It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Lights are up. Roadside lots are selling trees. Shoppers are bustling.

It’s a special season, marked here by a chill in the air and a warmth in community spirit.

For those looking for ways to enjoy the beauty of the season in Lewiston-Auburn in ways that don’t include long checkout lines, there’s plenty to pick from. Here are five top picks, with a listing, below, offering more local opportunities for holiday cheer.

Elegance and history

If you like history, architecture and Christmas decorations, take a tour of the Horatio Foss Mansion in Auburn during the annual holiday open house. The Woman’s Literary Union only shows off the mansion in its Christmas glow three days a year. This year the three days are Dec. 5, 6 and 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Rooms are decorated in different themes each year. This year the main reception room will be in colonial Williamsburg greens. The upstairs hall will feature local art, while the library will be “holiday elegance” in blues and silvers. The sun room will have a fragrant garden theme complete with a spinning wheel. An upstairs bedroom will look like Santa just delivered toys under the tree. Another room will feature angels as its theme, and the dining room – where visitors can enjoy punch and fancy desserts – will be in “snow baby wonderland” whites. There’ll be five Christmas trees throughout the mansion, and each tree’s decorations will match the theme of its room.

The modified flying staircase, a showpiece of the mansion, will be graced by poinsettias and greens.

The Federal Revival home, which features a Spanish influence, was built in 1914 by shoe manufacturing king Horatio Foss. “He said he was going to build a house like Lewiston-Auburn has never seen before, and that’s what he did,” says Tonie Ramsey, Woman’s Literary Union trustee. Foss and his wife, with “money to burn,” had an impressive social circle. “Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt were guests in this house when Franklin Roosevelt was governor of New York,” Ramsey says.

The mansion is at 19 Elm St., off Main Street, in Auburn. Admission is $6 for adults, $2 for children 5-12, free for children under 5.

There’s nothing like music to get in the mood for the holidays. Among the many concert offerings are two favorites.

Music and atmosphere

• The Androscoggin Chorale and Maine Chamber Ensemble’s “Gloria Magnificat” performance at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Franco-American Heritge Center at St. Mary’s. What makes this event extra special is that it will be the first concert in the refurbished heritage center.

For years the performance was at Saints Peter and Paul Church, but this year that church is using its upper level where the concert is traditionally held. Conveniently, the heritage center’s concert hall was finished in time, says Maine Music Society artistic director Peter Frewen. “The acoustics are wonderful. The space is beautiful. It’s a gorgeous church,” he said of the old St. Mary’s Church. And, concertgoers will sit in comfortable seats instead of pews.

“It’s exciting as hell that this is happening,” Frewen says, adding that until now, concert space in the area has been limited.

The inspiring music will match the building’s beauty, Frewen promised. This year’s performance will feature 18th-century Italian Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria Magnificat,” plus arrangements of Christmas songs that New York composer Bruce Saylor prepared for opera superstar Jessye Norman, and other favorites.

Advance tickets are available at Hannaford Supermarkets, Shaw’s, Mr. Paperback and Mainley Drumz Music, by calling 782-1403, or at Cost: $15 for adults, students half price, children under 12 free with an adult. Tickets $17.50 at the door.

The Franco-American Heritage Center is at the old St. Mary’s Church, 46 Cedar St. Lewiston, the corner of Oxford and Cedar streets. Parking will be available across the street in the Continental Mill parking lot.

• The 14th annual Messiah Sing-Along, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at St. Joseph’s Church, performed by the Maine Music Society, Androscoggin Chorale and Androscoggin Valley Community Orchestra.

At this musical event, the Androscoggin Valley Community Orchestra will provide orchestra backup to portions of the Messiah and the chorale leads the way on the lyrics.

The audience doesn’t just listen, it sings. Regardless of your vocal talents, “this is your chance,” Frewen says. The Messiah isn’t easy to sing, but it’s fun, and is a lot easier to sing “where you’ll have strong support. It’s a thrill to be singing music like that in a large group.”

Tickets are $5 for adults, children 12 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased at the door, by calling 782-1403 or at St. Joseph’s Church 253 Main St., Lewiston.

