Nine-year-old Emma Clapp, of Lutherville, was happy to be at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 1 at Olympian Park in Towson to see the tree and watch her sister perform with the Anna Apicella Dance Studio.
But there's was one attraction she anticipated more than any others, based on her experience as a veteran of Towson tree lightings.
"I remember Santa coming, and it was all confusing and waiting, and it's like, 'Come on!' " Emma said. "I really like being here every year because of the excitement."
Emma was joined by a hefty crowd of friends and neighbors on Dec. 1, as Towson formally greeted the holiday season with the traditional lighting of the Baltimore County Christmas tree, music and dance performances, sweet treats and the opening of Santa's Workshop for children.
"It's joyous. It's festive. This really is, for Towson, the kickoff of the holiday season," said former county councilman Doug Riley, chairman of the Winterfest celebration for the Towson Chamber of Commerce.
Saturday's event launches a slate of holiday events, including Fire and Ice at Night this Friday, Dec. 7, 6 to 9 p.m., with ice sculptures around Towson and free roasted chestnuts and s'mores offered by area restaurants; and breakfast events with the Grinch on Dec. 8 and Frosty the Snowman on Dec. 15, both at 9 a.m., followed by movie showings.
There are also Ho Ho Happy Hours on Thursdays, street performances on Friday, Dec. 14, and a Men's Shopping Night on Dec. 20. (Go to towsonchamber.com for the full schedule and details.)
Riley said Winterfest, now in its third year, is done as a way to promote holiday cheer, and also put a little jingle in cash registers for area merchants.
"It's put on to encourage people to come to Towson and shop here, at our stores and at our restaurants," he said.
Saturday's tree lighting was conducted by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, with help from Chamber Executive Director Nancy Hafford, County Council members David Marks and Todd Huff and other elected officials, including state Sen. Jim Brochin, and Dels. Sue Aumann and Steve Lafferty. Performers included the Anna Apicella group and the Perry Hall Middle School Panthers chorus.
Resident Dan Muth said he's lived in Towson for five years, but was attending the tree lighting for the first time.
"This is the first time we even knew they did anything like this," he said. "I think it's awesome. I mean, look at all the people out here. They've got the streets closed off.
'People look like they're in the Christmas spirit," he said. "We're proud to be a part of it."
After the songs were sung and the tree was lit, the crowd dispersed to enjoy a treat and some quality time with Santa.
Emma Clapp had been plenty excited about her sister performing with the dancers, but still had her eyes on the big red prize.
"I see him in different places," she said. "I know that Santa is real, and I know that Santa has helpers.
"But I know this is the main helper," she said, "or the real one."