in the small town of Belfast, Maine, where ornaments have been hung on light poles by members of the Fire Department since the 1980’s (oh so long ago — “vintage”). No one can explain to me why this passion for a plastic Santa has taken hold, only that yes, it it is quirky, and perhaps Santa is craning his head from his sleigh up above as he looks down at the good boys and girls down below. Okay.
This is a town that started spruced up, as a ship-building community, in the beginning of the nineteenth century. On almost every block downtown you can see a handsome wood mansion adorned with the name of the original owner and the year it was built. The best structures overlook Belfast Bay, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Old warehouses mark a different time.
And so much is preserved from that era. Then shipbuilding declined, commerce in Belfast went to hell and the burg became a chicken town, famed for its processing plants along the shore, when feathers floated on the water and heating the gracious old homes became unaffordable. The old street signs remain.
Chickens are a thing of the past, and politics divide the old school and the newcomers who are transforming the store fronts with their chic tinsel and the old waterfront homes only they can afford to heat and maintain. We saw an ominous sign as we approached the municipality. A bounty of fantastic white birches all around –wouldn’t a birch make a great Christmas tree? –and then this blast of venom.
And a different point of view in the town proper. Anti vax and anti-mask demonstrations have raged here in recent months.
There’s a new coffeeplace/bike shop called Downshift that makes a mean cinnamon bun.
Paintings by local artists hang there. One reminds me of a novel I’m reading by Russian-born Gary Shteyngart, Our Country Friends, in which an entrepreneur designs a groundbreaking phone app. You take a picture of two people looking into each others’ eyes, and it calculates whether the two will fall in love. Everyone wants to fall in love. It is a smash, a weird iteration of online dating, and has made the inventor famous.
A couple we know is renovating a “cottage” on Cottage Lane. They love the house but want to make a lot of changes, such as installing insulation for the first time in the building’s history. We talk about the trees on the property, particularly the enormous silver maple in the front yard.
It “blocks the sun” and makes a mess, says the owner, it drops branches and leaves in his new yard. I know that silver maples have a propensity to shed. But this tree is probably a hundred years old, with gnarly beauty and character. Trees can’t be renovated.
Little girls and boys await Santa this month the same way in all the homes.
With true faith and hope that their world will be better at Christmas. Even if Santa’s burden is somewhat heavy.