Holiday Celebrations – There’s One Near You

By Ellen Moyer 

Some say “every day is a holiday,” a time for celebration and joy. Yet some days are more special than others.Two of our best holidays are in November and December: Thanksgiving, declared a national holiday in 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt, and Christmas, declared a national holiday by President Ulysses Grant in 1870. Today, weeks in advance of these two very special days, the planning cooking, shopping, decorating and preparing begins. The spirit for remembrance and merrymaking captures communities too. Mega holidays are a great time to kindle special memories with kids and grandkids. There is a lot going on all around us.

Thanksgiving, when Americans travel the most, is the time when we all gather together to feast on turkey, potatoes and squash, cranberries and pumpkin pie. It is a joyous time, a tradition dating back centuries when people gathered to give thanks for the bounty of the fall harvest.  Explorer de Champlain in 1606, a few years before the Pilgrim celebration, created the Order of Good Cheer to give thanks and celebrate the survival of long journeys. The founding Charter of the Berkley 100 in Charles City County, Virginia, in 1619 required a day of thanksgiving. Today, one of our traditions is when a big turkey celebrates its presidential pardon, neck intact, from being served at the White House dinner table.

                                              Local Festivities

A not-to-be-missed interactive holiday attraction begins at the Gaylord National Resort on the Potomac in Maryland in mid-November. The winter wonderland is created entirely of 5,000 blocks of ice hand sculpted by artisans from around the world. This should be ranked in the top 10 of holiday attractions, a wonderful place to begin your holiday excursions before the hectic days of December shopping and parties.

Santa Claus, our mythical gift giver, is December’s focus. Originally known as St Nick, the Dutch named him after Bishop Nicholas who was noted for his care of children and his generosity with gifts. The 4th century bishop appeared at his Dec. 6 Festival of Giving in red clergy dress accompanied by helpers who inquired about naughty and nice behavior. Now,700 years after St. Nicks Day, a red-dressed Santa arrives for the holiday season at a variety of times and ways: by boat in Annapolis Harbor, by water skis along with a jet-skiing Grinch on the Potomac, by airplane at the historic College Park Aviation Museum (301 864-6029) and by car in a parade in historic Leesburg. Take the kids and catch them in some memorable pictures with Santa.

Kids love trains too and there are plenty of them around during the holiday season. Toy train exhibits are on the top 10 list of celebrations in the area. Union Station in DC showcases a Norwegian winter wonderland and model train display (202 333-6000). Outdoor model trains run at the Botanical Gardens near the Capital with live music on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Trains can also be found under the Nation’s Christmas tree on the ellipse near the White House. Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville and the College Park Aviation Museum feature trains. At the National Zoo, kids enjoy fun rides on Thomas the Train, or a federal express Panda Express or Amtrak’s wildlife train from the Zooimagination Train Station.

                                     Candle Light Tours

For adults needing a vacation from the energy of young charges there are candlelight tours of historical homes. Sotterly Plantation, circa 1703, in Hollywood, Md., features an historical dramatization of Christmas. Reservations are required (301 373-2280). Candlelight tours of historic houses are held in Virginia at Mt. Vernon, in Alexandria at Montpelier Mansion and at various sites in Annapolis.

            Hard to imagine but the Christmas holiday was not always popular. It was banned by the Puritans in England in 1647. They evidently forgot that Christmas began 2,000 years ago as a celebration of God coming into the world with the birth of Jesus. The holiday was also outlawed by the Puritans in Boston from 1659-1681. In Catholic St. Mary’s County, celebrating Christmas did not stop. Houses were decorated with holly and ivy and other greens, a custom firmly entrenched in 15th century London.

                                                            Caroling and Lights

It was St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century who popularized Christmas decorations, nativity scenes and songs. In 1426, John Audley, a Shropshire, England, chaplain, had a list of 25 Christmas Carols sung by wassailers who went from house to house. O Come All You Faithful,Good King Wenceslas and Holly and the Ivy from the Middle Ages are among the oldest musical compositions still sung today. Charles Wesley, who understood the importance of music to worship, composed Hark the Herald Angels Sing. In 1818 Mohr and Gruber composed Silent Night, a song for the St. Nicholas Church in Austria, which became one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time.               

Lights have a special meaning linked to the Christian belief that the savior is the ultimate light of the world. In 1848 Queen Victoria created a sensation with a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle decorated with lights and ornaments surrounded by presents that is popular today.

For a holiday treat for the whole family, bundle up for free viewing of boats decorated with lights that parade in both Annapolis Harbor and in Baltimore. On the first weekend in December, decorated boats light up the skyline along the Potomac River while hundreds of Scottish clansmen parade in the annual Christmas walk in Alexandria. The National Zoo displays thousands of animated lights on December weekends from 5:30 to 8:30 and it is free. In Virginia the Bull Run Festival of Lights features animated lights set to music (703 359-4633).  At Sandy Point in Annapolis, Lights on the Bay sponsored by the AA General Hospital, a fee-based treat, can be enjoyed by car. The Howard County General Hospital sponsors the Symphony of Lights at the Merriweather Post Pavilion.

It’s fun to go in search for your favorite light display, many are found in local neighborhoods. Play Christmas music on your iPod or car radio, and the drive turns into a wonderful holiday adventure. Than head home to the family Christmas tree, a replica of Queen Victoria’s innovation, and a fire in the fireplace with a hot toddy and sugar cookies and enjoy a Merry Christmas. A raucous New Year’s Eve is just around the corner to cap off your holiday fun. 

Ellen is currently a talk show host on WNAV can be reached at [email protected]  or 443 370-1785.


Please support OutLook by the Bay with a subscription.

OutLook by the Bay magazine and this website are made possible through the support of our advertisers and subscribers. We guarantee you’ll learn something new each issue. Please subscribe today.