On the morning of Monday, Nov. 26, Nancy Hafford wasn't wearing her hat as executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.
She was a "little elf," making sure Santa would have a bright spot in Towson to guide him toward this Saturday's lighting of the Baltimore County Christmas tree.
"That tree has about 2,000 lights," she said from the chamber office. "Every year we have to check and make sure it all works."
There are also 300-plus decorations on that tree, two reindeer to accommodate, several inflatable Christmas attractions and countless other details to arrange before a crowd — estimated between 750 and 1,000 people — descend on Olympian Park at the junction of Allegheny Avenue and the traffic circle on Dec. 1.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz will preside over the tree lighting with assistance from members of the County Council and the chamber. The annual event will feature free hot chocolate provided by Towson University Marriott Conference Hotel and the Sheraton Baltimore North, as well as pastries from La Cakerie. The tree will be lit at about 6:25 p.m. followed by Santa and Mrs. Claus' arrival by fire engine.
The festivities also include musical performances by the Perry Hall Middle School eighth-grade Panthers, the Chapel Hill Music Sensations and a troupe of dancers from Anna Apicella School of Dance. Towson High School students also pitch in, bringing some of the holiday characters — Scrooge, the Grinch and others — to life.
After the tree lighting, the Towson Chamber hosts Santa's Workshop across York Road from Olympian Park at 1 E. Joppa Road (next to Barnes & Noble). Available are free visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus and reindeer Beau and Tinsel, a craft corner, and additional music and dance performances. Photos of children with Santa will be available for $5.
To accommodate the event, Allegheny Avenue will be closed to traffic from Washington Avenue to the traffic circle from 4:30 p.m. until about 8:30 p.m.
Attendees are invited to bring a new, unwrapped toy or gift for a child to donate to the county's annual drive.
The tree lighting kicks off Towson Winterfest, a monthlong series of holiday events.
Hafford notes that Winterfest is the product of many business and community volunteers who started about five months ago to plan this year's holiday season in Towson.
It's hard work, she said, but the collaboration has a benefit that is truly indicative of the holiday spirit.
"That's what I like best about it," she said. "It's not just the business community doing it. It's businesses and the community getting together to benefit everyone. It's a great partnership.
The Winterfest celebration will continue through late December, with events including a Men's Shopping Night, breakfasts and movies for children.
Hafford said she loves the homey atmosphere of the tree lighting — from the young singers and dancers to the families that make the event a tradition — but said her favorite part of Winterfest is the Dec. 8 breakfast with the Grinch.
"That's when the kids all get to see how nice the Grinch really is," she said.
For more information about Towson Winterfest, contact the Towson Chamber of Commerce at towsonchamber.com or call 410-825-1144.
The following is the schedule for Winterfest events:
• Saturday, Dec. 1, 6-8 p.m. —Tree Lighting at Olympic Park, with Santa's arrival by fire engine and the opening of Santa's Workshop, with reindeer Beau and Tinsel.
• Friday, Dec. 7, 6-9 p.m. — Fire and Ice at Night. View ice sculptures located around downtown Towson. There will also be street performers and free roasted chestnuts and s'mores offered by area restaurants. See http://www.towsonchamber.com for a map of ice sculptures.
• Saturday, Dec. 8, 9 a.m. — Breakfast with the Grinch, at Souris', 537 York Road. For a memorable holiday breakfast, bring your kids to eat along with the holiday character. Cost is $5 for children, $10 adults.
• Saturday, Dec. 8 and Dec. 15, 9:30–11:30 a.m. — Holiday Movie and Santa's Workshop, 1 E. Joppa Road, kids can create gifts at Santa's workshop. At 10:30 a.m., families can watch "The Grinch" (Dec. 8) and "Frosty The Snowman" (Dec. 15) together.
• Friday, Dec. 14, 6-9 p.m. — Holiday street performers with appear throughout downtown Towson.
• Saturday, Dec. 15, 9 a.m. — Breakfast with Frosty, Strapazza, 12 W. Allegheny Ave. Cost is $5 for children, $10 adults.
• Thursday, Dec. 20, 5 p.m. — Men's Shopping Night. Local shops will offer specials and promotion, and Souris', 537 York Road, will have free gift wrapping.
Also, the Baltimore County Revenue Authority will offer free parking Dec. 20-25, on county meters and lots.