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Holiday Happenings

Don’t miss these local opportunities to celebrate the holiday season.

From Santa on a fire engine to a hands-on Chanukah celebration to dazzling displays of lights, the holiday season is filled with local events to enjoy.

<b>Santa on a Fire Engine</b>

The Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department is helping local neighborhoods get into the holiday spirit by letting Santa Claus ride atop one of their fire engines while greeting children and collecting toys for the needy. On evenings from Dec. 8 to Dec. 23, Saint Nick will be riding through the streets of Potomac on a slowly moving firetruck with flashing lights. Families are invited to line the streets as Santa tosses candy canes to children and collects unwrapped toys to distribute to the needy at homeless shelters in Rocvkville and D.C. You can also bring unwrapped toys to the fire station at 8001 River Road through December.

Michael Harting, president of the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department participates in the annual tradition and has even served as Santa himself.

“The most rewarding part is interacting with the families in the community and seeing the children bring presents up to the fire engine,” he said.

Need a Christmas tree? Consider buying one from the volunteer fire department between Dec. 1 through Dec. 21. The tree lot will be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and proceeds will fund equipment, uniforms, gear and training at the Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department.

Call 301-365-2255 for more information, and look for the Volunteer Fire Department’s Santa schedule in an upcoming edition of the Almanac.

<b>Walking in a Winter Wonderland</b>

The Bethesda Urban Partnership is treating the community to another Winter Wonderland this year on Dec. 8 and 9. On Friday night, Dec. 8, there will be a free indoor winter concert featuring professional singing groups at 8 p.m. at Imagination Stage Theater, located at 4908 Auburn Ave. On Saturday, live ice sculpting demonstrations will be featured at 1 p.m. in Veterans Park, located at the corner of Woodmont and Norfolk Avenues in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle. This will be followed by a free outdoor children’s concert from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Santa will stop by on Saturday afternoon as well.

“It’s for families and everything is free,” said events manager Lindsay Patterson. “It’s a celebration of winter and the holidays and all the fun stuff.”

She said that the ice sculpting demonstrations drew about 100 people last year. The free indoor concert is a program change from the caroling of years past.

“We decided to make it more of a family event and have one place where everyone can gather and stay warm and hear groups sing,” said Patterson. “It’s a nice, festive alternative.”

For more information, call 301-215-6660 or visit www.bethesda.org.

<b>Have a Happy, Happy Chanukah</b>

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Washington is hosting its fourth annual Chanukah Festival on Dec. 10 at 6125 Montrose Road in Rockville. From 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., families can experience “Hands-on Chanukah” complete with music, food and informational games and craft projects. It costs $7 for children (or $20 for three or more), and adults get in free.

“We have a lot of fun craft activities that are semi-educational,” said Debbie Sokobin, co-coordinator of Jewish Family Living and Learning for the JCC. “We have an olive oil press, and a coin rubbing with actual Israeli coins. We make different types of decorations for the holiday for people to bring home to enhance their Chanukah experience. Along the way we pass out information on the holidays, such as why we play dreidel game, the significance of the blessings and songs, and the history.”

Children can participate in a “mitzvah” craft project that will benefit needy children at local elementary schools. The Machaya Klesmer Band will perform European-style folk music, and a dance party begins at 3 p.m. Traditional Chanukah food such as potato pancakes (latkes) will be sold, alongside nontraditional fare such as pizza.

For more information, call 301-348-3760 or visit www.jccgw.org.

<b>Multicultural Christmas Carols</b>

In addition to its palette of traditional Christmas and Chanukah music, the Music Center at Strathmore is offering listeners a range of multicultural holiday music.

The musical group Cantaré, which is made up of musicians Cecilia Esquivel of Argentina and Patricia Vergara of Brazil, is performing a program entitled “Feliz Navidad — Latin American Holiday Celebration” on Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mansion at Strathmore. This is the group’s first time playing Latin American holiday music at Strathmore. Cantaré draws on the musical heritage of the Caribbean and Central and South America, performing songs in Spanish and Portuguese and sharing the music’s cultural and historical background.

“We’re going to be doing a musical journey through the different regions, highlighting instruments and different holiday traditions from different parts of Latin America,” said Esquivel. “It will be a participatory performance, so the audience will be invited to sing, play instruments and dance, and it will be for the whole family.”

The show will incorporate indigenous and African cultures within Latin America. Examples are “festejo” (a West African, chant-like music) on a Peruvian box drum with donkey jaw, and instruments like panpipes and goat hooves rattles from the indigenous culture of the Andes. Cantaré will celebrate the Brazilian “Yemanja,” in which the goddess of the sea welcomes the new year. Cantaré will also feature a guest musician from Latin America.

On Dec. 9, conductor Darin Atwater will lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in “Soulful Symphony” at 8 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore. Atwater leads 65 orchestra members and 36 singers through renditions of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and Handel’s “Messiah” — with a modern, soulful twist. They are performing Duke Ellington’s jazz version of “The Nutcracker” and Quincy Jones’ gospel rendition of “Messiah.”

“It’s wonderful to see these classics filtered through the hands of other composers,” said Atwater. “Ellington did an excellent job of taking ‘The Nutcracker’ and filtering it through the language of jazz, and the same with Quincy Jones filtering ‘Messiah’ through the language of gospel. It’s wonderful to hear the music in another medium.”

Tickets for Cantaré are $10, and tickets for Soulful Symphony range from $18 to $55. Call 301-581-5100 or visit www.strathmore.org for more information.

<b>Holiday History</b>

The Montgomery County Historical Society provides a great way to get in touch with winter holiday traditions. The non-profit decorates the Beall-Dawson House — its historic house museum that dates back from 1815 — in the holiday spirit and in a way that is in-keeping with the house’s annual exhibit theme. This year’s theme is childhood, so the house will be decorated for the holidays and with historic toys and ornaments from the Society’s collection.

“The Beall-Dawson House is always wonderful — it’s a great old house, and we try to tie the decorating theme into what was happening in Montgomery County in that period,” said Karen Lottes, education director for the Montgomery County Historical Society. “This year will be all about children, which is very appropriate for Christmas.”

The cost is $3 for adults and $2 for senior citizens, and proceeds benefit the Historical Society. Tours of the Beall-Dawson House, which is located in Rockville, will run Tuesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 5-31. The Beall-Dawson House has been decorated for the holidays every year since 1966. Faithful to the holiday tradition, hot spiced cider and home-made cookies will be served.

The Historical Society is kicking off its annual tree lighting on Sunday, Dec. 3, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the historic Waters House in Germantown. The tree lighting festivities are free and will feature the arrival of Santa Claus in a horse-drawn wagon as well as holiday music performances. The Historical Society requests that participants bring an unwrapped toy to donate to the Germantown Boys & Girls Club.

<b>Festival of Lights</b>

The city of Gaithersburg is hosting its 11th annual Winter Lights Festival Nov. 24 through Dec. 31. The spectacle, which drew thousands of observers last year, includes over 380 illuminated displays and 60 animated vignettes over the 3.5-mile drive. Themed areas include Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, Victorian Village and the North Pole. This year, the festival includes several competitions, including a drawing contest for children, a trivia contest for all ages, and the chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree at Lakeforest Mall.

Winter Lights is open Sunday through Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The festival is closed on Dec. 25. Admission is $10 per car Sunday through Thursday and $12 per car Friday and Saturday. Trolley rides through the festival are also available for $5 per person. Proceeds benefit local charities such as The Dwelling Place, the Friends of Seneca Creek State Park, Hospice Caring, Identity and the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

For more information, call 301-258-6350 or visit www.gaithersburgmd.gov/winterlights.