In a darkened Woodlawn warehouse, colorfully painted toy soldiers stand guard over the pieces of Santa's Village, just as they have the past two Christmas seasons, waiting for workers to erect the structure.
But this year, Santa's Village, an elaborate wooden town that former County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen had constructed for the square between the old and new courthouses in Towson, will remain in pieces, and in the dark.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden, who defeated Rasmussen in the November 1990 election, has pulled the plug on the bright lights and glitz of Santa's Village, choosing instead a simple county Christmas tree.
"Last year we spent $21,000 on [Santa's Village] and we would have spent $25,000 this year," Hayden said, explaining his decision to forgo the display. "The spirit of the holiday can remain, but without the cost."
Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, like Hayden a Republican elected in 1990, also has made some cutbacks on county Christmas decorations.
Louise Hayman, spokeswoman for Neall, said that at the Arundel Center in Annapolis, the main county office building, much of the traditional Christmas decorating is being curtailed.
"We're only doing the Christmas tree," said Hayman. "No garland, no wreaths, no candles."
However, most other governments in the Baltimore metropolitan area say they will keep their displays the same as in years past.
In Baltimore, city officials will decorate a tree inside and outside City Hall, but most of the downtown decorations are done by businesses, said Angela Gibson, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office.
"We don't decorate downtown," said Gibson. "The businesses decorate downtown, so there really isn't a lot of expense for the city."
"We're doing what we normally do," said Michael Mallinoff, city administrator for Annapolis. "And what we normally do is not much."
In Annapolis, wreaths along Main Street and a Christmas tree by the City Dock are the two things the city does to decorate for the holiday, said Mallinoff.
In Harford, the county government will put up its traditional Christmas tree outside the county courthouse, and the town of Bel Air still plans to decorate two Christmas trees, as well as hang ornaments and lights along Main Street.
"Harford County never did go overboard," said David Sewell, director of facilities and operations for the county.
The Carroll County government offices have not had Christmas lights or decorations for at least a couple of years, said Bob Kimmel, a county employee.
"We used to put some wreaths and some lights up," Kimmel said, "but we phased that out some years ago."
In Ellicott City, Howard County officials plan to erect the traditional county Christmas tree at the county office complex.
"About the only thing we do is the tree," Ken Mays, public information administrator for Howard, said today. "The merchants do some lighting in Ellicott City, but it's not a county expense."
Back in Towson, where the tree-lighting ceremony takes place Thursday night, Hayden's press secretary, Carol Hirshburg, was asked whether she thought any children will miss Santa because of the cutback.
"I seem to recollect hearing that there were not too many people going there to see the Santa Claus," Hirshburg said.