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Symphony of Lights a glowing holiday treat

There were strollers, wagons and scooters galore as festive souls gathered to see the Symphony of Lights on Dec. 2 at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods in downtown Columbia.

Featuring more than 300,000 light bulbs on over 100 light fixtures, the Symphony of Lights – a fundraiser for Howard County General Hospital - is meant to be seen by car, though the chance to see the lights up close on this day during the Festive Families Walk proved to be a huge attraction.

“It is a really different experience,” said Emily Shreve, special events development manager at Howard County General Hospital. “In the past years, we’ve had one to four or five different walk-throughs.”

Weather however, has often put a damper on many of the previous walks.

“Last year, for the New Year’s Eve walk, it was 4 degrees,”Shannon Wollman, vice president of development with the Foundation. “It wasn’t safe to be out.”

For this year, it was decided to focus on one walk and to make it festive as possible, Wollman said.

A partnership with Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods allowed use of the Chrysalis, stage, where Santa held court, cocoa was sold and carolers performed.

In celebration of the first night of Hanukkah on Sunday, Temple Isaiah in Fulton also provided music and an inflatable dreidel and bear.

“Our hope was to have between 3,000 to 4,000 people,” Wollman said. “All proceeds benefit the hospital.”

Over 4,500 people attended, according to Shreve.

“I think it was the largest walk in they Symphony of Lights’ history,” Shreve said. “We couldn’t have asked for better weather.”

After a day of rain and fog, the evening was mild and the lights twinkled brightly. Themes in lights, including nursery rhymes, toy soldiers and musical instruments line the path, which winds around Merriweather Post Pavilion.

“It’s kind of cold for my tastes,” said Hillary Carrera, 15, who had invited her friends, Clare Bowen, 14, and Katie Leavy, 15, to join her on the mile walk.

“I think it is really fun and really pretty,” Bowen said. “I’ve driven through it, but walking is different.”

Three former college roommates “from way back,” gathered with their children to do the walk, according to Rachel Carter, who brought her son, William, to join her little reunion.

“I’m wondering if they start working on this in September,” Carter said. “It’s beautiful and such a nice night.”

In 2015, the light show was given a year off in order to convert the displays to the more energy-efficient LED bulbs. Assembly of the displays starts in October.

“We keep the same feeling year to year,” Shreve said. “The new thing this year is the big screens on the Merriweather buildings.”

The screens, added during the buildings’ renovations, featured a colorful row of stockings as well as melting icicles.

“We get new people every year but at least half of our guests come back year after year,” Shreve said “You hear nice heartfelt stories.”

Now in its 24th year, the event has had more than two million people pass through and has raised more than $8 million for the hospital, according to Shreve.

The Symphony of Lights Drive Through is open Wednesdays through Sundays through Dec. 30 from 6 to 10 p.m. The cost is $25 per vehicle. Thursdays are military appreciation discount nights and are $10 with valid ID. For more information call 410-740-7840 or go to

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