dazzle dash

The Dazzle Dash walk during the 19th Annual Symphony of Lights at Symphony Woods in Columbia, on Sunday, Nov. 18. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda / November 17, 2012)

The Howard Hospital foundation celebrated the opening of the 19th annual Symphony of Lights outdoor holiday display this weekend with two fundraising events at Symphony Woods Park, in Columbia.

The weekend kickoff event, known as Dazzle Dash weekend, consisted of a run through the 1.4 mile light course on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 17 and a family fun day and stroll on Sunday, Nov. 18.

Both events, which formally began when the holiday display is turned on at 5:30 p.m., included activities and food vendors, including popular grocer Wegmans' and the Ellicott City baked goods seller, From Momma's Kitchen.

Included in the pre-event activities and entertainment were the Columbia Association's Zumba dancers, giveaways, face painting stations and arts and crafts.

Howard Hospital Foundation's fundraising and event coordinator Victoria Khomutetsky said the event has grown larger each year, and, although the total attendance number has not yet been tallied, this year's turnout may be the biggest yet.

"We were blessed with really great weather and had an amazing turnout," Khomutetsky said. "It certainly felt like this year will be one of the biggest years we've ever had."

In previous years, Khomutetsky said, the organization hosted more than 1,000 participants on Saturday and more than three times as many for the family stroll on Sunday.

All the proceeds from the events, and the Symphony of Lights drive-through display, benefit Howard County General Hospital.

The event also marked this year's unveiling of the more-than 250,000 bulb light display, which Khomutetsky said is visited by more than 100,000 people each year.

For students in Centennial High School's National Honor Society, the events present an opportunity to embody the holiday spirit of giving back by volunteering at a known Howard County holiday tradition.

Event volunteer and CHS Junior Manna Varghese, 16, said her family has driven through the light display almost every year since she moved to the county at 4.

"I always loved going as a kid," Varghese said. "Everyone enjoys it because you never see lights like this. Its fun for kids and adults."

Varghese said she now understands, after participating as a volunteer, the importance of the display.

"It's really important to support the hospital," Varghese said. "It's a lot of fun, and it's for a really good cause."

The sponsor for the CHS chapter of the National Honor Society, Michelle Bagley, said the school sent more than 50 students to volunteer at the events this weekend.

"Its one of their favorite events of the year," Bagley said.

Bagley said the students assisted with handing out water to the runners, running craft tables, monitoring the course, and even posing as the Healthy Howard mascot.

The Symphony of Lights display will remain open for cars to drive through seven days a week, from 6 to 10 p.m., through Jan. 6.

In addition, the foundation is hosting a handful of other special events at the light display geared toward special groups like dog walkers and families with small children.