Chesapeake Bay's Independent Newspaper ~ Since 1993
1629 Forest Drive, Annapolis, MD 21403 ~ 410-626-9888

Volume XVII, Issue 48 ~ November 26 - December 2, 2009

Home \\ Correspondence \\ from the Editor \\ Submit a Letter \\ Classifieds \\ Contact Us
Dining Guide \\ Home & Garden Guide \\ Archives \\ Distribution Locations \\ Advertising

Can’t Get Enough?

Illuminations farther afield

Twinkling Temple

Thru Jan. 1 (from Dec. 4)–The Mormon Temple shines bright over the Washington area in its annual Festival of Lights. More than 500,000 lights and 18 decorated holiday trees twinkle around the temple, which features a life-sized outdoor Nativity scene and nightly music performances. Temple open 10am-10pm; Lights dusk-10pm; Nightly outdoor music 7pm & 8pm (and 9pm by demand) @ The Mormon Temple, 9900 Stoneybrook Dr., Kensington. free: 301-587-0144;,10634,1836-1-1-1,00.html.

Winterfest Lights up Ocean City

Thru Jan. 2–See shining lights by the seashore as Ocean City strings the boardwalk with nearly a million Christmas lights. Start your tour at the inlet lot, traveling through the Tunnel of Lights featuring a gleaming archway of 800,000 tiny bulbs. Take a turn down Baltimore Ave., from 15th to 32nd streets, through the Avenue of Trees, which features elaborate illuminated wreaths and old-fashioned decorations. Arrive at Northside Park, off 127th St. and Isle of Wight Bay, where luminous displays of the Twelve Days of Christmas and fairytale friezes lead you to the Winterfest Village. Enter the heated tent for hot cocoa, browse through Yukon Cornelius’ Gift Shop and sit with Santa at his beachside getaway for a photo and last-minute gift requests. Pay for passage aboard the Winterfest Express and tour the mile-long illuminated boardwalk, featuring a classic carol soundtrack ($4/riders 12 & up; free Christmas day). 5:30-9:30pm Su-Th; 5:30-10:30pm FSa @ Northside Park 127th St. & the Bay, Ocean City: 800-oc-ocean;

Gaithersburg Gleams

Thru Jan. 2 (Preview Nov. 28 & 29; opening Dec. 4)–Drive into an enchanted forest at Gaithersburg’s 14th annual Winter Lights Festival. The 3.5-mile illuminated trail features 380 light displays — including 60 animated vignettes — capturing the winter woods, teddy bear land, a Victorian village and the North Pole. See the lights from a new angle at a Trolley Ride and open air walk night (Nov. 30; rsvp). 6-10pm Nov. 28 & 29; 6-9pm Su-Th & 6-10pm FSa Dec. 4-Jan. 2 @ Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Rd., Germantown. $14/FSu; $12/M-Th: 301-258-6350.

ZooLights at the National Zoo

Thru Jan. 2 (from Dec. 4)–The National Zoo goes wild for the holidays with a menagerie of more than 50 LED light-sculptures highlighting species under the zoo’s protection. Stroll thru the illuminated walkways, hear live musical performances and warm up with hot chocolate, cider and other seasonal treats. Keep the wild fun going with a visit to the Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center, Think Tank and Kids’ Farm, which stay open late during ZooLights. The zoo lights up Friday thru Sunday thru Dec. 13; then nightly thru Jan. 2. No lights Dec. 24, Dec. 25 or Dec. 31. 6-8:30pm F-Su Dec. 4-Dec. 13; 6-8:30pm Dec. 18-Jan. 2 @ National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave., Washington, D.C. $8: 202-633-4240;

Watkins’ Festival of Lights

Thru Jan. 3 (from Nov. 27)–Cruise a 2.5-mile loop through Watkins Park’s winter wonderland. Over a million lights form dazzling displays of archways, fairytale characters and holiday scenes. This year see a new centerpiece tree, a dancing forest and a holiday riverboat, Santa’s workshop and Santa both driving a truck and landing a helicopter. To spread holiday cheer, bring canned goods donation to aid local food banks. For a frugal and festive holiday, buy a multi-visit pass that grants you admission to the twinkling drive three times for the price of two trips ($10). Nightly 5-9:30pm @ Watkins Park, Rt. 214 to Watkins Park Dr., Upper Marlboro. $5/car or van; $10/multi-visit pass; $15/mini-bus; $25/bus; free Dec. 25: 301-218-6700;

Columbia’s Symphony of Lights

Thru Jan. 3–Over 70 gigantic light sculptures and elaborate animated scenes line the Symphony Woods in Columbia. Drive the 1.4-mile path thru glowing displays of toy soldiers, Mother Goose vignettes and Santa’s workshop. This year, groups of 50 or more stroll thru the park on a guided walk each day ($5/walker; rsvp; 4:30-5:45pm). The dazzling drive benefits Howard County General Hospital. 6-10pm @ Symphony Woods, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia. $20/car: 410-740-7840.

