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."

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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."

Holiday happenings

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.