There’s a chill in the air, kids bounce up and down in anticipation, not certain whether the approaching train, or Santa Claus—who happens to be tucked inside his house just a few yards away—is more exciting. Soon, these children and their families will board the Ocean City boardwalk tram and take a holiday journey through close to one million lights at Northside Park in Ocean City, MD.


They’ll see the Wizard of Oz, the 12 days of Christmas, and a myriad assortment of holiday characters who twinkle and move in time to traditional holiday songs, just before the music shifts, taking an ominous turn. As the train rounds the bend, with the familiar opening riff to Jaws in the background, an illuminated shark will seem to burst from the water! It’s a comedic take on an iconic image, which could only be featured in a waterfront holiday display, found at the beach.

Christmas Holiday Lights - Ocean City, MD - ShoreBread
Mermaid Holiday Lights - Ocean City, MD - Winterfest of Lights
Winterfest of Lights - Northside Park, Ocean City, MD - ShoreBread


The Winterfest of Lights, Ocean City’s renowned holiday lights display is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this season. Thursday, November 15th at 5:30 pm, Mayor Rick Meehan, joined by a large crowd of community members and the youthful congregation of Ocean City Elementary’s OC Stars singers, will officially usher in the 20th year when he “lights” the huge Christmas tree at Winterfest's entrance. Immediately thereafter the entire display will be illuminated, welcoming thousands of visitors to celebrate the holiday season.


Aside from the scenic train ride, a huge indoor tent serves as the waiting grounds for the ride, and also houses Yukon Cornelius’s Gift Shop, Santa’s House, and a refreshment area. So much of the Winterfest of Lights experience is tradition, providing a wonderful way for the community and visitors alike to celebrate the holiday season on the shore.


“I think it [Winterfest] is great for everyone—the children, the parents, and everyone getting ready for the holiday season. It takes a lot of effort between the Rec Department and Public Works. I was out there the day they started, and it was amazing the amount of work involved,” said Chris Klebe, President of OC Tri-Running Sport Inc., a local Endurance/Multi-Sport Event Management company.


Klebe’s OC Tri-Running has become actively involved with the Winterfest of Lights this year, putting into action an idea they’ve had for at least five years.


“It’s been something that Mark Shipley, a part of our staff had – he thought of running through the lights,” explained Klebe.


The idea came to fruition jointly with the Ocean City Parks and Recreation Department, who also helped map out the entire 5K course. On Sunday, December 2nd at 5pm, runners in the Winterfest of Lights Jingle Bell 5K will start their course in front of the registration tent, make one loop through the lights, continue on into a neighboring residential area, then back through the lights, finishing where they started. The registration fee includes a ride on the tram through the lights once the course is completed, a t-shirt, cookies, and hot chocolate.


With time fast approaching on this inaugural event, Klebe says it’s a bit of a sense of urgency to get things going as quickly as they can. He plans to promote the race at OC Tri-Running’s next event, the Baltimore Ravens Vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers 5K Challenge coming up this Saturday, November 17th.


“We hope to get anywhere between 100 – 150 participants for the first year. I think this could build—certainly when we have more time to plan and advertise throughout the year—and grow into a very nice event for the holiday season,” Klebe said, indicating the Winterfest Jingle Bell 5K, like the Winterfest of Lights, may very well turn into a venerable holiday tradition in Ocean City.

If You Go:

Northside Park 125th Street and the Bay, Ocean City, MD
Begins Thursday, November 15th; Ends January 1st
Sunday – Thursday 5:30 – 9:30 pm
Friday – Saturday 5:30 – 10:30 pm
Admission: $5 for anyone age 12 and older. Free for 11 and under.
Santa is available for photographs through December 23rd.
To commemorate the 20th Anniversary, there will be a special fireworks display on New Year’s Eve.

To Participate in the OCMD Winterfest of Lights Jingle Bell 5K:

Sunday December 2nd
5 pm – 8 pm
Included in Registration Fee: Tram ride through the lights, t-shirt, hot chocolate
$20 for age 12 and under; $25 for age 13 and over.
All participants are asked to bring a toy for Toy for Tots
Registration can be done in advance on OC Tri-Running’s website, or on-site the day of the race.