Nothing was going to stop Karin Soden from coming to the 44th annual lighting of Baltimore's Washington Monument on Thursday night.
The 32-year-old and her family members, whose Penn-North neighborhood was the epicenter of April's riot, piled into a picture with Santa Claus. Her 3-year-old son, Mason, sat atop his father's shoulders, his face painted as a reindeer, as he waited for the fireworks.
Recent violence in Baltimore and across the country just couldn't drown out their holiday spirit.
"I'm happy to see so many people out here in light of everything that's going on in the world," Soden said. "They're not afraid to still come out and be a part of the festivities, and not letting fear take over."
In a gap in the music, just before fireworks filled the sky with light and smoke, giggles came from three young children sitting on the ledge near the front of the stage.
Bryson Johnson, 7, traded hats with Baltimore Police Sgt. Shawn Edwards before taking a picture with Edwards, another officer and Bryson's twin sisters, 4-year-olds Brooklyn and Saylor.
Edwards handed back Bryce's fluffy, green Grinch knit cap.
"I like it better," the officer said.
The Johnsons' mother said the family was waiting until after the fireworks to walk around; they'd found a spot at the front and stayed put.
Elizabeth Johnson brought the children from Pasadena for the event. Of all the entertainment, she said, the kids liked the Harlem Globetrotters and the fireworks the most.
They were among the thousands who packed into Mount Vernon Place to watch the Morgan State University Choir, the Lethal Ladies of Bliss step group and other performers kick off the evening's festivities. The event also featured food trucks and alcohol sales for the first time this year.
"It's the perfect thing to do in the city," Johnson said..
Krystal Krause, 33, of Towson, danced to the music with her 3-year-old daughter, Lily, in her arms. Her friend Sarah Whiddon, 30, also brought her daughter, Emma Grace, from their home in Hampden, for the 6-month-old's first monument lighting.
Krause and Whiddon were part of a group of about 15 friends who said they come to the event every year.
"It ends the year on a positive note and brings everybody together," Whiddon said.
Catherine Berry, 24, moved to Mount Vernon this week. She said the event was "a great way to meet the neighborhood."
Bringing everyone together for the annual tradition ended the year on a good note, she said.
Nearby, Djenaldbeth Louis, 26, raised her phone up in the air to take a selfie of her group in the middle of the crowd. Louis, who works at the Hilton hotel downtown, said this year was the first time she had heard about the event.
The monument lighting "brings the Christmas spirit," she said. "And we all need Christmas spirit."
Her co-worker Adam Powers, 29, said the event "shows what Baltimore's really about."
"I think people got a bad impression of the [city's] whole year over what happened one night," he said, a referrence to the riots of April. "If they came up and saw this, they'd understand the soul and the heart of Baltimore City."