Garden of Lights at Brookside

Thru Jan. 3–Over 700,000 lights bloom in Brookside Gardens, a walk-through illuminated interpretation of the four seasons. Amble by displays of swimming geese and flying cardinals, watch a hungry bunny stalk a gardener sowing seeds and avoid a sparkling monster. Tour the seasons, walking by cascading spring showers, large sunflowers, autumn leaves blowing in the wind and twinkling snowflakes. Navigate the changes of season as you pass luminous displays of falling snow, cascading waterfalls, sparkling rainbows and blowing leaves. Walk through a kaleidoscope caterpillar and displays of blooming flowers. Escape from the seasons in the visitor center for cocoa in the auditorium where musicians give free nightly concerts from 6:30-8:30pm. View an elaborate train display, bordered by poinsettias, evergreens and flowering plants (Dec. 5 thru Jan. 3). Browse arrangements at a Holiday Wreath and Centerpiece sale (Nov. 28 & 29; Dec. 5 & 6). Celebrate an early New Year at the garden’s First Night celebration, featuring crafts, music, light tours and an early countdown to 2009 (Dec. 31). To brighten the holidays for others, bring a non-perishable food item to the garden’s food drive. Light show closed Dec. 24 & Dec. 25. 5:30-9pm (last car admitted 8:30pm); 5:30-10pm Dec. 31 @ Brookside Gardens, Wheaton. $15/car M-Th; $20/car F-Su (cash only): 301-962-1453;

Lighting Up Our Holidays

While you may wait until after Thanksgiving to string up your lights,
two of Chesapeake Country’s biggest displays have been preparing for months

by Margaret Tearman

At Annmarie Garden’s Garden in Lights,
you walk into an underwater garden
illuminated by floating jellyfish and sunken treasures.

Millions of lights illuminating our neighborhoods herald the arrival of the winter holidays.

Our homes, parks and streets radiate a glorious glow, thrilling kids and reminding their elders of bright Christmases and Hanukkahs past.

Holiday lights have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Not only did we decorate our house, but so did all of our neighbors. Every Christmas of my childhood, my father, mother and I drove around our community, touring the lights. Traffic jams in front of the brightest houses were commonplace as everyone slowed to get a closer look.

Ordinary places were transformed into shimmering fairylands. Snowmen glistened, Rudolph’s nose was extra bright and toy soldiers shined. Excited oohs and aahs were sometimes accompanied by jingle bells and ho-ho-hos. These were magical outings, shared by families and neighbors. We eagerly waited all year for this communal holiday ritual.

This revelry of lights continues in communities across Chesapeake Bay, where we can expand our tours beyond sparkling neighborhoods to whole villages where small armies have been working for months, designing, building and checking thousands of bulbs to illuminate our winter nights

Lighting the Bay

For most of the year, Sandy Point State Park is lit only by sunshine and moonglow. This time of year, the park transforms into a winter wonderland, where you can bundle the family into the car and drive right into the holidays.

Lights on the Bay, illuminated each year to benefit Anne Arundel Medical Center, is a two-mile driving route lined with 70 animated and stationary displays glowing with thousands and thousands of lights.

Midshipmen, left, volunteer to help with Lights on the Bay, and here they assemble the show’s signature red teddy bear.

Like the Wizard of Oz, the brain behind these bulbs lives in a different land. Brandano Displays, of Pompano Beach, Florida, designs and constructs lighted displays for shows across the country, including Lights on the Bay. 

“We choose designs from their catalog,” Katherine Mele, Lights on the Bay coordinator, tells Bay Weekly. “But Brandano also works with us to come up with special designs that are unique to our area.”

Like the glowing midshipmen tossing their hats in the air, the Thomas Point Light House and a luminous Chessie, Maryland’s resident sea monster.

“The displays are chosen for their holiday, and whimsical appeal,” says Mele, who volunteers for this massive, magical job.

Six dozen illuminated sailors, reindeers, elves and local landmarks don’t appear at Sandy Point overnight. Visit Sandy Point in autumn, and you’ll see that something big is going on.

“The show takes approximately 45 days to set up,” Mele says. “Trailers arrive in early October, and the monumental task of installing and connecting miles of light strings begins.”

