Holiday season begins with more than 100 events

PARADES, MUSIC, SANTA EVERYWHERE

December 07, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Five-year-old Megan Biles, who came to the Hampden Christmas parade specifically to see Santa Claus, didn't have to wait very long.

While the official Santa float didn't arrive until the end of the two-hour parade yesterday, a couple dozen look-alikes made appearances in one form or another long before Jolly Old St. Nick himself rode by her curbside viewing spot along Falls Road.

Santa was there on a fire engine, in antique cars, on Boumi Temple three-wheelers, in a streetcar and in the back of a 1940s Yellow Cab, from which he threw candy at children.

The theme, after all, was Christmas, and the crowds who braved the chill to watch this 20th annual Christmas parade didn't seem to care about protocol. They just wanted to celebrate the season.

And that seemed to be the point of any number of the more than 100 holiday events held the past two days across Maryland, making it the busiest weekend of the season on the social calendar.

And Santa, living up to the "he's everywhere" legend, made an appearance at most of them.

Christmas parades also were held in communities from Ocean City to Aberdeen, where a rock 'n roll theme prevailed and an Elvis impersonator almost rivaled Santa for attention.

But parades were not the half of it. Breakfasts with Santa, Christmas craft fairs, choral concerts, open houses, candlelight tours, tree lightings -- you name it.

If it could be decorated, illuminated, or served up with hot cider and sugar cookies, it probably drew a crowd.

"I think people come just to be part of the festivities," said Lori Law, associate chairman of the Festival of Trees, an annual holiday extravaganza that opened at Baltimore's Festival Hall downtown yesterday. "They come because there's a magic to Christmas and they want to be part of it."

This is the third year for the festival, which includes a display of about 100 Christmas trees and 75 wreaths, all decorated in a different theme by local designers. The event benefits the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a resource center for children with disabilities, and is expected to draw about 40,000 people over its eight-day run.

Besides a giant room of Christmas trees, there's an international area depicting Christmas scenes from several different countries, a "village" of real gingerbread houses, a children's area, a shopping arcade, continuous caroling by visiting choirs and, of course, a roaming Santa.

Carol and Bob Ballantine, of Parkville, were among the opening-day guests who brought a video camera to the festival.

They were videotaping a volunteer describing the Christmas Eve setting from Poland in the International Village.

"I was a shift worker for 38 years and often had to work on Christmas," said Mr. Ballantine. "Now that I have weekends off, we're taking advantage of it. We're really enjoying this."

They planned to continue celebrating the season last night at the Trinity Assembly of God's Christmas Cantata at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The Ballantines weren't alone, in that respect.

Thousands of others who mark the season's opening with Christmas music had dozens of concerts to choose from.

The Handel Choir of Baltimore prepared for at least 500 people to attend yesterday's "Messiah" sing-along at Grace United Methodist Church, a Christmas tradition for many Baltimoreans.

T. Herbert Dimmock, the choir's director, says the "Messiah" is popular because "people find the music non-threatening and comforting," even those who aren't musically savvy or who don't ordinarily attend choral concerts.

The "Messiah," like many other events of the season, has become a tradition.

So have more solemn events, such as the annual lighting of luminaria at Antietam Battlefield, near Sharpsburg in Washington County. There, for the fourth year, 23,110 luminaria -- candles anchored in bags of sand -- were lighted last night.

Thousands of people drive through the battlefield on the first weekend of December to view the 4 1/2 -mile-long display,

postponed a day because of high winds Saturday night.

"We get about 13,000 people here each year," said park Superintendent Rich Rambur, who explained that the 23,100 candles represent the 23,100 soldiers who were killed, wounded or missing in the Civil War battle there in 1862.

"Why at Christmas?" Mr. Rambur was asked.

"Christmas is a season of remembering, a time when we remember family, friends and our past. And the battle is part of our past."

Besides, he said, it has become "quite a tradition" among many families in Western Maryland.

The same can be given as a reason by most who were out marking the season in Baltimore yesterday, including parade-goers in Hamden.

"It's an annual thing," said parade organizer Tom Kerr of the event which he says draws 15,000 spectators a year.

"People put it on their calendars just like they mark the first day after Thanksgiving as the beginning of the shopping season."

Toni Kratochvil, of the neighboring Woodberry community, is one such devotee: She has been to every Hamden Christmas parade since it started 20 years ago.

"My parents used to bring me." Now, she said, she has her own teen-agers there.

"This is the best parade of the year -- the best floats, the best costumes," she said. "We were here an hour before it started" just to stake out a spot near the reviewing stand on 36th Street.

"I wouldn't miss it."

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