Holiday Fun at the Bay’s Urban Waterfronts

By Cheryl Costello

As the song Silver Bells tells us, it’s Christmastime in the city. At the Chesapeake Bay’s ports, there are special festivities to take in throughout December. A worldly Christmas village at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a nightly tree lighting at National Harbor and a World War II battleship featuring dazzling lights shows in Norfolk will get you in the spirit right on the water.

At the German Christmas Market on the Baltimore harbor, you can leave your passport at home, but feel like you’re in Europe. Past the ice skating rink and the Ferris wheel that are here for the holiday season, the Christmas Village is back and booming through Christmas Eve. Families come for Santa Claus, and grownups come to meet after work, share a drink or share some food, and celebrate the holidays.

“We’re featuring over 50 vendors this year. Some of them are local and some of them are from Germany or from other countries in the world,” says market spokesperson Ellen Forray.

Artist Brian Delozier creates works of art with simple dots made by Sharpie marker, a style he discovered by accident. “One day I just sat down and picked up a marker and I just held it and what felt most comfortable was to start making dots.”

And hand-carved German artwork is so captivating that people wait in a long line for it. The unique wood-carved Christmas trees are a tradition steeped in German history. “The tradition of Christmas trees started in Germany. But many years ago, it was very experience to pay a woodsman to go out and cut them and bring them to your home, so only wealthy people had them,” explain Kali Amburn, a representative from the renowned maker Kathe Wohlfahrt. “So people who were less wealthy started carving little trees for their tabletops. And over the years many families got very intricate and they added the propeller to turn it so you can see all the little carvings that were done.”

Jowin Carbery already owns one of the pieces, but she returns to hear the stories behind them. “I love to come back and see the handmade pieces,” she says.

“People put these in their windows representing the archway and welcoming everyone home for Christmas,” Amburn tells the crowd.

The food is hearty. “I’ve got Belgian French fries and traditional white bratwurst,” say diners Glanda and Bryon Wiley of Baltimore. “Delicious! Wonderful. I’m having flashbacks of Germany.”

The star of the show is raclette, a wheel of heated, oozing cheese that piles onto thick pieces of bread. Then there is the mulled wine and German beer, tastes of a traditional market right in Baltimore.

From the Patapsco down to the Potomac River, National Harbor is lit with cheer. There’s a nightly tree lighting show, fireworks on Saturday nights through Dec. 18, and a walk through the recreated sets of your favorite Christmas movies (A Christmas Story, anyone?)

“Without question, the Potomac adds to the flair of our location,” says MGM National Harbor spokesman Malik Husser. He says the nearby Conservatory is worth a trip to see the decorations. “It features a 26-foot-tall toy soldier and a 20-foot-tall snowman with a cute little girl getting ready to put his carrot nose on.”

Further down the Bay, Winterfest on the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk is breathtaking. Guests can walk above and below deck on the World War II battleship, which is decorated with more than 650,000 lights. There’s a new Santa experience this year. And pop star Marie Osmond was welcomed back to the battleship by WWII veterans. It’s her first visit since her USO performance in 1990.

Winterfest has been so popular that the maritime museum Nauticus, where the ship is docked, just announced it will extend its nightly shows into Dec. 27 and 28.

Christmastime in the Bay’s biggest cities is something to behold.