Celebrating the Holidays in Downtown Frederick

The holiday season has been marked with special displays and decorations throughout downtown Frederick for much of the city’s history. 

Some of the earliest mentions of holiday decorations in Frederick are found in Jacob Engelbrecht’s diary. In December 1864, he wrote that “at the United States Hospital sick and wounded had a real Christmas dinner. Plenty of turkeys, geese, and chickens. All the Barracks were rigged out with evergreens, flags, etc., all in first rate style.” Frederick’s newspapers of the late-nineteenth century record Christmas trees and holiday decorations in the churches and display windows of stores along Market and Patrick Streets. As early as 1892, a large Christmas tree occupied the Morse Fountain at North Market and West Seventh Streets. Later municipal leaders displayed Christmas trees at the Clarke Fountain in front of the Frederick County Courthouse (now Frederick City Hall).

Christmas decorations in Saint John’s Catholic Church (left) and the store windows of Dutrow’s Confectionary on North Market Street (right) in the late-nineteenth century.

The advent of electricity ushered in a new generation of dazzling light displays during the holidays in downtown. In 1934, The News celebrated four strings of multicolored, electric lights strung over the Square Corner. Within a few years, these displays grew to include lighted garlands with illuminated bells and wreaths suspended over the Square Corner and along Market and Patrick Streets in the heart of Frederick’s commercial district. Photographs from the time period capture the glow of these light displays amid the brightly-illuminated signs on many downtown businesses. These displays also provided a festive backdrop for annual parades with Santa Claus, which drew families from across Frederick County. The energy crisis and decline in patronage at downtown businesses significantly curtailed Holiday light displays in the 1970s.

(Clockwise from top left) Electric Christmas lights over North Market Street, the Square Corner, and West Patrick Street, and Santa Claus in a 1956 parade on North Market Street.

The revitalization of downtown Frederick presented a new opportunity to create beautiful holiday light displays on the numerous trees planted along Market and Patrick Streets during the 1980s. The City of Frederick began stringing lights in the trees, with support of local business owners and residents, in the early-1990s. This tradition continues today under the auspices of the Downtown Frederick Partnership.

More recently, a beloved addition to Downtown Frederick’s holiday traditions is “Sailing through the Winter Solstice.” In 2016, Peter Kremers and Kyle Thomas crafted a miniature Coast Guard ship decorated with lights, which they displayed in the Carroll Creek Park. The display was a tribute to Kremer’s son who was serving a deployment in Iraq. The event quickly grew and attracted more floating displays, which were formalized into an annual event that raises money for local charitable causes. This year, the eighth annual “Sailing through the Winter Solstice” includes twenty-eight boats, which are on display until March 2024.

December 4, 2023 by Jody Brumage, Heritage Frederick Archivist