Catonsville welcomes Santa Claus at 18th annual tree lighting

Four-year-old Patrick Shellenberger sat on the shoulders of his mother, Bryn, and stretched to see Santa Claus riding on a fire engine down Frederick Road just after 7 p.m. Saturday.

The wide-eyed boy yelled, "Santa! Santa!" as Kris Kringle came into view.

His twin brother, Wiley, and father, John, soaked in the scene away from the crowd in the middle of Egges Lane during the 18th annual Catonsville Tree Lighting.

"They're very excited to see Santa Claus," said Bryn, a Catonsville native who moved back to the town four weeks ago.

The event kicked off the winter holiday season though the weather lacked a holiday chill. Even with the unseasonably warm weather, the festivities had the spirit of the holiday season as about 2,000 people gathered on the 700 block of Frederick Road near the Catonsville Fire Department.

George Deal, executive director of the Catonsville Ravens Club, a sponsor of the event, said his group provided 30 gallons of hot chocolate from Duesenberg's and more than 625 bags of cookies from Otterbein's Bakery.

Within 45 minutes of the start of the event at 6:30 p.m., all the holiday treats were gone, Deal said.

"It's the biggest one ever," Deal said. "Besides the parade, this is the greatest community event here.

"This is what Catonsville's about."

Attendees had plenty to cheer about.

At 7:05 p.m., the crowd participated in a countdown from 10. Once they reached zero, the Christmas tree lit up, and cheers erupted from the crowd.

The cheers likely brought back fond memories for Greg Morgan, a Catonsville resident for the past 22 years.

Morgan planted the first tree used for the lighting in 1994 with the idea that the celebration could be like the ones he experienced as a child.

Having grown up in Edmondson Village in Baltimore, Morgan remembered the community coming together Thanksgiving night to see the tree lighting.

"It's a family event," said Morgan, married 22 years to his wife, Karyn, and father of two sons, Gregory, 21, and Jonathan, 17. "We created it as a way to kick off the Christmas holiday season."

The tree, adorned with white lights and ornaments, served as the centerpiece of the event as fireworks exploded above it. Santa's house was only a few yards away.

The tree's paper ornaments came in traditional shapes, such as snowflakes and snowmen, as well as less traditional images, such as footballs and Baltimore Ravens logos.

The football-themed decorations were especially appropriate this year as members of the 12-1 Catonsville High School football team took the stage after a performance of "A Christmas Carol" by the Catonsville Children's Theater.

The team was honored after the best season in school history ended the night before in the semifinals of the state tournament.

The team drew the second largest ovation of the night. Only Santa Claus received louder cheers.

Hundreds of people lined up for a chance to meet the star of the season.

Catonsville residents Lisa Fox and her sons, Colin, 5, and William, 3, gathered near the tree after the two boys waited in line and said hello to Santa.

The two boys sucked on the candy canes that Santa gave them as they recalled asking Santa for presents.

Colin said he asked for a "Cars" video game and William asked for Iron Man.

Catonsville residents Amber Moore, her aunt, Denise Blontz, and her two children, Kaila Hicks, 14, and Mikey Moore, 1, showed up at 5:40 p.m. and were the first people in line to greet Santa.

"(Mikey) keeps looking in the windows," said Amber. "This will be his first time really seeing Santa. I'm waiting to see what he's going to do."

Jennifer Sulin-Stair, her partner, Sarah Harding, and 6-year-old daughter, Charlize Stair, waited 15 minutes in line to see Santa Claus.

Charlize asked Santa Claus for head bands and American Girl Doll clothes.

For Charlize, the night wasn't only about getting presents. She learned a lesson in sharing.

"(I had) hot cocoa, but mommy drank it," Charlize said with a laugh as she munched on a candy cane.

"We had some good cookies, too," Sulin-Stair, the Catonsville resident and cocoa culprit, said.

"It was a nice night. You get to see a lot of people you know, too."

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