Holiday season begins tonight at the Washington Monument


It's more than just another holiday event. It's "A Monumental Occasion."

That, of course, would be the lighting of the Washington Monument, a tradition in Baltimore for more than three decades. The big event takes place today at 7 p.m. at Mount Vernon Place.

"This is the 32nd year," says Michael Evitts, public relations director for Downtown Partnership. "It's become a really popular holiday tradition."

The annual lighting of the historic monument is the official start of the holiday. Once the monument is lighted -- just ask anyone -- it's officially Christmastime in the city.

Colorful holiday lights will adorn the 178-foot-high monument, fastened top to bottom. The monument was erected in 1829, the first memorial built to honor George Washington.

Before the lighting, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., there will be live entertainment by the Gilman School Choir, by Grace and Saint Peter's Children's Choir and by Doris Dow, winner of the 2003 Mayor's Billie Holiday Vocal Competition.

Sports anchor Scott Garceau of WMAR-TV officiates for the entertainment, along with deejays JoJo and Kenny from MIX 106.5-FM. Strolling performers, including stilt-walkers and balloon artists, will entertain. In addition, there will be various food and vendor booths.

Around 7 p.m., Mayor Martin O'Malley and Olympic gold medalist and Maryland resident Dorothy Hamill flip the switch to turn on the monument lights. Afterward, there will be a fireworks display choreographed to music.

"With merchants and area shops also open, it's a great way to begin an evening downtown," says Evitts.

Other events include "Wassail at the Walters," featuring holiday music, hot cider, cookies and kids' activities, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St. The event is free.

And there's the "First Thursday Monument Lighting Celebration" at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St., at 6 p.m., with caroling and treats. It's free admission for the public.

The lighting of the Washington Monument takes place at 7 p.m. today at Mount Vernon Place, 600 block of N. Charles St. Free. Call 410-244-1030 or visit www.godowntown for more information.

For more family events, see Page 49.

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