Family in town for the holidays? Consider these Howard County outings

With the holidays upon us, Howard County is full of festive fun this month. From learning about African history for Kwanzaa, to celebrations that light up the night, there’s plenty to do as a family.

December is known as the magical month of the famed Symphony of Lights holiday display, but families can experience the spirit of the season a few other lighted locations.

A normally quiet, residential street in Ellicott City is one of them. For several years, the Bartlett family has decorated their home with an elaborate display that attracts visitors from all over the region. This year, the Bartletts’ lights go live on Dec. 8.

The display will include some exciting new features, says Bryan Bartlett, including lights that look like fireworks and an optical illusion. The lights are a gratifying way to give back to the community, he says. “More than anything, we enjoy spending time outside with our two kids, seeing friends and meeting new ones.”

At the other end of the county, the Bollman Truss Bridge outside Historic Savage Mill gets lit up for the season. Families can follow an afternoon of holiday shopping at the complex’s locally owned stores with an evening stroll through the twinkling lights.

Symphony of Lights, Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Through Jan 1. 6:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $20-30. 410-740-7666. hcgh.org/symphonyoflights.

Lights at the Bartlett home, 4802 Red Hill Way, Ellicott City. Dec. 8-31, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Donations for Howard Food Bank accepted. facebook.com/eclights.

Bollman Truss Bridge, Historic Savage Mill, 8600 Foundry St., Savage. Lights remain on through the holiday season. Free. 410-792-2820. savagemill.com.

Hanukkah’s eight crazy nights begin on Dec. 12 this year, and local organizations have festive, family-friendly events scheduled throughout.

On Dec. 13, PJ Library, a program that provides religious and cultural books and music to Jewish children, will host a party with Hanukkah-related food and games, plus a puppeteer for entertainment.*

“Kids can come in their pajamas, have a light dinner and fun, then go home and go to bed,” says Hanni Werner, marketing and communications associate for the Jewish Federation of Howard County, which organizes the PJ Library.

The Federation is hosting another family-oriented event the following night, when the County Executive Allan H. Kittleman joins families to light a menorah in the County Executive’s office building.

“Rabbis from the community come, different blessings are made on the menorah and the kids have the chance to light the menorah,” says Werner.

A PJ Chanukah, Maple Lawn Community Center, 7600 Maple Lawn Blvd., Fulton. Dec. 13, 5 p.m.-6:15 p.m. $5. (*Update: The event had reached capacity and was no longer accepting new registrants as of Dec. 7.)

Howard County Community Candle Lighting, George Howard Building Lobby, Howard County Executive Office Building, 3430 Court House Drive, Ellicott City. Dec. 14, 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Free admission. RSVP by Dec. 11.

410-730-4976. jewishhowardcounty.org.

Kwanzaa, the weeklong cultural celebration created to help African Americans reconnect with their roots, starts just after Christmas. So December is the perfect time to gain a deeper understanding of African culture at Howard County institutions.

At the African Art Museum of Maryland, visitors of all ages have a chance to learn about African art and artifacts, from traditional sculptures and textiles to musical instruments to jewelry. The collection includes pieces from across the African continent, organized to help broaden visitors’ understanding of the diversity of African art.

At the Howard County Center of African American Culture, the holiday is recognized with a fun party, complete with African music. “We have African dance and drums, and the children participate in the dances and all. It’s really a lot of fun,” says docent Florence Smith.

Howard County Center of African American Culture, 5434 Vantage Point Road, Columbia. Kwanzaa takes place Dec. 26-Jan. 1. 410-715-1921. hccaac.org.

African Art Museum of Maryland, 11711 E. Market St., Fulton. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission varies; memberships available with fees ranging from $20-50. 301-490-6070. africanartmuseum.org.

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