If you want a uniquely local holiday treat, consider taking part in the annual Christmas Lights Parade of Yachts in Annapolis Harbor and Spa Creek, set for Saturday, Dec. 15.
It's an event that will bring a smile to even the toughest, most hard-bitten Scrooge and is guaranteed to delight everyone else.
Event chairwoman Yvonne Kazan of the sponsoring Eastport Yacht Club said there is still some space left inside the fleet maximum of 60 boats.
Kazan said additional applicants are welcome, although entries must be in before the mandatory Dec. 13 skippers meeting.
"Basically we're trying to get back to what this event was when it first started," said Kazan, explaining that this year's theme is An Old-Fashioned Christmas.
The theme, she said, easily will accommodate simple decoration schemes as well as the more elaborate and sophisticated programs that have turned out in recent years and may actually have discouraged potential participants with simpler abilities and ideas.
"Whether you want to go out and do something really spectacular, or just put a couple of strings of lights up the mast, the important thing is that it's a great way to celebrate Christmas with friends and family in a way that's uniquely Annapolis," she said.
"A lot of people may not think they have the technical or creative ability to come up with something as elaborate as some of the entries we've had in the last couple of years, but the important thing is to come out and take part in something really special," Kazan said. "The spirit of everybody getting together is really much more important than the decorations themselves."
And of course, it is the panoply of all of the boats together that gives the parade its heartwarming impact, especially when the dark, expectant hush on the water suddenly gives way to cheering holiday spectacle as all the boats turn on their lights at once at the sound of the 6 p.m. cannon.
This year, too, there's a good chance local efforts will help spread Christmas cheer abroad, as it looks like the Defense Department will film the event for broadcast to the troops overseas.
Again this year awesome displays are expected from some of the commercial, club and organizational entries (Kazan recently received an application for a 150-foot-long multiboat entry from the Chesapeake Bay Power Boat Association, for example), but even the smallest, most simply decorated individual or family participant is an important part of the event.
Getting set to join the Christmas Lights Parade doesn't need to be intimidating.
In fact, EYC's resident boat-lighting expert, Bill Millan, said only a few technical considerations are required. The key to success -- just as it is in a major regatta or distance race -- is a little thoughtful prior planning and preparation.
"The one thing I would really caution people not to do is wait until the day of the parade to start a project unless it's already really well-planned-out ahead of time," he said.
Millan should know what he's talking about. For the past five years he's been instrumental in creating the glorious displays on Ivon and Barbara Paulin's Brumby. He encourages anyone's participation in the Lights Parade.
"It's a Christmas gift to the city," he said. "Every boat out there is equally important to adding to the enjoyment of the people on shore, even if the decorations are very simple."
Millan said a good first step is sketching your boat to scale on paper.
It doesn't have to be highly detailed; reasonably accurate general dimensions will do. Then make a simple design for your display, drawn to scale on the boat plan so you can estimate the materials you'll need.
"Plan on using only the midget Christmas-tree lights," Millan said.
"They draw very little power so you don't need big generators -- and you're out there to have fun, not listen to a lot of noise all night. Also, they're easy to work with because between each bulb there's a 6-inch space, which works out pretty easily on your scale drawing to figure out the number of bulbs you'll need."
Millan explained that standard midget lights come in strings of 35, 50 or 100.
He recommended the 50-bulb sets with connectors on each end as the easiest to work with. The 100-bulb sets are strung in a closed loop with only one electrical connection on the string, so patterning with them can be much more complicated.
If your design will take more than six 50-bulb strings, you'll have to figure out how to make connections with extension cords to get back to the power source, because no more than 300 bulbs (150 feet of lights -- plenty of length for many simple headstay-to-backstay schemes) should be connected to a single circuit.
"Read the back of the package," Millan said. "That information should be there, along with the wattage."
You'll need to know the wattage of your design to figure out your power supply requirements, he added.