AUBURN — Approaching Festival Plaza at the start of the Christmas celebration early Thursday evening, a man with two young boys in tow paused to take in all the sights, sounds and smells before them. 

“They have donuts!” cried one of the boys. 

“They have lots of things,” said his father. 

He wasn’t lying. Auburn’s Christmas festival this year offered all the traditional holiday hoopla, but there was a little something new, as well: shopping. 

The Christmas shopping village, European-style and a first for the city, was an obvious draw for lots of people who crowded around the newly-made shopping shacks with wallets and purses already in hand.  

The ring of freshly-constructed shacks around the plaza offered promises of holiday gifts, food packages, wreathes, cocoa … everything, in other words, that one needs or wants around the holidays. 


Even Santa has trouble competing with the chance to knock off some mid-December Christmas shopping. At least that’s how it worked out for the Poisson family as they prepared to take in their first Auburn Christmas festival ever Thursday night. 

“I think Santa helps,” said Kasey Poisson, mother of five from Auburn, “but my sister-in-law and I are really looking forward to checking out the little shops they’ve built down there. I think after the COVID years, the kids just really can’t wait to see some normal activities and finally get back to enjoying the Christmas spirit. Having never gone we don’t really know what it’s like so that’s of course exciting.”  

The shopping booths, fragrant of freshly cut pine, were a hit at once. Early in the evening, crowds were already thick around them. And it wasn’t just the eager shoppers who were delighted, the vendors themselves were clearly impressed. 

“The booths are just adorable,” said Sarah Lee, of MaineLee Handiwork. “They smell so fresh right now. I just love them.” 

Lee was there last Saturday when the booths first went up. That was a rainy and raw day yet she still had enough business to keep going. On Thursday, with mild temperatures and a clear sky, there was a steady line in front of her shack. 

“It’s been wonderful,” she said. 


One shack over, Jessica Tkacik was selling her wares as the owner of Maine Yoga Jewelry. She also reported brisk business as consistently merry shoppers made their way to her space. 

“I set up a little before 4 o’clock and folks started coming around,” Tkacik said. “It’s been really fun. Everybody seems to be happy, cheerful and excited for the tree lighting.” 

The shopping village concept was a hit from the start, with scores of applications rolling in from prospective vendors immediately after the news was announced in the fall. 

“We’ve been thinking about doing something like this pre-COVID, and finally now we can actually get it done and really highlight Auburn,” Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said back in September, “but more importantly, highlight the people that make this community one of the best small cities in New England. And this is just a way to showcase our spirit, our fortitude, our resilience of the entire state and region.” 

The vendors who occupy the booths will be rotated in and out each week for the three weeks leading up to Christmas. 

“So every weekend,” Levesque said, “it will be something fresh in here.” 


The shack occupied by Cindy Robinson, of Cindy Robinson’s Creations, was scented not only with the sweet aroma of fresh cut pine, but with balsam and other fragrances distinctly associated with the holidays. Business was brisk in that space, as well, and Robinson was clearly a fan of the shopping village concept. 

You could hardly blame her. 

“They let us have the booths for free,” she said. “No fees to come in and set up, and it’s so nice. I’ve got tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday.” 

It wasn’t all shopping, of course. Santa himself still garnered plenty of awe and admiration and there was plenty to do before his arrival. As that young father had observed, pretty much everything Christmas could be found at Festival Plaza, including hot cocoa, coffee, donuts, Christmas cakes, hand-crafted mittens and hats … and of course, that big tree at the edge of the plaza still needed to be lit up.

“Tonight while we celebrate our time honored tradition of lighting the Christmas tree and downtown in celebration of one of our most sacred of holidays,” said Mayor Levesque, “may the people of Auburn and Maine enjoy peace and love this holiday season.” 

And like that, it was officially Christmas in Auburn. 

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