Some people prefer to spend the holiday season lying on a sun-drenched beach beneath the shadow of palm trees. Others take to the seas on a cruise ship or check into a resort to gorge on food and festivities.
Then there are those for whom nothing exemplifies the holidays as much as a tiny, snow-covered picturesque village that clings stubbornly, and proudly, to its past and long-held traditions.
That’s the winter scene that greets visitors to Rangeley, Maine. Its small-town setting serves as the perfect backdrop for holiday scenes that would fit perfectly into a Norman Rockwell painting.
Celebrants gather in the center of town to watch the lighting of the Giving Tree, which is the focus of a gift donation project for children and adults in need. The handful of places to shop and eat, along with many homes, are bedecked with strings of multi-colored lights and other seasonal decorations.
In the annual Walk to Bethlehem, Rangeley residents dressed like the people in “The Christmas Story,” and others, walk from church to church, pausing to sing carols outside each one. The event ends at the Church of the Good Shepherd where everyone goes inside to enjoy a holiday pageant.
During the holiday season, Rangeley greets guests with an array of attractions that combines welcome variety with reminders of treasured times past. Those seeking an outdoor sporting experience have a choice of options. Frozen lakes and ponds are transformed into nature-made rinks for ice skating. There’s skiing at Saddleback Mountain, just outside of town.
People who wish to experience snowmobiling have a choice of 150 miles of well-groomed trails, which interconnect with other systems that lead throughout Maine and into Canada. The snow-covered trees and quiet surroundings of forests welcome folks who snowshoe or would like to learn how and offer opportunities to spot moose which make the woods their home.
Those who prefer a warmer ambiance may seek out roaring fireplaces in restaurants that range from pizza to posh or curl up with a book before log blazes that burn in the lobby of the Rangeley Inn and elsewhere.
The Inn is but one inviting place among many which relate interesting chapters of the town’s history. Before the first Europeans arrived, Abenaki Indians set up hunting and fishing camps along shorelines of the area’s lakes and ponds. The names of some bodies of water – Cupsuptic, Umbagog, and tongue-twisting Mooselookmeguntic – attest to the Native American influence.
In 1796, an Englishman named James Rangeley showed up and purchased land on which a town soon evolved. In the mid-19TH century, the village which bore his name gained a reputation as a fishing Mecca because of its abundance of brook trout and, later, landlocked salmon. Well-to-do fishermen from Boston, New York, and further away made the trek to the still primitive destination, and over decades grand hotels like the Rangeley Inn sprang up to offer them comfortable accommodations.
Today the Inn shares space along Main Street, a several-block-long stretch of road without a stop sign or traffic light, with single-story frame buildings that house the Lakeside Theater, the Alpine Shop, aptly named Moose Alley bowling, and a smattering of small stores and restaurants. Much of the vehicle traffic consists of logging trucks creaking beneath their heavy load.
Along with the eclectic list of things to see and do in and around Rangeley, it’s the serene atmosphere and reminders of a way of life from the past that attract many people to visit and, once they’ve done so, to return year after year.
It doesn’t take long for those who drop by to understand that this area of Maine is as much a lifestyle as a destination, one that fits comfortably into the time-honored tradition of small-town friendliness. That’s among the reasons why generation after generation of families come back repeatedly, including during the Holiday season.