Santa Claus and his fellow North Pole companions set up shop in Ellicott City's Centennial Park Thursday evening to kick off the holiday season with Christmas in the Park.
Santa Claus and his North Pole companions set up shop in Ellicott City's Centennial Park last week as Howard County kicked off the holiday season with Christmas in the Park.
At the southern entrance to Centennial Park, a flowing string of white twinkling lights wrapped around a wooden fence, leading to the Christmas festivities. A 15-foot inflatable Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer guided families along the pavement pathway, where they could grab a cup of Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate. Orange and yellow flames flickered from a fire pit, warming up parents in the 40-degree weather as their children dove into the sugar cookies.
The Howard High School Chamber Choir gathered under the F. Leonard Dunn Amphitheatre and serenaded the audience with popular carols, such as Deck the Halls, Silent Night and Joy to the World.
Standing tall next to the amphitheater was a thick Christmas tree topped with a big red bow and strung with unlit blue, red, green and white bulbs.
"We've got 1,000 lights that are on the tree down near the stage," said Phil Bryan, Howard County superintendent of recreation services. "It's a real tree. We put some mulch under it and we've got some lighted Christmas boxes and fake snow."
Children also took pictures with their favorite holiday characters, including Buddy the Elf, Olaf from "Frozen" and the Gingerbread Man.
"I think it's important for the county government to share in the celebrations throughout our community," County Executive Allan Kittleman said. "Christmas in the Park is just one of them."
Months prior, Kittleman said he celebrated the end of Ramadan, a month-long Islamic tradition of fasting and prayer, as well as the Hindu festival, Diwali, on Nov. 11.
"For me, [the holidays] are more about making sure people know that the Howard County government wants to continue to celebrate with them and be a part of the community as well," he said.
Columbia resident Natalie Meyers said her family was happy to spend time at Christmas in the Park, especially after hearing Symphony of Lights was postponed due to construction at Merriweather. But, her favorite thing about the holidays remains the same: spending time with her family.
"I enjoy seeing their faces because they love Santa, the lights and everything," Meyers said, pointing to her children, 2-year-old Blake and 1 ½-year-old Madison. "We go anywhere they can greet Santa."
Aiden Costello, 11, of Ellicott City, said his family spends the holidays with a delicious cultural twist.
"We're part Polish, so on Christmas Eve, we eat Polish food every year, like kielbasa, stuffed cabbage and pierogies," Aiden said.
Aiden said his family was really excited to see the lights shine in Centennial Park.
Later in the evening, alongside an antique fire truck from the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department, Santa Claus pulled into the park in his red sleigh, waving and shouting, "Ho, ho, ho."
Kittleman then enlisted the help of Santa and dozens of children as he flipped the ceremonial switch to light the tree.
With oohs and ahhs filling the air and lights sparkling in the dark sky, Recreation and Parks Director John Byrd said he was pleased to see the community start the holiday off right in an uplifting atmosphere.
"It's a time to just reflect on everything that we should be thankful for and try to focus on the positive things for a few weeks," Byrd said. "In spite of all the bad things going on, you can feel the goodwill here tonight and everybody's happy."