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Getting warm holiday feelings in Bel Air [Column]

I got a taste of Harford County's holiday spirit Sunday, and lo, it was good.

It tasted a bit like the Christmas cookies and the Hanukkah latkes – with applesauce! – served Sunday during Bel Air's holiday celebrations.

I have covered many, MANY, Christmas parades during my time in the newspaper business, but it was nice to spend Sunday afternoon watching Bel Air's Christmas parade as a civilian.

I was off work that day, so I made the short trek on foot from my apartment complex on Hickory Avenue down to the intersection of North Hickory Avenue and East Lee Street and stood at the corner with local families.

Parents and children cheered and waved as high school marching bands, Girl Scout floats, youths twirling a fire baton, tumblers, and my favorites, youths dressed up as Christmas elves and angels on stilts, and shaggy ponies wearing reindeer antlers, went by.

Kids were also treated to high-fives from Frosty the Snowman and the Orioles Bird, and took pictures with the man of the hour, Santa Claus.

Once the parade wrapped up, I headed over to Shamrock Park with the rest of the crowd. Families posed for pictures at Santa's House on the edge of the park, and lines snaked around for cookies and hot chocolate.

We were treated to rousing tunes from the Bel Air Community Band, which played in the recently-refurbished band shell in the park.

Elected officials made brief speeches, and as the skies darkened the town Christmas tree blazed to life.

Strings of colored lights traveled the height of an evergreen near town hall.

The sun had not fully set by the time the tree was lit, so I did not get the full effect until I was leaving after dark.

The entrance to Shamrock Park was surrounded by not only the brightly-colored Christmas tree, but also large holiday decorations strung with white lights.

The celebration, which I'm sure was kept brief because of the biting cold temperatures, was more low-key than the annual post-Thanksgiving tree lighting community celebration in my former posting in North Carolina.

Granted, downtown Bel Air had been buzzing with activity all weekend, with Small Business Saturday and the two-day Festival of the Trees. I'm sure most children were tuckered out by the time the parade ended Sunday.

Getting back to my former home, downtown Kinston, N.C., comes to life in late November/early December for the annual Holly Days celebration, designed to promote downtown holiday shopping.

Downtown shops stay open late, and shoppers are treated to deals, as well as snacks and hot drinks.

There are also live performances from church and school choirs and orchestras, visits from Disney princesses during prior years and a little train to take people up and down the street.

Holly Days is traditionally kicked off by the lighting of the city's Christmas tree on the courthouse steps, and the turning on of lights along the city's main downtown drag, Queen Street.

Kinston also has an elaborate Christmas parade later on in December, with a setup similar to Bel Air's.

One thing that is not part of that city's holiday celebration is the lighting of a Hanukkah menorah, which was a prominent part of Bel Air's celebration Sunday.

I have been raised in the Jewish faith; the Anderson family celebrated "Thanksgivukkah," the once-every-70,000-years convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, earlier in the week.

It was nice to see Bel Air and Harford County also honor the Hanukkah traditions with a menorah lighting ceremony, put on by the local Chabad, immediately after the Christmas tree lighting Sunday.

Sunday was the fifth night of Hanukkah, which is the commemoration of the ancient Hebrews' liberation of their homeland.

The eighth and final night of Hanukkah will take place Wednesday, and the community and local elected officials are scheduled to visit the congregation of Adas Shalom outside Havre de Grace for a menorah lighting.

It was nice to celebrate the holidays this weekend as a Harford County/Bel Air resident.

This will be my first holiday season in my home state in many years, and Sunday's events were a nice welcome back.

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