Sponsored by the Towson Chamber of Commerce and co-chaired by Kathy Harden and former County Council member Doug Riley, Winterfest includes attractions for children and adults through the holiday season.
"It's designed to lure shoppers to the downtown area and keep them coming back throughout the Christmas season," said Nancy Hafford, chamber executive director.
"It allows people to stay local, and not have to use gas to enjoy a lot of fun things they can do for free," she said.
This year the chamber is investing $20,000 in Winterfest in the hope that the influx of potential customers will benefit shops and restaurants. That's down from last year's $25,000, but it's not because of the lagging economy.
"We are able to use many of the decorations and much of the equipment we purchased for the first Winterfest," Hafford said. "We plan to add new things each year."
Harden, owner of Souris Saloon, which is hosting one of two holiday-theme breakfasts for children as part of the Winterfest activities, said that in this economy, the focus on local holiday shopping is needed.
"Everybody involved is working for the good of all, trying to help bring business to the area," Harden said. "We want people to come to shop, eat and enjoy themselves — and support their local businesses."
The 6 p.m. ceremony on Dec. 3 that focuses on the lighting of the 25-foot-high nylon evergreen will feature entertainment as well as free hot chocolate and cookies, courtesy of the Sheraton North Hotel and the Towson University Marriott Conference Hotel.
Performances will feature Purrfect Pitch, Towson University's student a cappela singing group, as well as Perry Hall Middle School's eighth grade Jaguar Choir, the Chapel Hill Music Sensations and a lively 40-reindeer-strong troupe from the Anna Apicella School of Dance.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz will serve as emcee, and will announce the arrival of the star of the show, Santa Claus, who will come down Allegheny Avenue with Mrs. Claus on a fire truck. The jolly old fellow will be available for photographs and for listening to holiday gift wishes.
In the event of inclement weather, the crowd can adjourn to the rotunda of the Towson Circle building.
Everything is free on Dec. 3 except parking, and even then, the Nottingham Center garage on the corner of Allegheny and Washington avenues will offer reduced rates.
The county Department of Social Services is also asking those who attend to bring unwrapped toy or gifts to donate to less fortunate children.
The tree lighting is just the beginning of Winterfest.
Attractions in the days and weeks that follow include a Santa's Workshop — with small gifts for children to buy for loved ones — ice sculptures, holiday movies, street performers, breakfasts with the Grinch and with Frosty the Snowman, a men's shopping night and HoHo Happy Hours featuring drink and food specials on Thursday evenings.
There will also be several opportunities for children to chat with Santa and Beau and Tinsel, the famous Hutzler's department store talking reindeer.
Inland Properties, which owns and manages the Towson Circle complex, donated the space for Santa's Workshop, which can be reached through the Shealy Avenue entrance to the building.
Inland also loaned the chamber Beau and Tinsel, who will delight not only children, but also parents and grandparents who remember them from when the building was Hutzler's department store.
What may be felt during Winterfest 2011, but not seen, are the lessons learned from event last year, said Hafford.
"We learned never to close Santa's Workshop even 15 minutes early — after we did it last year and we disappointed some poor lady with her children," she said.
"We learned it was better not to have a children's parade. With so many kids and parents, it was too complicated to get the tree-lighting ceremony going after that.
"And we learned that a 45-minute ceremony was too long," she said. "It will be 20 minutes this year."
And finally, after only a handful of people could see Anna Apicella's 40 "reindeer" dancers perform because they were standing in the way of the rest of the crowd, "We learned it will be better to stage the dancers in the middle of the street, so that everyone can gather round and see them," Hafford said.
With those lessons, and a year's experience, under the belt of organizers, Hafford is hoping for a big turnout for Winterfest 2011.
"Keeping the business community strong helps to keep the residential community strong," she said. "They both benefit."
The following is the schedule of special events connected to Towson's Winterfest 2011. For more details, go to http://www.towsonchamber.com or call the chamber at 410-825-1144.
• Thursday night "HoHo Happy Hours," on Dec. 1, 8, 15 and 22, will offer drink and food specials after 5 p.m. at participating bars and restaurants in Towson.
• The Baltimore County tree lighting events on Saturday, Dec. 3, 6 to 8 p.m., will feature Santa's arrival by fire engine, the tree lighting ceremony, and the opening of Santa's Workshop with Beau and Tinsel, the talking reindeer. Santa's workshop is in Towson Circle, the former Hutzler's building on the corner of Joppa and York roads, with its entrance on Shealy Avenue. On Dec. 3, the Nottingham Center garage, 502 Washington Ave., will have reduced parking rates.
• Fire and Ice Night is Friday, Dec. 9, from 6 to 9 p.m. Downtown Towson streets will feature ice sculptures, free roasted roasted chestnuts and s'mores offered by area restaurants, as well as street performers and a display at the Towson Arts Collective gallery, 408 York Road.
• Breakfast with the Grinch will be held Saturday, Dec. 10, at 9 a.m., at Ridgely & Ferrens, 11 Allegheny Ave. The cost is $5 for children and $10 for adults.
• Santa's Workshop will be open Saturdays, Dec. 10 and 17, with gifts priced from $1 to $5 for children to buy from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. On Dec. 10, there will be a showing of the movie, "The Grinch," at 10:30 a.m.; and on Dec. 17, there's a 10:30 a.m. showing of "Frosty the Snowman."
• Street performers will stroll through downtown Towson on Friday, Dec. 16, from 6 to 9 p.m., while shoppers celebrate the season.
• Breakfast with Frosty will be held Saturday, Dec. 17, at 9 a.m., at Souris' Saloon at the Towson roundabout. The cost is $5 for children and $10 for adults.
• And a Men's Shopping Night will be held Thursday, Dec. 22, beginning at 5 p.m., with specials, promotions and gift advice at several local shops. Souris Saloon will wrap gifts free as part of the event. For a list of participating businesses, visit http://www.towsonchamber.com or call the chamber at 410-825-1144.
Finally, the county has announced that drivers can park for free for up to two hours at any parking meter in downtown Towson from Sunday, Dec. 18, through Saturday, Dec. 24.