Experience a taste of Christmas past in five Maryland towns

Marie Gullard

If you’re longing for a picture-postcard Christmas escape from the holiday hustle and bustle, just check out the four corners of Maryland for tinsel-free storybook settings and old-fashioned celebrations.

The town of Cumberland, cradled in the arms of Allegany County’s mountains in Western Maryland, flawlessly replicates a Currier & Ives Christmas card, complete with candles in the windows of clapboard houses and lighted church steeples.

In Cumberland, Santa arrives on a firetruck after the tree lighting.
In Cumberland, Santa arrives on a firetruck after the tree lighting.

“We have a series of events in town beginning with our tree lighting Nov. 25,” said Steven Leyh, who promotes Downtown Cumberland. “The entertainment starts with dancers and theater groups performing. The mayor flips the switch to light the tree, then Santa arrives on the rooftop of a building and waves to the crowd. He rolls into town a few minutes later on the back of a firetruck. It’s pretty incredible.”

The shops are decked and open for holiday buying, as they launch the shopping season. A decorated homes and museums tour on Dec. 10 benefits the Western Maryland Heritage Association. Saturday breakfasts with Santa take place in restaurants all over town, while the Allegany Museum features rare, international Christmas displays.

Cumberland’s Canal Place Heritage Area, has themed its season “An Old-Fashioned Christmas.” The Western Maryland Railway Station showcases a holiday model train display, Christmas craft sales, and several children’s activities including photos with Santa. The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad offers visitors the “North Pole Experience” where, on weekends, the train travels 13 miles up the track and back. Santa rides, too, and hot chocolate is served to the strains of holiday music.

In central Maryland

Farther east, the Carroll County town of Westminster presents its “Jingle Bell Run” on Nov. 26, followed by the Miracle on Main Electric Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony. The Westminster Municipal Band performs and carols are sung as the eager crowd awaits the arrival of Santa.

Leonardtown, in Southern Maryland, welcomes the holidays with traditional decorations.
Leonardtown, in Southern Maryland, welcomes the holidays with traditional decorations.

The jolly old man also makes an appearance at the Christmas Market Holiday flea market at the Carroll County Agricultural Center. The

Christmas farmers market, a holiday house tour, and a Civil War holiday encampment are just a few of the events that mark the season.

“Christmas here definitely has small-town appeal,” said Lauri Orzewicz, who promotes the charming waterside town of Havre de Grace at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. “We have a town parade (Dec. 2) with the lighting of the Christmas tree. Santa arrives and sits for hours listening to kids’ wishes.”

This hometown celebration of the season features brightly festooned shop windows (all taking part in the town’s winter decorating contest), while the main streets have all been fitted with uplighting which, according to Orzewicz, “will probably be lit up red and green.”

On Dec. 10–11, a holiday boutique at the Susquehanna Lock House Museum offers handmade gifts, gourmet baked goods, and fresh greens.

Also on the 10th, the Lock House presents its 44th annual Candlelight Tour of the town’s historic houses and buildings. Several Victorian homes (many of them bed-and-breakfasts) offer overnight lodging for those wishing a festive overnight getaway. The promenade along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay is lit and decorated for a late night stroll.

“Even the lighthouse has a big red bow around it,” laughed Orzewicz.

Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland holidays

Chestertown, on Kent County’s Eastern Shore, waits patiently for Santa and marching bands at the annual Lighting of the Historic District on Nov. 25. A festive parade the following morning features floats, more bands, and holiday characters. A Winterfest Weekend runs Dec. 2–4 in the historic downtown area, where wide streets lead down to the Chester River.

Even the horses are lit up during the Westminster Electric Holiday Parade.
Even the horses are lit up during the Westminster Electric Holiday Parade.

“So many owners of the historic homes in Chestertown really go all out when it comes to decorating for the holidays,” said Kristin Owen, who promotes Downtown Chestertown.

Chestertown Firehouse is the location for the Soroptimist Festival of Trees on Dec. 2, where you can enjoy a wonderland of decorated trees, courtesy of local businesses, clubs, and organizations.

People will gather Nov. 25 in the square of historic Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County for the annual Christmas tree lighting. Holiday music, “sleigh rides,” a live nativity, and even a petting zoo lead up to Santa’s arrival. Throughout the month of December, events such as the Colonial Christmas Walking Tour, the Piney Point Lighthouse Exhibit and the Christmas exhibit of antique dolls and trains at the St. Clements Island Museum provide a great small-town holiday celebration.

The ambiance of a Christmas village need never be limited to a train garden or a made-for-TV movie — not while Maryland’s quaint towns welcome the constant seekers of nostalgic experiences.

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