Simplicity of a Downeast Christmas, where focus is clearly on the day

The holidays are fast approaching, and this year the days have come even more quickly than in the past. Families will begin preparations for gatherings and gift giving, and traditions will be celebrated from household to household. Festive decorations will come out of musty basements and attics and be displayed for all to see in celebration of the season. For us this year, things will be a little different, some of that is on us, and some of it is in the look and feel of this place. Along the coast here in Downeast Maine the essence of the holiday seems to be a little different from what we are used to.

In our town back in Pennsylvania, the holidays were always surrounded by a challenge. It would either be who could have their decorations up the earliest or which home would stand out the most in lights, color and, of course, the dreaded inflatables, or who would have the candles in the windows the quickest, the garland with lights strung the soonest, and the tree up and decorated first for all to see. One can quickly see how a holiday could get lost amongst all the glitter and glam. I am certain this is not the case for many families and friends of ours living in Pennsylvania; it just felt that way from time to time, that “gotta get it done” approach to the holidays. But here there seems to be a slower pace to the holiday preparedness, a much more internalized approach. Perhaps one could say, a focus on the day rather than the season.

Here along the coast, one gets the impression that holidays are prepared from the inside out, with the essence of the day blooming from within the home first, and then in subtle ways, celebrated on the outside for others to see. The greenery is a dazzling site, and given this place and the abundance of trees, it is easy to understand why.


The bounty of balsam, pine and spruce quickly makes its way onto doors and windowsills; just as the beach and waters give this area life, so do the trees especially during this time of year. Wreaths make their way onto the doors. Simple lights appear here and there, not in competition, but in gentle preparation for a celebration. There are some candles, not many, that sit on windowsills, or colored lights adorning one single tree outside along a path visible from the road. The many wreathes, green and real, adorned with a single red bow, are gently hung in windows and bathed in the light reflected from inside the home.

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Signs like these, of this extra ordinary effort to use nature as decoration, not only takes time, but also allows one to reflect on the preparations being made. There is no contest, no sense of competition here; this by all accounts, is the Downeast way to celebrate the holidays.


This slow approach to the holidays all by itself is refreshing, especially given the fast pace and uncontrollable aspects of the world we live in today. The constant reminders that something bad has happened, as noted continuously on the Internet can be muffled for a moment if we reflect and slowly move forward to something good.

Even the words we speak to one another today must carefully be considered, so as not to be taken out of context or possibly misconstrued by others. Our greetings and salutations during this time of year are debated for their appropriateness, but is not a salutation or any greeting a good thing, a way of acknowledging one another, simply and succinctly?

These are certainly confusing and scary times to say the least, and we, as a community and as a nation, could use a breather right about now. We get a chance to take a step back, offer a nod and a handshake, a hug perhaps, along with some simple glad tidings, if only for a day, this day. A day that is especially appropriate for these types of exchanges, brimming with simple reflection and culminating in a celebration of faith, family and peace that will sustain us well into the coming year.

Photo credit Don Dunbar

Photo credit Don Dunbar

So as others throughout the land spend their last frantic days attaching one more string of lights to the house, or rushing to get that last minute item, or stressing over the last details for a successful dinner, we will be waiting, with simplicity as our guide, for the day to arrive. And as we do, we will quietly watch as the light fades over the waters outside our window, as the candles in the windows gently shine a light onto all who pass, and settle in to celebrate a very special day, our first here in Downeast Maine. We also will reflect on those that made it possible, those who touched our hearts, and the bounty and beauty of this place that will sustain us for all the days that follow.


RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.