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Light up the Night: Orono residents, UMaine students organize holiday and 150th anniversary celebration

UMaine Renaissance performs to a crowd of townspeople at last year's Light Up the Night, an annual event that draws students and locals together to celebrate the holiday season. Photo courtesy of Roger Merchant.
UMaine Renaissance performs to a crowd of townspeople at the 2014 Light Up the Night, an annual event that draws students and locals together to celebrate the holiday season. Photo courtesy of Roger Merchant.

Light up the Night, is a holiday celebration that takes place every December in downtown Orono, is happening this Monday, Dec. 7. Scheduled events include caroling, a tree lighting, visits with Santa Claus, performances from singers and a parade with floats and fireworks.

This year, the theme of the event is the 150th anniversary of the University of Maine, which is one way that the Orono community hopes to include the UMaine community in the festivities.

The festivities start at the University Credit Union (UCU) in downtown Orono, and then go to the University Inn. The inn is selling $5 commemorative coins for the 150th anniversary that can be used at participating downtown businesses for deals. These can be used through the month of December.

“We are all working together to celebrate the holiday season and the 150th celebration,” Tracey Whitten, owner of the University Inn, said.

Whitten said that last year’s event drew a couple hundred people.

Whitten is part of a planning board for the Light up the Night event, which includes Orono residents, members of the town office and the library director, as well as student Harold “Trey” Stewart, president of UMaine Student Government (UMSG).

“It is pretty exciting actually, because all the parties are pitching in in some way. It is important for the town to include the university because they are a part of the community,” Whitten added.

Laurie Carpenter, director of Orono Public Library, is also on the planning board. This is her first year planning the event.

Carpenter said she was involved in various aspects of planning, including coordinating different groups in town as well as at the university, and combining the anniversary with the holiday season.

Carpenter said that the the event highlights the importance of, “coming together to celebrate a holiday season and bringing both town and university members to the downtown area, and promoting the businesses downtown.”

Stewart was the only student involved on the planning board from UMaine. In May, he was inducted into the role of UMSG president. Last year, he took part in planning the Winter Carnival, but this is his first year helping with Light up the Night.

“It is kind of a joint effort.  Really the goal is to bring the town and the students together,” Stewart said.

Stewart said his job was to bring everything from the town meetings back to the student body. Several student groups from UMaine are involved in the event, including Greek Life, Student Government, Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and the singers of Renaissance, who will be performing as they did last year.

“It is more than just spending time together. I think particularly with the holiday season it is a good time for everyone to gear up for winter, while also realizing that we have a lot of diversity here and a lot of different culture,” Stewart said.

Stewart explained that the good community connection between the town of Orono and the university has not always been present. He said that if there is university involvement with the town, it has usually been through administration, not students. Stewart added that the community needs better face time with students and Greek Life.

“It is rare to find families associating with college students,” Stewart said.

Katie Lees, manager of Renaissance at UMaine, was another student who took part in organizing students for the event, though she was not on the planning board. Lees explained that as manager of the all-female a cappella group, she arranges all the gigs and performances for the singers, and works with publicity and getting their name out.

The singers will be performing during the tree lighting at the University Inn. The performance is expected to be 20 or 30 minutes.

Lees said that last year, the group had a great response from the Orono community.

“I think that it was a nice way for us as a student group to get our name out there in the community and be a part of the greater community and not just be the university,” Lees said.

Last year, the group performed in front of the UCU downtown. This is the first time they will be performing at the tree lighting, where there is also expected to be other festivities, including visits with Santa Claus. This is expected to draw more of a crowd.

“I think it gives the university students a chance to meet with the community at a common event.  There is not typically a lot that the university students get to come out to do with the community,” Lees said.

Lees added that this was a nice way to take a break from the stress of finals for students.

She also thought that this year the town was making more of an effort to engage more student groups and reach out.

“I think they are really trying to bridge the two communities. We are all in the same small town but we could really use some cooperation,” Lees added.

Stewart agreed that students should take the opportunity to come out and engage with the community as a whole.

“I hope that they realize that there is more to Orono than just University of Maine and also that there is a lot of opportunity that they don’t engage in as well as they should,” Stewart said.

Events are expected to start at 4:30 p.m. at the UCU downtown, and go until about 7:30 p.m.  The event will culminate in a fireworks show in front of the University Inn over the Stillwater River.


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