Santa will return to Catonsville for the area's traditional start to the holiday season this Saturday for the town's 22nd annual Catonsville Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Saturday evening's event at the Catonsville Fire Department, 756 Frederick Road, has been hosted every year since 1994. It will feature live music from Johnnycake Elementary School students, and free cookies and hot chocolate, in addition to the chance for Catonsville's youngest residents to get a glimpse of the man in red.
"It's a true community event," said George Deal, who has been helping to run the event since the 1990s.
In addition to the numerous community members who help every year to decorate the town and prepare for the tree lighting, many local businesses offer their help as well, Deal said.
"It's all Catonsville people, mostly, involved in this," he said.
As of the morning of Nov. 23, Deal said, most of the work was done. He and other volunteers spent part of Saturday putting the final decorations, many of which came from Westowne Elementary students, on the tree, he said.
"Christmas does funny things to people," he said, noting that, even while he was decorating the 30-foot tree outside the firehouse, people were stopping by to ask how they could help. "And that's a good thing."
It's that willingness to help in the Catonsville community that allows the event to happen in the first place, said Greg Morgan, who started the tree lighting ceremony tradition when his oldest child was just a toddler.
Morgan will again serve as master of ceremonies for this year's event. He started the event in 1994 after replacing the damaged tree the local fire company used to light for the holidays.
Back then, Morgan said, it was a much smaller event than it is today. This year's event, he said, is expected to draw about 2,000 visitors.
"It was nowhere near what it is today," he said. "My wife didn't give it a year, and now it's been 22 years."
It's the help from the local community, Morgan said, that has made the event possible year after year.
He will look out into the crowd this Saturday, he said, and spot mothers and fathers who were themselves small children when he first turned on the lights on the tree at 754 Frederick Road.
Frederick Road itself has also changed a lot in the past 22 years, he said.
"It's been awesome to see the evolution — or renaissance — of the Catonsville business district," he said, noting that Jennings Cafe was one of the few businesses in the area open past sundown during the first tree lighting.
While Christmas in Catonsville may not rival the community's spectacular Independence Day celebration just yet, Morgan said he likes to think he and his fellow volunteers have created an event that might be equal to July 4 in its importance to the community.
"It's a close second, but it'll never be the Fourth of July," he said. But "it's one that I hope will continue forever."
Festivities begin at 6:30 p.m., Deal said, and run until about 7:30 p.m.
Beginning Dec. 4, the Santa House will begin from 6 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.