Festivals usher in season

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It's that time of year again, those last few days before Thanksgiving arrives and the holiday season begins in earnest. That last little window of time where you can either try to ease into the holiday spirit or decide to jump in with both feet.

For whatever spirit you might be in, there's likely a winter festival or event to match it: from a simple showing of handmade wreaths to an over-the-top spectacle of dazzling lights, from a Thanksgiving parade to a tour of historic homes. While you are out, you can start your gift shopping, find food and drink, or just enjoy a beautifully decorated landscape.

This weekend

Winterfest of Lights -- Visit one of Maryland's favorite summer vacation locations this fall and winter. Starting this weekend, Ocean City is ready for the holidays with the Winterfest of Lights. More than a mile of holiday decorations and more than 800,000 dazzling lights combine to create this holiday spectacular. At Northside Park, visitors can take the Winterfest Tram to get a better look at the decorative displays. The festival takes place from 5:30 to 9:30 nightly through Jan. 2 at Northside Park, 127th Street and the Bayside. The Avenue of Trees lines 15th through 32nd streets. Call 800-OC-OCEAN for information.

Sugarloaf Crafts Festival -- The Sugarloaf Crafts Festival, which tours the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest, is stopping by Maryland this weekend. Today and tomorrow, view the unique crafts of more than 500 artists -- from jewelry to calligraphy to clothing to stained glass -- at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, Exit 11 off Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg. Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow. Call 800-210-9900 or visit sugarloafcrafts.com.

Festival of Wreaths -- View -- and maybe buy -- any of more than 75 handmade decorative wreaths in a historic Eastern Shore town. Monday through Saturday until Dec. 4, the wreaths will be on display at Pleasant Day Medical Center, 2474 Cambridge Beltway in Cambridge. The display is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can bid on their favorite wreath in the silent auction or vote for the "Best in Show" wreath. Proceeds are given to charity. Call 410-228-0190.

Baltimore's Thanksgiving Parade -- Baltimore welcomes the holiday season with the 54th annual Thanksgiving Parade today. The parade begins at Pratt and Eutaw streets at 11 a.m. Elaborate floats, galloping horseback riders, gigantic balloons and marching bands will make their way down Pratt Street. New this year are balloon characters from the tales of Robin Hood, Annie, Winnie the Pooh and Charlotte's Web. Also featured this year is the "Mexico Vivo" show, with traditional Mexican dance performances. Santa Claus concludes the parade, which ends at Pratt and Market Place. Call 877-BALTIMORE.

Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens -- Brookside Gardens in Wheaton brightens the holiday season with thousands of colorful twinkling lights. The illuminated displays include an animated flying cardinal, a kaleidoscope caterpillar and swimming geese over sparkling water. Admission is $15 per car. This festival is open on select dates starting today and closing Jan. 8. Hours are 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Call 301-962-1453 for dates and details.

Looking ahead

Maryland Christmas Show -- Get your holiday shopping done at the 22nd Annual Maryland Christmas Show. More than 500 artists will be showing their crafts, including pottery, quilts, wreaths, jewelry and Christmas ornaments. Children get a chance to take pictures with Santa. Fresh baked goods will be available for sale. The show takes place at the Frederick Fairgrounds Nov. 25-27 and Dec. 2-4. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. For more information, call 301-898-5466 or visit marylandchrist masshow.com.

Kennedy Krieger Institute Festival of Trees -- The Festival of Trees, Kennedy Krieger's largest fundraising event of the year, features more than 300 ornately decorated trees, gingerbread houses and wreaths. Visitors can buy holiday crafts, bid on items in a silent auction, enjoy live entertainment and meet Santa. All proceeds benefit research and treatment programs at Kennedy Krieger Institute. The festival is Nov. 25-27 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 25 and 26 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 27. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 5-12 and senior citizens 60 and older. For more information, call 443-923-9200 or 800-873-3377 or visit festivalof trees.kennedykrieger.org.

Mount Vernon Holly Tour -- Mount Vernon's Holly Tour showcases restored and redecorated Maryland buildings of note. This year, visitors can see eight homes, three historic buildings and two churches Dec. 4 on this self-guided tour. After the tour, brunch will be served at the Peabody Court Hotel's rooftop dining room overlooking the Mount Vernon area. Visitors can pick up a map and tour book at the Eubie Blake Jazz Center, 847 N. Howard St., starting at 10 a.m. Dec. 4. Tour hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for the tour are $20 in advance and $25 on the day of the tour. There is an additional $25 fee for the brunch. Tickets can be purchased online at mis siontix.com. For more information, call 443-524-2370.

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