Downtown tree lighting, block party

Lewiston will hold its tree-lighting celebration, along with a first-ever block party, from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 5.

The tree lighting will not be held in Kennedy Park, however, but in the new Courthouse Plaza across from the district court on Lisbon Street. The holiday event is being expanded from a half-hour to two hours. Foot traffic will replace cars as part of Lisbon Street will be closed to traffic.

At 6 p.m a group of carolers holding candles will make their way from Kennedy Park to the square. Businesses will be asked to turn on their lights as the carolers pass, says Megan Bates of the Lewiston Recreational Department.

Following the carolers will be Santa and Mrs. Claus, arriving on a fire truck. Their elves (L-A Area Youth Cheerleaders) will ride nearby in a horse-drawn wagon.

At the Courthouse Plaza Santa will light the Christmas tree while music fills the air. Mayor Laurier Raymond and mayor-elect Lionel Guay will extend their welcomes. The Lewiston High School band will perform holiday tunes and other music will be provided by Bette Sanborne and Lewiston Youth Advisory Council vice-chair Katie Lauze. A community sing-along will also take place. From 6 to 7 p.m., Lewiston Maineiacs hockey mascot Lewy will be on hand.

The Salvation Army’s Coats for Kids, located at 149 Lisbon St., will be open. Residents can donate coats or pick up a coat for a needy child. Toys may also be donated at the same location.

Vendors will sell wreaths, ornaments and other holiday goods. The Lewiston Rotary Club will sell Christmas trees, and volunteers from Bates College and New Beginnings will carry trees to vehicles. Several downtown restaurants will be open, including Marco’s, Just Joan’s, Legal Eagle, Manic Designs, Bill Davis Luncheonette and Final Harvest. Block partiers can take free rides on the horse-drawn wagon.

The idea of the block party is to bring people downtown for some holiday fun, in the same way that the downtown is opened for several summer nights during the Festival de Joie prelude, Bates says.

Poinsettia blooms by the thousands

One way to experience the colors of the season is a trip to a local greenhouse raising plants for the holidays. Farming Whiting on outer Summer Street in Auburn offers four greenhouses holding between 10,000 and 15,000 poinsettias.

When people walk into Elmer Whiting’s greenhouses this time of year, “they see a mass of blooms of all different colors. They usually say, ‘Wow, this is beautiful,'” Whiting says.

His poinsettias come in red, white, pink and burgundy, and each color has a variety of shades. Every poinsettia he sells was grown in Auburn, he says, differentiating them from Canadian varieties sold at many stores. The flowers start out as cuts from a mother plant in July, and they aren’t ready until late November. Between July and November the plants need daily care, Whiting says.

The flowers sell for between $2.75 to $25 depending on size. The most popular is a pot with five to eight blooms that sells for $6.50

Whiting has been growing poinsettias for 25 years. “They’re something that cheers people up,” he says. The greenhouses are open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 882 Summer St.

Glowing neighborhoods

No holiday would be complete without residential light displays, and one sure holiday brightener are the displays put on by residents in the Hotel Road-Clover Lane-Meadow Lane area in Auburn. The cluster of homeowners will turn on their lights for the first time this season on Dec. 6.

Last year’s display included lights on Dick Michaud’s more than 40-foot-tall tree (he used a ladder and two poles to get the lights on the tree). Another Meadow Lane homeowner covered her home with white lights: the garage, the fence, bushes and the mailbox. Neighbors dubbed it the Gingerbread House.

Around the corner was a home and yard so lit up you wondered where to pay admission. In the yard there were colored lights on trees, a lit snowman and soldier, Santa sleighs and reindeer. Lights framed the windows, the garage, doors, the roof and a lamppost. And that was just the front yard.

The neighbors say their lights attract extra traffic each year. And not just cars; buses and limousines have been known to target the area.

Observers say another outstanding light display is in the area of Russell Street, Bellegarde Avenue and Bellegarde Circle in Lewiston. One of the homeowners is said to greet children each evening in a Santa Claus suit.

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