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A winter wonderland at Chrysalis Stage

There’s a new holiday attraction in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods and it has nothing to do with lights.

Every Saturday since the end of November, the Chrysalis Stage has been transformed into a winter wonderland for Celebration in the Woods.

Featuring live music, holiday crafts, food and visits with Santa Claus, the event was created as a way to showcase the property and its uses throughout the year, according to organizers.

“We wanted to find some interesting ways to use the space on the off-season,” said Nina Basu, president and CEO Inner Arbor Trust, the nonprofit that controls and operates Merriweather Park. “We wanted a community event.”

From spring through fall, the Chrysalis’ stage hosts numerous concerts and productions from dance parties to big bands and the Columbia Orchestra concerts.

“We’ve grown,” Basu said. “We’ve moved to having and managing events rather than just being a landlord.”

Basu credits the partnerships Inner Arbor Trust has formed with the business community as well as nonprofits, including the Drama Learning Center, ManneqArt and Kinetics Dance Theater for the Chrysalis’ full calendar.

“Kinetics Dance had a piece called ‘Bugged.’ It was crazy,” Basu said. “We had a huge number of people here … for modern dance.”

Celebration in the Woods is another opportunity to bring in “different artistic groups,” Nasu said.

Each week, the event has featured live music performed by professional bands like Distant Thunder, to school bands from Mt. Hebron and Reservoir high schools.

Various artists, nonprofits and businesses – including Laurel-based ManneqArt and Queen’s Ink at Savage Mill - created the numerous Christmas trees that decorate the Chrysalis stage.

“We had an open call for artists,” Basu said, of the project. “The trees are brilliant.”

For a small fee, participants can vote for their favorite tree whether it be the alien tree, the iceberg tree or the celebrating-our sponsors-tree, to name a few. All donations go to nonprofits.

Performers from the Drama Learning Center have taken on the role of Santa Claus and his elves every week.

“We do character appearances for all kinds of events,” said Stephanie Williams, artistic director at DLC. “We’ve been partnering with Inner Arbor Trust since the summer time. When they presented this idea to us, we jumped at the opportunity.”

Arriving at 3 p.m. each Saturday, Santa Claus and his elves are available for photos and to hear children’s wishes.

“We are very good friends with Santa Claus,” Williams said. “We gave him a call and asked if he would do this for us.”

Gingerbread house kits and other winter crafts can be enjoyed and there is a ‘snowball’ pit for youth to enjoy.

Food and hot cocoa will be available for a fee and for adults, there will also be mulled wine, hot cider and other alcoholic beverages available.

“It’s another way to get people outside and interacting in Downtown Columbia,” said Phillip Dodge, executive director, of Downtown Columbia Partnership, co-sponsors of the event.

“You will be seeing the woods in a different time of year. A different season …no leaves,” Dodge said. “It will be cold and festive.”

As with any outdoor event, weather plays a factor. The event has been held rain or shine, though if conditions are unsafe, it will close.

“In the summer, the issue is lightning,” Basu said. “In the winter, snow or ice.”

This year, rain has been more of a factor.

“We have had some terrible weather,” Basu said. “We are frantically looking at the weather report.”

While it is geared toward families, those without children will find it enjoyable, too, Nasu said.

“You can come hang out, have a drink and hear some great music,” Basu said. “It’s a cool event as long as the weather cooperates.”

Dodge sees the event only growing from here.

“It is really a neat idea,” Dodge said. “Ideally, it will become another one of those traditions that people go and take their family to each year.”

Celebration in the Woods takes place on Dec. 22, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, 10431 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Admission is $8 and $5 in advance and can be purchased at Eventbrite. For more information, call 443-832-3223

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