MAINE, USA — Now that it's the day after Thanksgiving, it's officially the winter holiday season. Although Santa Claus doesn't come to town for a few weeks, annual traditions are already being celebrated across Maine.
For the 24th year, Will-O-Way Christmas Tree Farm in Garland opened for the season Friday. The farm has been selling Christmas Trees to local families for generations and owners Robert and Ann Marquis were determined to continue that tradition.
“We’re usually full of hugs and handshakes and everything else, but we can’t have that this year," Robert said. "But we’re going to keep the doors and open and keep enjoying family traditions.”
“We start in the spring taking care of the trees, and this is the month we get to reap the benefits of that, and to see the families is the best part," Ann added.
It's easy to understand why there are family connections at Will-O-Way. Robert and Ann's son is the "head elf" working around the property doing whatever "papa elf" requires. Their daughter helps, too, baking cookies with Ann that come with the purchase of a tree.
The farm is reducing hours this year to limit the number of customers on-site at one given time. Other modifications include sanitizing the saws and sleds after each use, and the farm shop that normally sells ornaments is closed.
But the Marquis' are using a window on the side of the shop to deliver the free cookies and cider.
“We knew if we could modify and make this available for families it would mean a lot to them and a lot to us," Ann said.
It was like a family reunion Friday as Robert seemed to know every man, woman, and child that came to the farm. Ryan Crane has been coming to Garland on the day after Thanksgiving with his parents, and his parents came with their parents.
Now, it's Crane's children who ride in the sled (until the tree is chopped down).
“It’s a tradition we really look forward to the day after Thanksgiving," his wife Sarah said.
With so many things changing and everyone living in a time of uncertainty, the Marquis' understand how crucial it is to keep these holiday traditions.
"It’s important for us that they leave here happy and enjoy the experience just like they did 24 years ago," Robert said.
Rick Hathaway knows a thing or two about holiday traditions. For nearly a decade he's been lighting up his house in Bangor with thousands of Christmas lights synced to music all controlled on his laptop.
“It’s amazing every year, you know, the last three or four years it’s really grown to the level it is today," he said.
Dozens of cars would make the trip every night in December to catch a glimpse at the display and while the fanfare was great, the purpose of the show was to raise money.
The Hathaway's lost a child shortly after birth and every year they collect donations for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the Northern Light Hospital System.
“It’s just a way for us to give back at the holiday to the great people that work there," Hathaway said. "The generosity of people this time of year is why we do it and to see the kids out there enjoying it as well is nice.”
Although the light display will go on, it will be in a new location.
The family moved but luckily Hathaway had some ties in the Veazie community and was able to hang up all the bulbs, trees, and candy canes at the Veazie Community School.
The first show starts December 1 at 4:30 p.m. and shows will continue through Christmas.
Jillian Woodbury and her husband Jeff are co-owners of Carpenter Christmas Tree Farm in Old Town. Similar modifications are being taken here as all equipment is cleaned in between uses and appointments can be made during the week if folks are hesitant about walking around others.
“We’ll meet you here. Bring your own tools so you feel a little more at ease," Woodbury said.
The farm has 1,000 trees for sale this year and already got a head start on the season last weekend when it opened.
The family farm is ready for the peak of the Christmas celebration season and is excited to keep holiday traditions going.
“Everybody seems to be a little jolly and a little early it seems," Woodbury added