Here on the Bay, we love our lighted boat parades. But there are a lot more quintessential holiday celebrations that say “Chesapeake Bay” just as loudly.
In St. Michaels this weekend, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum hosts a one-of-a-kind historical holiday happening: the firing of the Christmas guns. Say what? Not many people know this was a holiday traditionin the 19th century.
“The traditions of celebrating Christmas, and the firing of guns, had been brought to the Americas by Swiss, Scandinavian, and German-speaking immigrants during the 18th and 19th centuries,” said Mark Dubin, a founding member of the Chesapeake Independent Blues, a group of interpretive volunteers. “It is probable that the militia of St. Michaels would have fired the Town’s artillery for notable occasions such as the 4th of July, New Year’s Day, and Christmas, beginning as early as 1814.”
The Chesapeake Independent Blues and the Fort McHenry Guard will carry out the demonstration on Saturday, Dec. 11 from noon–12:30pm along CBMM’s Miles River waterfront, as part of the annual Christmas in St. Michaels festivities.
Then there is the growing number of crab basket Christmas trees on display around the region. Last Saturday evening, Rock Hall, Deale, and Kent Narrows all held lighting events for their trees, cone-like structures built from dozens of crab baskets individually painted. The tree in Cambridge is up for the seventh year at Race and Gay streets, featuring nearly 200 baskets used by watermen.
And for the first time, the Talbot Watermen Association will display its own tree during Christmas in St. Michaels, also Saturday, Dec. 11. It’s being built and displayed at the Kastel Brothers propeller store on Talbot Street.
With so many crab basket trees around the Bay, which to visit? Rock Hall is generally credited as the originators of the crab basket tree. It is lit each year by none other than Santa Claus, who arrives with Mrs. Claus at the bulkhead followed by the parade of boats. They travel by fire truck to Main Street to officiate the lighting of the tree, which features several hundred decorated baskets in honor of loved ones.
The Kent Narrows holiday tree is so popular it’s actually two trees this year. The display at Fisherman’s Inn raises money for the Queen Anne’s Watermen’s Association, helping watermen in need and making programming, including oyster restoration, possible. The trees will be lit every night through New Year’s Eve. Organizers recommend seeing the baskets in the daylight to appreciate their decorations, and seeing them at night to enjoy them lit up.
And in Deale, the eighth annual lighting came with hot cocoa, dance performances and caroling. It was an opportune fundraiser for the Anne Arundel Watermen’s Association, since their traditional crab feast has had to be canceled the past two years.
Holiday traditions come in many forms, and there are ample opportunities to celebrate the Chesapeake Bay way—be it a gun salute or a towering tree of painted crab baskets, no two baskets exactly alike.
–Meg Walburn Viviano