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The lobby at the Nonantum Resort buzzed with youthful excitement, as children of all ages lined up near the holiday display to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. Worker elves doled out candy canes and packets of winter activities; festive anticipation hung in the air. Nothing else could have brought the young crowd more joy—until the saw rumbled to life.

Outside on the steps of this Kennebunkport, Maine, resort, a local ice carver began his stint with a roar. Ice chips showered down like cold welder’s sparks as visitors crowded around. The craftsman took requests, cutting names into ice bricks for the kids and eliciting squeals of delight previously reserved only for the big man in red sitting inside.

That morning, people came to Kennebunkport anticipating a good dose of holiday cheer. Like St. Nick in his sleigh, the Nonantum delivered.

The Nonantum Resort, one of the area’s top lodgings in any season, fully embodies and embraces the festive, communal spirit that is at the heart of Kennebunkport’s annual, town-wide holiday celebration, the Christmas Prelude.

The Prelude, which launched in 1982 and instantly put Kennebunkport on the map as one of New England’s best Christmas towns, is more than a week of village-wide events, parties, sales, tree lightings, and Santa sightings—all trimmed with New England charm.

For 10 days, the celebration attracts locals, weekenders, shoppers, and couples looking for a romantic holiday season retreat. They take advantage of the many stores and restaurants along the main downtown thoroughfare that remain open past summer season to offer discounted specials.

But the Prelude is not just an adult getaway—it appeals to the entire family.

“Prelude is a magical time of year in Kennebunkport,” says Nicki Noble Bean, director of marketing at the Nonantum. “Families come together for holiday traditions like gingerbread house making and breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus. We have many guests that come back year after year.”

The 2016 celebration, which runs from December 1 through December 11, expects to offer a gift bag of holiday events for kids and parents alike.

Multiple tree lightings stand as highlights, the most prominent of which kicks off the Christmas season on December 2 in Dock Square. The same night is marked for the distinctly New England tradition of lighting a lobster trap tree in the nearby Cape Porpoise. And don’t worry if you can’t make the opening Dock Square tree lighting, the ceremony repeats during the finale weekend on December 9.

Whimsical parades encourage visitor participation, including a hat parade with home-decorated holiday headwear, and an annual pooch parade, when dressed-up dogs strut their stuff in Christmas costumes.

Santa and Mrs. Claus make several appearances around town, utilizing a variety of creative modes of transportation like fire engines and lobster boats. Caroling, candlelight processions, and fireworks light up the dark December nights.

For its part, the Nonantum plays host to some of the Prelude’s most memorable events. The resort complements the town’s schedule with specials at the hotel and its restaurants. For example, this year after the opening tree lighting on December 2, the 95 Ocean restaurant at Nonantum will have live entertainment and a special menu.

Inside the hotel, kids can build gingerbread houses, or they can head outside for a cookie-tasting stroll and trolley ride. On December 4, kids can meet Mrs. Claus with the elves, and on December 11 the Nonantum hosts a sumptuous breakfast with Santa. Aside from the array of delicious pastries, cakes, omelets, and more, that morning comes complete with arts and crafts, local artists and craftsmen showing/selling their work (like ice sculptors). The man of the hour holds court in the comfortable hotel lobby, which itself feels like your own personal living room on Christmas morning.

But if the kids stray from the Nice List, mom and dad can find some holiday respite on December 9 and 10 at the Nonantum’s annual Fire & Ice ball. Overflowing with local food selections, the festivities begin inside and spill outdoors with bonfires, ice bars, and live music.

According to the Nonantum, last year’s sold-out festivities saw almost 3,000 guests consume 3,500 Christmas cookies, 50 kegs of Shipyard ales, and 15 barbecued pigs over the two-night extravaganza. The event was recently awarded a Maine Governor’s Award for Tourism Leadership and Growth.

While the Fire & Ice ball may be the star on top of the tree, no part of the Prelude rests on its tinsel-covered laurels. This season, it will again be worth packing up the family sleigh to experience Kennebunkport’s annual Christmas tradition.

“The holiday spirit is alive in the area,” says Noble Bean, “and everyone wants to be here to enjoy it.”

95 Ocean Ave. Kennebunkport, Maine