy or Betty the Yeti’s home while you’re exploring one of 135 trails.
Hallmark Movie Moment: That moment you realize one of the skiing Santas is your high school sweetheart, and you start up a conversation in front of a cozy fire.
Camden is known for its Christmas by the Sea celebration, but you can also experience Christmas on Mount Battie or the Camden Snow Bowl. The festivities also span Lincolnville and Rockport, giving you three Hallmark towns in one event.
The harbor views are so much more celebratory when Santa rides up in a boat. The tree lighting near Megunticook Falls is a scene-setter even the Hallmark movie makers should see.
Pet lovers will adore all the auctions and activities to benefit PAWS, the local pet adoption center.
Camden might be known as the Jewel of the Maine Coast, but come the holiday season, it’s the shining star on top of the tree.
Hallmark Movie Moment: You haven’t loved a dog since your childhood pet ran away, but you fall in love with Holly at the animal shelter and adopt her for a week of Christmas festivities. Your love for dogs and Christmas is rekindled.
When you want a little sparkle in your holiday plans, head to Freeport. Yeah, it’s home to L.L. Bean, but it’s also not “corporate” enough to lose the small-town feel. The holidays even come with a talking and singing Christmas tree in a halcyon village of good tidings.
The Bean Boot maker also adds a layer of festivity with the Northern Lights celebration around its campus of stores. Walk through the Twinkle Light Tunnel or take a photo in a snow globe.
Santa visits here quite often with his reindeer, and he insists on having special nights just for pet photos. All the while, a “stealth elf” walks around handing out gift certificates.
Hallmark Movie Moment: An L.L. Bean heiress is visited by the ghosts of L.L. Bean’s past (including Leon Leonwood himself!). She decides to get into the family business and gives every shopper on Christmas a free pair of Bean Boots!
This holiday mountain escape brings a sleepy winter town back to life during the month-long Deck the Halls event. Moosehead Lake is also a great choice if your ideal Hallmark movie comes with plenty of snow. December averages nearly two feet of it!
Greenville has the traditional parade, craft market, and holiday lighting contests that bring the seasonal businesses back to life – including some of the historic inns. Expert guides are waiting to help you dash through the snow as this town is on the edge of Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness.
Hallmark Movie Moment: A real estate executive spends the week before Christmas in a Maine resort planning renovations to impress her boss, who also happens to be her father. OH WAIT! That IS the summary of the Hallmark Movie “Let It Snow” with Candance Cameron Bure and Alan Thicke, set in fictitious “Snow Valley, Maine” (which might as well be Greenville).
Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are turnkey holiday Christmas towns, and that’s before the Christmas Prelude starts. After that, the energy is amplified with nearly two weeks of festivities from morning well into the evening.
From shiplap homes to sea captains mansions, the decorations are jaw-dropping enough. The charm of Dock Square blends the holiday season, the maritime history, and New England food. This is the epitome of a coastal Christmas that might feel like it’s trying too hard if it wasn’t so authentic. Don’t forget to craft an extravagant hat for the famous Hat Parade.
Hallmark Movie Moment: Your new promotion hinges on convincing a small Maine town to sell you land to build a massive resort. Despite the holiday cheer, nobody is happy to see you, and before long, you have a whole new career owning a small shop in Dock Square.
We head to this rural town 30 minutes outside of Bangor for the classic Christmas Tree Farm. To be honest, we don’t even know if Hallmark could re-create something so consummately Christmas.
Piper Mountain Christmas Trees is so much more than a “grab and go” roadside tent. Whether it’s a snowy landscape or fall backdrop, the red barn contrasting the evergreen trees stirs the holiday spirit faster than you can say, “Free two-horse open sleigh rides.”
Wreaths, garland, kissing balls, and holiday centerpieces are all available, along with farm truck photo ops.
You can also find your Hallmark tree farm scenery at dozens of other locations statewide. Most are near interstates or highways, making it an easy stop to get to your next holiday scene.
Hallmark Movie Moment: A corporate queen needs the perfect tree for her big city holiday party, but a lumberjack is about to turn her closest full of fancy clothes to all flannel as love branches out between them.
During the day, you can walk the beach or Marginal Way, watching the waves crash against the rugged coast before heading to a free sample of hot chocolate and snacks at unique boutiques in the Village. Perkins Cove is home to art galleries galore, with clam chowder waiting inside the seafood joint on the water.
Ogunquit is also perfect for those who prefer nightlife to a Silent Night.
Hallmark Movie Moment: A struggling artist has lost all inspiration and moves from the city to stay in Maine for the winter. He finds much-needed inspiration and friendship through the art community’s holiday fundraiser.
We don’t want to play favorites, but Santa actually lives in Waterville during part of the holiday season. He’s the star of Kringleville, a town Christmas festival that started in 1969. However, don’t be surprised if an ice princess or two shows up. After all, the town is pretty “Frozen” this time of year.
A Parade of Lights kicks off the festivities the weekend after Thanksgiving. Letters to Santa are guaranteed to get a response if they are mailed from Waterville… er… Kringleville during the event.
Even if you are just driving through on I-95, the “Light Up the Town” competition will make even Clark Griswold jealous!
Hallmark Movie Moment: Walk the Two-Cent Pedestrian Bridge from Head of Falls and realize it’s time to leave your “Big City” job and move to Maine.
When a place is known as the Prettiest Village in Maine, the holidays are just icing on the cake. Plus, it’s just an hour from Portland, and you’re in the middle of a winter wonderland at the Wiscasset Holiday Marketfest.
The village seamlessly mixes the idyllic nature of small-town holidays and a working waterfront. The historic homes are decked out, and art galleries bring a creative spirit to the holiday. Wreaths bring a competitive spirit to local businesses, and Santa comes to town with his sheep.
Take a horse-drawn carriage ride or head to one of many beaches no more than 30 minutes away, including a waterfront location known as Christmas Cove.
Hallmark Movie Moment:You’re carrying a bunch of bags from the great shops on Main Street, and you bump into a handsome lobsterman who ends up being the love of your life.
York is another Maine town that made the list of the Most Magical Winter Wonderlands. The Festival of Lights lives up to its name with the lighting of the Nubble Lighthouse. (TRAVEL TIP: York also lights the Nubble in the summer, so visitors don’t miss the spectacle.)
While it’s fun to see the Christmas parade, only in York can you take the “Polar Express” (aka trolley) along the beach to Soheir Park. That’s where the lighthouse will provide a backdrop for reading the Polar Express.
Hallmark Movie Moment: After getting lost on the interstate in a snowstorm, you end up in York instead of New York and learn the true meaning of a small-town Christmas.
Why Is Christmas in Maine So Special?
We mentioned earlier that Christmas was initially banned in Maine when it was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans were “anti-Christmas” in a way that put Scrooge to shame.
A decree stating, “whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way shall pay for every such offense five shilling as a fine.”
Even after Maine became a state in 1820, Christmas was still on the naughty list until 1858, when it was finally recognized as a holiday.
Whether Maine is making up for lost time or not, it’s the generations of families that lived here and still carry on traditions that make any Maine Christmas town feel like you’re coming home again.
Maine’s Holiday Wonderland
Most of Maine’s holiday towns keep up the decorations and light displays through the end of the 12 Days of Christmas (January 6), with a handful spanning into early February. No matter where you go, be sure to look for Oakhurst Dairy’s popular holiday eggnog. It’s a Maine tradition!
Don’t forget all the amazing holiday shopping, with outlets in Kittery and Freeport. Any town on this list is a celebration that even Candace Cameron Bure couldn’t resist!