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The colorful floats and historical atmosphere in Princess Anne promises a fun and memorable holiday experience for the whole family./Somerset County

Here come the holidays, reliable as time and tide, waiting for no one!

These are the days of hustle, big stores, mall shopping, fighting traffic, decorating. They are the nights of Christmas pageants, winter concerts, office parties, baking, eggnog, family gatherings and soppy movies.

“Not again!” you might say. “Not this year! Now’s the time for something different.”

How about a 2019 small town celebration, for a pleasant change?

Three counties in Maryland, as diverse as they are charming, welcome visitors to be part of their hometown festivities.

In the northeastern part of the state, Interstate 95 North hugs the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Harford County. Here, three separate municipalities offer folks a heartwarming, movie-like experience. All three feature parades, Christmas tree lightings, brightly decorated shop windows and, of course, Santa!

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In Havre de Grace, “Light Up Night” Tree Lighting, Christmas Parade & Holly Jolly First Friday will be held on Dec. 6 from 6 to 9:30 pm. Vendors, entertainers and food trucks line John Street as the eagerly awaited parade travels toward its destination of Congress Street where the Mayor joins Mr. Claus to offer a hearty welcome and hear Christmas requests from young and old.

The Candlelight Tour of Havre de Grace’s historic homes and buildings on Dec. 15 at 4 p.m., as well as the decorated Concord Point Lighthouse and Keeper’s House Museum Boutique on Dec. 15 at noon, showcase the diverse character of the town.

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In lieu of the typical New Year’s Eve ball drop, Havre de Grace hosts a duck drop to honor the city’s symbol./Havre de Grace

Not to be outdone by Yuletide celebrations, the annual New Year’s Eve Duck Drop takes place at midnight on the Lighthouse grounds.

“Decoys are the symbol of Havre de Grace and this is a very unique event,” noted Mindy Schneider of Visit Harford! Inc. One very large, lit-up and decorated decoy is lowered into the bay from a 100-foot fire truck ladder. Schneider calls it, “our version of the Times Square ball drop.” 

Afterward, fireworks are launched from a barge to the delight of the gathered crowds.

Minutes from Havre de Grace, the Harford County town of Bel Air celebrates 30 years of their holiday Parade on Dec. 1.

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Somerset County's crab pot Christmas tree lighting captures the spirit of holidays in Maryland, featuring crab pot and netting ornaments./Somerset Co.

“This is a huge family event, with marching bands, floats and acrobats,” Schneider said. “People set up chairs days before the parade.”

The parade starts at 3:30 p.m. Prior to that, at 2:30 p.m., there is a concert presentation in front of the Bel Air Court House. There is also a tree lighting with Santa and Mrs. Claus on hand.

Aberdeen, Harford County’s third town, celebrates the season on Dec. 1 with a Christmas Light Switch-on Parade down Union Street. This event is led by Lord Provost and Barney Crockett and begins at 5:30 p.m. A carnival atmosphere permeates the chilly night air with street entertainment, pantomime stars and musicians. Shop lights twinkle and overhead lights are switched on as the parade passes by. (visitharford.com)

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Old Ellicott City in Howard County — the historic mill town founded in 1772 — is ready and waiting for holiday revelers to enjoy all the shops and eateries in old granite buildings up and down its winding streets. Recovering nicely from the devastating floods two years ago, most of the regular businesses have reopened, while 12 new ones have joined the family of unusual boutiques, services, pubs and restaurants.

The town celebrates the 41st anniversary of Holiday Midnight Madness on Friday, Dec. 6. Santa Claus arrives at the Firehouse Museum located at Main Street and Church Road from 4 to 8 p.m. The traditional tree lighting happens at 6 p.m. on the B&O Museum Plaza. Inside, the museum’s iconic train garden delights all who see it. Like out of a Dickens novel, strolling madrigals from the local high schools wander past the decorated shop windows. Plenty of cookies and hot chocolate are on hand for hungry shoppers taking advantage of the great prices vendors offer through the extended hours. (visithowardcounty.com)

“Our truly unique town makes you feel like you’re one of the family,” said Heather Gaetano of the Ellicott City Partnership. “We’re quirky — and we think we’re special!”

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The colorful floats and historical atmosphere in Princess Anne promises a fun and memorable holiday experience for the whole family./Somerset County

Special indeed, is the southern Eastern Shore County of Somerset. Here, the watermen’s town of Crisfield is known for its long history of gleaning an abundance of seafood from the renowned Chesapeake Bay. It has justly earned the moniker of “Crab Capital of the World.”

The holiday fun happens on Dec. 6 and 7 with the town’s “Crabpot” Christmas Tree Lighting.

“We build up a tree with crab pots, put net lighting around and inside them and light it up,” said Carrie Heffington of the Crisfield Area Chamber of Commerce, explaining this ritual as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. “There is a parade down Main Street with Santa and Mrs. Claus; even a little train that the kids can ride.”

Hot chocolate and snacks are available for the parade goers lining the streets. There are crafts for the little ones and pictures with Santa. Shop windows are decorated along the route. Crafts vendors of all varieties gather the following day at Santa’s Shopping Village held in the Crisfield Fire Department.

“If you’re not from Crisfield, we’ll make you welcome,” Heffington promised.

The Somerset County town of Princess Anne is a feast for the eyes of any lover of architecture. Chartered in the year 1733, it was named for one of the daughters of England’s King George II.

“Both towns are great, but there is a slightly different feel to Princess Anne,” noted Julie Widdowson, director of tourism for Somerset County Tourism. “Both are cute and homey, but Princess Anne is very historic [and] with more shopping.”

The entire downtown area is decorated right down to the light posts and, on Dec. 6, a Christmas tree is lit on the Courthouse lawn, with Santa and Mrs. Claus in attendance for pictures.

A full day of celebration happens on Saturday, Dec. 7. A colorful parade features floats bands and costumed characters. A free luncheon is served at the local church and The Washington Inn offers lunch specials. Local merchants run specials with pop-up boutiques doing the same. A Historic Holiday Tour reminds visitors of a long ago Colonial lifestyle. A candlelight reception at the Teackle Mansion (circa 1802) tops off a perfect day. (visitsomerset.com)

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