After a quick countdown led by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, 28 strands of LED lights — 16,000 bulbs — lit up the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon on Thursday for the 39th annual lighting ceremony.
As the colored strands illuminated, the crowd cheered. Fireworks and green laser lights lit up the night sky while people, bundled in winter coats and hats, watched.
"It's a real city event. People come from all parts of the city for this," said Mike Evitts with the Downtown Partnership, which organizes the event with the city and other sponsors, including BGE, which donated the bulbs.
Before the lighting of the 178-foot-tall monument, Sesame Street's Elmo, the Morgan State University Choir and the Baltimore City College Choir sang traditional holiday songs. Stands lined the street serving up hot kettle corn, sweet apple cider, beer and other treats — even crab cakes.
"It sets the tone for the holidays," said Brooke Thomas, 25, of Towson, who came downtown with her cousin and her three children. She said she grew up in Baltimore and it was her family's tradition to go to the lighting each year.
"It's an opportunity to get together — one of the other traditions in Baltimore," she said, saying that she also plans to visit Hampden's famed 34th Street decorations.
Justin Metzger, 35, who had lived in Mount Vernon but has since moved to Hampden, called it a neighborhood celebration.
"Small-timore style," said Metzger's former neighbor, Sean Beier, 32, who now lives in Reservoir Hill. "It gets bigger every year," he said, scanning the street, which seemed to shrink as more bodies packed in before the big moment.
Rawlings-Blake spoke briefly before the countdown, encouraging the crowd of about 5,000 to do their Christmas shopping in the city. She was joined by Baltimore native Kevin Clash, Elmo's puppeteer, for the countdown before the fireworks and laser show.
Fells Point resident Rob Amann and his 4-year-old daughter, Ruby, headed to the monument early to hear Elmo sing. He said they came last year and might make the lighting an annual tradition.
"She really wanted to go again," he said, adding that "it's part of the city you couldn't be more proud of. It's beautiful."