By Mindie Burgoyne

The first and oldest waterfowl festival happens every November in Easton, Md., celebrating Eastern Shore art and nature conservation.  Also in November is one of the most celebrated community holiday events in Maryland – the Symphony of Lights in Columbia.

The Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Maryland

Photo Credit: Waterfowl Festival

41st Annual Waterfowl Festival

40 S. Harrison Street
Easton, Md. 21601
(410) 822-4567
Nov. 11, 12 & 13, 2011
Hours:  Friday & Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Price: $10 for all three days (does not include Calling Contest)

The first and oldest waterfowl festival in America happens every November in Easton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  This weekend event draws around 18,000 people and is geared toward families and lovers of Eastern Shore culture.  Passionate sportsmen, art lovers, kids and pets will all enjoy this festival with its many venues scattered around the town of Easton.  Painting, waterfowl carving, sculpting and other visual arts share equal focus with duck calling, water dog trials and fly-fishing demonstrations.  Kids events include arts/crafts projects, a fishing derby, duck calling contests and nature activities.

Rich Smoker of Marion Station, MD – Champion Woodcarver

Photo Credit: Mindie Burgoyne

Carving demonstrations and exhibits are a highlight of the Waterfowl Festival.  Waterfowl carving is an art pioneered in Maryland by the Ward Brothers. It continues to thrive today, accelerated by the creativity and imagination of wood carvers, sculptures and painters.  Art of world champion carvers can be viewed and purchased while visitors witness some of them in action.  This festival stands out from other national waterfowl events because it supports both the art and sportsman cultures in an effort to showcase life on the Eastern Shore.  Waterfowl Festival demonstrates its strong support for nature conservation by donating all the profits to local conservation initiatives along the Atlantic flyway.

Information on parking, exhibit locations and event schedules can be found on the Waterfowl Festival website.

Photo Credit: Howard County General Hospital

18th Annual Symphony of Lights

Symphony Woods
10477 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, Md.
(410) 740-7840
Nov. 19, 2011 – Jan. 1, 2012
Hours:  Drive through 6-10 p.m. daily.  Activities as listed on website
Price: $20 per car, $100 per bus (book in advance), $5 discount coupon on website

A long-standing community tradition in Columbia, Md., the Symphony of Lights kicks off the holiday season in and around Howard County attracting roughly 18-20,000 cars in the last six weeks of the year.  Sponsored by Howard County General Hospital, this drive-through winter wonderland has 70 light displays and a culmination of themed activities. 

The drive-through portion of the festivities involves a leisurely half hour through a maze of spectacular light displays, some with animation.  The displays are rearranged each year so every season has a sense of newness.  Gates open at 6 p.m. and drivers pay $20 at the gate for the pleasure of driving through;  $5 discount coupons can be downloaded from the website and Facebook page.  Buses are also welcome but must be booked in advance.  Cost for a bus is $100. 

Photo Credit: Howard County General Hospital

In addition to the drive-through experience, some themed activities take place prior to the 6 p.m. drive-through start.  Dazzle Dash Weekend on Nov. 19 and 20 kicks off the festivities for runners and walkers only.  It includes food, music and giveaways.  Blinkin’ Binkies on Dec. 8 is for families with tots in strollers and wagons who want to walk the 1.4 miles and see the lights up close.  Tail Lights is a treat for your “furry” best friend.  Dogs on leashes accompany owners on a walk through the course; many dressed up and decorated for the holidays. 

The greatest thrust of the Symphony of Lights is the local community tie to the event.  Many families make it an annual tradition and use the backdrop of this spectacular holiday landscape to mark special moments such as engagements, the birth of a child, a wedding, anniversary or other life milestone.  All proceeds go to benefit the Howard County General Hospital.

 Mindie Burgoyne is an author, travel writer and tour guide living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Her blog, The Travel Hag shares information on outdoor travel for women.  She is the author of Haunted Eastern Shore: Ghostly Tales from East of the Chesapeake.