UPPER MARLBORO, MARYLAND —
For many families in the United States, taking a drive to see local light decorations during the Christmas holiday is an annual tradition. One of the most spectacular in the Washington area features more than one million lights. Dazzling displays are lighting up the night sky at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
There’s a surprise around every corner. More than 400 displays, including candy canes, elves and animals illuminate the four-kilometer drive.
Kimberly Stewart is seeing the lights for the first time.
I’m excited. I can hardly wait! I love Christmas; everything about it,” she said.
The displays are both small and large. Martha Henderson, who is 85 years old, did not want to miss any of them.
“I just want to have the spirit of Christmas, and this makes me feel real great," she said. "In case I don’t see another Christmas, at least I’ve been here this time.”
The Winter Festival of Lights at Watkins Regional Park began 27 years ago. The charge to see the lights is $5 per vehicle and the money is used to cover the cost of the displays. Visitors may also donate canned food for local food banks.
Festival organizer Kathy Garrity said the number of scenes have increased over the years, making this the largest drive-through illuminated Christmas display in the Washington area. It’s a gift to the community, but it’s also a way of giving back to the community. Families can be together in their nice, warm car. They don’t have to worry about the weather.”
So who is in the weather, directing the traffic for the thousands of cars meandering through the twinkling lights? Wooden soldiers!
Nicole Bartels and her family are especially looking forward to seeing the big Christmas tree covered with lights.
“It’s really starting to be a tradition of ours, and the kids love it. We always put on some Christmas music and drive through," said Bartels.
Jerell Alexander grew up near the park and recalls the joy of seeing the lights when he was a child. Now he lives in Virginia and is bringing his fiancé’s children.
“I’ve come out here for years and years. I have many family members who love this place,” he said.
Vickie Lopez has been working at the seasonal lights display for 25 years.
"I used to bring my kids through them when they were small. Now my kids bring their kids,” she said.
As he takes money and donations, Donald Sutherland said it warms his heart to see the same families year after year.
“I watched the kids come through as babies, and I watched them grow up. That gives me that spirit watching them enjoy coming to the lights every year,” he said.
Besides enjoying the displays, Jodie Johnson donates cans of food for the needy.
“It’s very important that we help our community in any way that we can," she said. "So it’s something that’s really well needed.”
David Bishop said, for him, donating food represents the real meaning of Christmas.
“It’s the right thing to do, to always give back and help other people,” he said.
But for the kids, it’s all about having fun. Three-year-old Michael, 3, had his favorite.
“The dinosaur,” he said.
Perhaps this boy summed up the experience best after his visit.
“It was awesome,” he said.