THE COLUMBIA holiday season began Sunday with the Symphony of Lights 5K Dazzle Dash.
More than 1,500 people ran or walked the course -- normally reserved for drive-through enjoyment. The 1 1/2-mile course winds past 70 animated and stationary holiday figures and scenes outlined in lights.
Since Howard County General Hospital began the holiday display five years ago, people have asked for an opportunity to enjoy the lights on foot. For the last four years, the hospital has sponsored Dazzle Dash -- a 5K run/walk through the sparkling creations as a way of thanking the community.
"With the warm weather and the full moon, it was a wonderful night," said Debbie Daskaloff, executive director of the Howard Hospital Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the hospital that helps coordinate the event.
Pam Karwan, assistant director of development for the hospital, said the Dazzle Dash is not really a race. "It's for recreation, not rivalry," she said.
People were urged to leave competitive spirits at home and enjoy the lights with their families.
Participants paid $15 each ($35 for families of four or more). Proceeds from the Dazzle Dash and Symphony of Lights will go to the hospital's Birthing Center.
A crew from Blumenthal-Kahn Electric Limited Partnership had worked since mid-October to set up the display, which includes more than a quarter-million twinkling and multicolored lights. This year's newest theme area -- called Mother Goose Magic -- joins such old favorites as Reindeer Hill, Toyland and the Victorian Village.
From this week through Jan. 2, visitors are invited to take a drive through the Symphony of Lights for $12 a car or van; $25 for commercial vans and minibuses, and $75 for buses carrying more than 24 passengers.
Last year, 22,124 vehicles brought more than 100,000 visitors to experience the spectacular. Net proceeds over the past five years total $398,104.
The Columbia Pro Cantare, accompanied by members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will perform selections from Handel's "Messiah" at 7: 30 p.m. Dec. 5 at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School.
Under the direction of Columbia Pro Cantare founder Frances Motyca Dawson, the group has performed Handel's classic since 1984. This year's concert features nationally known soloists: soprano Amy Van Roekel, mezzo-soprano Rosa Maria Pascarella, tenor Charles Reid and baritone Lester Lynch.
"One of the reasons we like to do it is it's like an old friend," said Kathleen Bowen, chorus manager for Columbia Pro Cantare. "You learn a little something more about it each time you do it."
Bowen recalled the group's rocky first performance of the piece. They had hired two soloists from New York -- Grayson Hirst and John Ostendorf -- to perform with the chorus at Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City.
Hirst got laryngitis and had to cancel. Ostendorf had an afternoon singing engagement in New Jersey, so Bob Thulman, founder of the Last Chance Jazz Band,offered to pick Ostendorf up in his Cessna Cardinal. Thulman is a licensed pilot.
He arrived at the airport in Teterboro, N.J., but Ostendorf was nowhere in sight.
"He was three hours late getting to the airport," Thulman said. "I kept calling Gayle Saunier with the chorus to make sure that I had the right airport and the guy was going to show up."
Finally, Ostendorf arrived and the two men boarded the plane.
"Suddenly, as we took off, I heard this huge voice behind me, singing," Thulman said. "It startled me. I didn't know what was going on back there."
Ostendorf was warming up.
Bowen said understudies for Hirst and Ostendorf sang the first portion of the performance.
"We were one-third of the way through when walking down the aisle of the church came Mr. Ostendorf," she said. "It was quite a dramatic entrance."
West Columbia members of Columbia Pro Cantare include: Dominic Beecher, Peggy Conrad, Cheryl Davenport, Judy DeVito, Dianne Frankel, Stephen Fulton, Carol Galbraith, Carolyn Gayle, Tracy Geesaman, Steve Greif, Helena Light Hadley, Frances Irvin, Eleanor Jennings, Robert Kramer, Barbara Kraus, Tom Lorsung, Bob Marcus, Betsy Middleton, Kaye Pelovitz, Jinny Racine, Sharon Rieger, John Schmidt, Lynn Stott, Maxine Turner-Richardson, Deloise Wilkie and Lisa Marie Wilkins.
Ray Sprenkle, faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory, will present a free preconcert lecture at 6: 30 p.m. Elkridge Furnace Inn will provide refreshments during intermission.
Advance tickets are $18; $16 for seniors and students.
Bowen said the performance usually sells out; she encouraged people buy tickets early.
Breakfast with Santa
For the 15th year, Slayton House will offer Breakfast with Santa on Dec. 4.
Seatings will be at 8: 30 a.m. and 10: 30 a.m. Children will have a private chat with Santa Claus and watch cartoons while eating.
After breakfast, children are invited to browse in the Secret Shop where elves will help them choose gifts for family and friends that range in price from 50 cents to $5. The Secret Shop will provide free gift wrapping.
Tickets are $3 and must be purchased in advance at Slayton House in Wilde Lake Village Green. Space is limited.
Kahler Hall is the place to be from 3 p.m. to 4: 30 p.m. Dec. 5 for the Columbia Hanukkah Festival.
The event is co-sponsored by the community associations of Dorsey's Search, Harper's Choice, Hickory Ridge, Kings Contrivance, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown, River Hill, Town Center and Wilde Lake.
Children age 3 and older can enjoy crafts, games and snacks at the festival. No admission is charged, but donations of canned goods or nonperishable food items will be appreciated. The food will go to Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center.