- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It seems as if the holidays come earlier and earlier every year. Christmas decorations frequently go up with the jack-o’-lanterns. But the season has officially started now that Santa has passed through Herald Square in New York, and an early Thanksgiving means a longer-than-usual holiday season.

So what should Washingtonians do to fill those extra holiday hours outside the shopping mall?

Many local residents know they can go ice-skating in the Sculpture Garden, check out the National Christmas Tree, or see “The Nutcracker” at the Kennedy Center.

But how about a journey from Neverland to the North Pole, followed by a countdown through the 12 Days of Christmas? We all know Santa Claus takes a sleigh, but did you know he also uses other forms of air transportation when in Maryland?

The region is filled with holiday activities for children, families and grown-ups of which many people are unaware.

The College Park Airport in Maryland, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary, is the world’s oldest continually operating airport. On Saturday, it will be the landing spot for Santa Claus.

“Santa’s been flying into College Park Airport off and on for many years,” said Warren Kasper, director of the College Park Aviation Museum. “We have news clippings of Santa flying into the airport back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”

Visitors to the museum will be able to watch Santa Claus from the main gallery as he lands on the runway and waves to the crowd. Santa will come into the museum, where children can meet him and have their pictures taken with him. While they wait for their photos, they can decorate a holiday picture frame.

“Depending on weather conditions and the things that can affect flying vehicles, Santa usually arrives around 12:30 [p.m.],” Mr. Kasper said. “During the afternoon, we have holiday-themed aviation crafts and activities.” He pointed out that children can make a reindeer lollipop a tribute to Santa’s other method of air travel.

Switching focus from the air to the ground also can prove beneficial for those seeking holiday adventures. Car travel can provide one of the biggest light shows in the area the Festival of Lights at Bull Run Park in Centreville.

“We have over two and a half miles of [a] drive-through lights show and over 80,000 lights,” said park manager Jill Vanden Heuvel. “Every year we try to add something new.”

The display has been a tradition in the park for 12 years, originally managed by an outside company but taken over by the park operations staff in the past few years, Ms. Vanden Heuvel said.

“We think we’re doing a much better job,” she said. This year, the park has added not only light displays, but a free hayride that “gets the kids out closer to the lights” to an area not visible when driving through the park.

The park staff has been working since Columbus Day to get everything set for the opening of the show, which started Wednesday and runs through Jan. 10.

“We had a crew of up to 15 people working at any one time,” Ms. Vanden Heuvel said. “We got most of the show up in about three weeks, but we’ve been spending the last three weeks just putting in additional things that we’re adding this year and making sure that everything is working.”

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