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Santa comes to Catonsville for annual tree lighting ceremony

Wearing warm coats and gloves, fleece hats and reindeer antler headbands, the Neebe sisters of Catonsville came prepared for the cold Saturday during the 19th annual Catonsville Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Lauren Neebe, 10, Kathryn Neebe, 6, and their parents, Deb and Mark, said they have never let a little cold weather stop them from attending the Nov. 24 event, which has become an annual family tradition since 1999.

"It's just the town thing to do," Deb Neebe said, as she and her daughters patiently waited for the countdown to light the community's tree at the Catonsville Fire Department on Frederick Road.

"I like the lights," Kathryn said.

"And I like how the tree is decorated," Lauren said.

The Neebes and hundreds more area residents and visitors braved temperatures in the 30s to take part in Saturday's event.

The evergreen tree, covered ornaments decorated by Westowne Elementary School students, served as the centerpiece for an evening of live music, dancing, free hot chocolate and cookies, fireworks and an appearance by the big man himself, Santa Claus.

Greg Morgan, a Catonsville resident who helped organize the town's first tree lighting in 1994, said the event is a way to kick off the holiday season for Catonsville. It grows every year, he said.

"It goes back to core family values and a sense of tradition," Morgan said. "It lends a small-town feel to Catonsville."

This year, Morgan began the event by inviting several local leaders onto the stage, including Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who attended the tree-lighting for the first time with his family.

They then welcomed members of Catonsville High School's junior varsity and varsity field hockey teams on stage.

The varsity team played in the state championship game for the first time since 1988 and the jayvee team ended its season by tying Dulaney to gain a share of the Baltimore County championship.

Also honored on stage was the family of Tom Booth, a longtime Catonsville developer who owned and developed several properties along Frederick Road. Booth died of cancer in September.

Together, the girls on the teams and members of the Booth family led the tree lighting countdown.

Joanne Booth, Booth's widow, said her family was honored to participate in honor of her husband.

"This means a lot to our family," she said. "He made a lot of wonderful changes in Catonsville. We live here, and we only want the best for our community."

White lights illuminated the tree, highlighting the foam snowflake, tree and stocking ornaments decorated by Westowne students such as Abby and Josh Tartal.

"Mine has gold glitter on it," said Abby, a first grader, as she scanned the tree in search of her ornament.

Her brother, a fourth-grader at the school on Harlem Lane, quickly found his ornament near the bottom of the tree.

After the tree lighting, fireworks shot from the roof of the fire department marked the arrival of Santa Claus on a fire engine.

Children surrounded the decorated Santa House that sits next to the fire station, hoping to say a quick hello to Santa and hint at their Christmas wish lists.

Sisters Emily, Megan and Colleen Kolenda of Catonsville and their friend, Ella Leslie of Glen Burnie, giggled as they peered into the Santa House window.

"My favorite part is when you get to meet Santa," said Megan, a student at Monsignor Slade Catholic School in Glen Burnie as are her sisters and friend..

But for their parents, the best part of the evening is spending time together.

"It's to have fun with our friends," said Cathy Leslie.

"And it's tradition," said Kelly Kolenda.

This story has been updated.

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