Monumental is right. Consider Teddy. At 16 feet high and more than 24 feet wide, that giant red teddy bears takes eight workers more than three hours to assemble. 

It’s all done without any help from the North Pole.

“The displays are assembled and installed by contractors and volunteers from the U.S. Naval Academy,” Mele says.

This year some 50 midshipmen volunteered their muscle and time to light the park.

Now in its 15th year, Lights on the Bay was the brainchild of former hospital president Carl Brunetto.

“Mr. Brunetto wanted to bring a wonderful family event to the community while supporting the medical center,” Mele says. Proceeds from years’ past have supported hospital projects from the Capital Campaign and Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. This year’s good cause has yet to be designated.

Two new scenes join this year’s illumination. They’re named Winter Wonderland and Sun and Sea Adventures, but what they are Mele isn’t telling. You’ll have to drive in and see for yourself. As long as you’re not driving, you can see them and all of the other displays in a different light if you rent 3-D glasses with your admission.

Whether viewed through 3-D or just a clean windshield, Lights on the Bay is a light show to make the Grinch green with envy. The rest of us will enjoy Lights on the Bay all the more for not having had to string it — or pay the electric bill.

Illuminated thru Jan. 3 at 5-10pm rain or shine, including holidays. Passengers only rent Holospex glasses ($3) to see the show in 3-D with secret images hidden in the glowing specters. Kids hunt for clues on a driving scavenger hunt. Santa sits with kids on the weekends (5-10pm). Sandy Point State Park, Rt. 50, by the Bay Bridge. $14/car (clip Bay Weekly $4 discount coupons for weeknight trips) to benefit the Anne Arundel Medical Center: 443-481-3161;

~ ~ ~

Lighting the Garden

Illuminating the other end of Chesapeake Country is Garden in Lights, created at Annmarie Garden by artists who think outside the box — and the car.

Garden in Lights began as a drive-through show; last year the show moved to the woodland walking path.

“Walking lets you become a part of the scene. It becomes personal,” says garden curator Jaimie Jeffrey. “I think it’s a magical experience.”

Robyn Strayer brings lights to one of the newest additions to Garden In Lights — a styracosaurus.

This path leads to no North Pole villages, Santa’s elves or reindeer-pulled sleighs. Instead you walk into an underwater garden illuminated by floating jellyfish and sunken treasures … a disco where John Travolta strikes his famous pose … an island inhabited by pirates … a prehistoric woods where dinosaurs roam.

Eight to 10 major scenes are linked by smaller illuminations, the fading light of one merging into the dawning light of another. Each lighted sculpture uses 500 to 700 lights, and there are hundreds of sculptures, all requiring daily maintenance.

“We do a two-hour walk-through every day before the show opens,” Jeffrey says. “And almost every day something needs to be repaired.”

It takes a full-time team of eight staffers and a small army of volunteers to set up the show, beginning, Jeffrey says, at “the barest minimum a month before” opening day. Inspiration for the Garden takes longer. That’s a year-round job for everyone at the garden — and their families.

“This year we’ll have a styracosaurus designed by garden director Stacey Hann-Ruff’s daughter,” Jeffrey says. “Addy drew us a picture with all the details, down to the colors.”

Once designs have been chosen, exhibit curator Melissa Langley, an artist, draws the designs to scale. The rest of the staff take turns making the displays by poking holes and inserting the lights into signboard. Weeks before opening night, the staff moves the operation outside, where the displays are set up and eventually plugged in.

Garden in Lights is slowly moving toward replacing its standard light strings with energy-efficient LED lights.

“We’d love to use all LED lights,” Jeffrey says. “But it will be a while before we get there.”

One obstacle to the switch-over is the limited color selection in LED lights. “They just don’t have the colors we need, like peach, amber and turquoise,” says Jeffrey. Another, for now, is cost. The technology is still prohibitively expensive for a light show the size of Garden in Lights. Regular lights average around $4 a string, whereas LED lights are upward of $10.

Walk into Annmarie’s illuminated Garden Dec. 4 through Jan. 2. Or tour by golf cart Dec. 9 and 30. Well-mannered, leashed pets are invited Dec. 13.

The one-price entrance fee also brings you inside to warm up with hot drinks, to see Glow, an exhibit of art and light, and to shop at a one-of-a-kind holiday ornament sale.

Closed Dec. 7, 8, 14, 24 & 25. Illuminated 6-9pm Dec. 4-Jan. 2 with $1 discounts for public servants on Public Safety Night Dec. 15; Military Discount Night Dec. 22; and Teacher Night Dec. 29. $1 admission for pets Dec. 13. @ Annmarie Garden, Dowell Rd., Solomons. $3: 410-326-4640;

© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.