Rangeley, ME: An Angel in Rangeley
Once the tree arrives at Lakeside Park, it’s fitted into a hole in the ground and strung with 4,000 small white lights. At the very top stands a wooden angel carved by Rodney Richard, the Mad Whittler, whose chain-saw sculptures have gained him a national reputation. He’s famous around town, though, for his Rangeley Angel. Carved in memory of his five-year-old niece who died in a tragic sledding accident, the angel has come to symbolize the spirit of caring. “We like to say, ‘There’s an angel in Rangeley,’ ” says Rodney, quoting a local Christmas card.
The tree-lighting ceremony on November 27 includes American and Canadian national anthems, official welcomes in French and English, choral performances from both towns, and a few words from the local snowmobile club. Finally, the Rangeley Angel — the other one — arrives in a sled pulled by white-as-snow Samoyeds. This is a big moment for the six- or seven-year-old angel, who is chosen way back in the summer when she wins the talent show during the logging festival. Months later, Little Miss Woodchip, by some feat of small-town logic, becomes the Rangeley Christmas Angel, who flicks the switch beneath the giant Giving Tree.
Children in the crowd, nudged by their parents, walk forward to leave gifts beneath the tree. Faces turn upward. As the tree lights, every church in town rings its bells, and the winter air is crowded with sound, note upon folded note rolling out like the hills themselves into the distance.
On years when the weather is good — or at least when it’s not blowing up a wind-chill that can reach 20 below — hundreds of people turn out for the Walk to Bethlehem. From the steps of the Rangeley Inn the proclamation is read from the second chapter of Luke: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” Then the procession, led by a costumed Mary and Joseph, moves through town, first to the pillared Baptist church on the corner of Lake and Main, then on to the Catholic church a few doors down. Then back to Main Street, past the IGA, where more people join the walk, and on to the tiny Congregational church. Along the way, the walkers stop to sing carols and to ask if there is “room at the inn.” At each church they are turned away.
The procession ends at the Episcopal church by the lake. Inside, the auditorium is already full, and there’s hardly room for the walkers. People squeeze into pews, stand in the aisles, and sit on the floor in front. The Christmas pageant comes only once a year, and it is a show not to be missed. There are dance performances and dramatic skits, carol singing and bell ringing.
Finally comes the moment everyone’s been waiting for: Mary and Joseph walk in carrying baby Jesus — usually the newest baby in town, though often, as it happens, “baby Jesus” is a girl. Then come the Cub Scouts dressed in their shepherd costumes, followed by the Wise Men who present their gifts. When the lights dim, the crowd stills, and the music begins. And then all of Rangeley, packed shoulder to shoulder, lift their voices to sing “Silent Night.” Outside, the Giving Tree stands shimmering in Lakeside Park, a bright beacon in a dark December night.