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Popular Ellicott City light show to scale back amid pandemic

Since 2009, Ellicott City resident Bryan Bartlett has used his house and surrounding property to stage an elaborate, showstopping holiday light display for any and all to see. This year, however, Bartlett and his family are toning down the wattage because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, Bartlett and his family will focus their holiday efforts on collecting donations for the Howard County Food Bank.

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“It’s not going to be anything like it normally is,” said Bartlett, 42, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker.

In a typical year, thousands of local residents and Mid-Atlantic travelers visit 4802 Red Hill Way to see Bartlett’s extravagant light display. Up this year will be “a notch above the average person’s house,” he said.

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At last year’s show, as visitors stopped by the Ellicott City home, the Bartlett family offered empty bins for donations to the food bank. They collected 2,164 pounds of food during the 2019 light show, a feat Barlett hopes to accomplish again.

Stephanie Blades, communications and marketing coordinator at the Community Action Council of Howard County, has visited the Bartlett light show with her family for the past five years.

Although Blades said she was not surprised Bartlett canceled the interactive lights portion of the event, she’s happy the family is going to continue to collect donations for the Howard County Food Bank, run out of the Community Action Council, located in Columbia.

“This year is different,” Blades said. “While I think many people are definitely looking for joy, having a display like that outdoors that brings hundreds if not thousands of people, is not safe. I was happy to see he did the safe thing.”

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Blades said that the food bank relies heavily on organizers like Barlett to collect and donate.

“To have community members like the Bartletts, and Brian to continue to recognize that there’s a need, it’s been really overwhelming in a positive way, the amount of love towards our neighbors,” Blades said.

Bryan Bartlett's holiday lights display at his home in Ellicott City, MD on Monday, December 12, 2011.
Bryan Bartlett's holiday lights display at his home in Ellicott City, MD on Monday, December 12, 2011. (Jen Rynda, Patuxent Publishing)

This year Bartlett said he plans to create a red, white and blue lights display that’s 5-10% of what he normally sets up. In past years, he’s synced the lights to 45 minutes of music before the show repeats itself.

“Every minute of music takes a good hour to program,” he said. It’s a huge huge undertaking.”

Bartlett ordinarily works all through the fall, starting in September, to set up the intricate display that features a light-up dance floor and tunnel. Then, by the second week of December, he begins the shows through New Year’s Eve.

“The fun about it is everyone being together and talking,” Bartlett said. “It’s winter so you don’t see people as much, [and] it really is a monthlong party. Every night you have kids who come by and friends who come by. If we can’t really do that then it’s not the same.”

Bartlett said he’s hopeful by this time next year his light show will be back with thousands of area residents flooding the Ellicott City property for a show like no other.

“[I’m] looking for everyone to stay healthy and hopefully next year will be better and we can do it over again,” he said.

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