Some were first-timers, others veterans. Under Baltimore's Washington Monument Thursday night, thousands gathered for carols, food truck carryout and a bit of light-hearted — if jam-packed — holiday camaraderie.
At the 41st annual lighting of the monument, another winter season in Charm City was launched — kids and teens, young adults and older couples all looking skyward as the strings of lights were turned on, lasers shot patterns across Mount Vernon's trees and a finale of fireworks burst into the air, all to the accompaniment of holiday musical classics.
"This kicks it off for me," Dotty Hyman, a lecturer at McDaniel College, said of the event. "My semester ends, and then my Christmas can actually start."
Aisha Isackson, there with her Lauraville family, said the event had just the right atmosphere.
"We were looking for a great family outing to go to," she said. "It was perfect."
Her daughter Mira Isackson, 15, who attends the nearby Baltimore School for the Arts, agreed.
"I actually really like it," she said. "It feels really Christmasy."
Some at the event thought it was cold. Others, not so much. Jerrance and Jessica Carter stayed warm at the Engineers Club.
When the Towson couple ventured to Mount Vernon for last year's lighting, Jerrance dropped to one knee under the monument and proposed. The spot, and the lights, will always be special for them now, they said.
"Every time we see it, we'll think back to the proposal," he said.
Elissa Henderson, a nurse at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, kept warm with some stew as she and fellow nurse Annie Chapoton listened to the live music.
The pair see the worst side of Baltimore on the job, treating victims of violence, and were enjoying the happy vibe of the event, they said.
"It makes you feel a little more a part of the community," Chapoton said.
The fireworks erupted after a countdown by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Ravens player Lardarius Webb about 7:45 p.m.
Many headed home afterward, including Teresa Fitzgerald and her 25-year-old daughter, Rickelle Moore, who had a long walk back to Fells Point.
Fitzgerald used to bring Moore to the lighting when she was little, and they'd decided to make the journey again this year.
"I thought it was pretty cool," Moore said. "I always liked the fireworks."