Community events and festivals

A short Metro ride away from the heart of D.C.’s bustling downtown, Maryland’s urban communities are alive with the spirited festivals more commonly associated with suburbia.

Residents of Bethesda and Friendship Heights don’t need to venture far to find something to entertain them, whether enjoying one of the yearly festivals, attending a community celebration or catching their breath in a nearby park.

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Just after the turkey has left the Thanksgiving table, Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP) ushers in the spirit of the holidays with its annual Winter Wonderland festival. This year, a winter choral concert at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., will shepherd in the seasonal celebration on Fri., Dec. 2. The concert will feature American University’s Gospel choir, as well as three professional a cappella groups from the D.C. area. Performances will begin at 8 p.m.

Winter Wonderland continues on Saturday afternoon with an ice-sculpting presentation and visit from Santa. Local school choruses will add an extra air of festivity to the afternoon. Saturday’s celebration takes place in Veterans Park, at the corner of Woodmont and Norfolk Avenues, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Stephanie Coppula, BUP director of marketing and communications, said the ice sculpting is always a hit among festival-goers.

“On Saturday, we always get a great crowd with the ice sculpting,” she said. “People love to see that.”

The holiday season can be harried, but BUP hosts a multitude of other events throughout the year. Taste of Bethesda and Bethesda Literary Festival give Maryland residents a chance to get out on the town without going into the district — and give D.C. and Virginia residents an excuse to venture north. During the three-day literary festival, BUP brings in about 30 well-known authors to host book signings, book talks and question-and-answer sessions, Coppula said. Past authors include Mary Higgins Clark, Andrea Mitchell and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor. BUP tries to engage local writers by hosting poetry, essay and youth essay contests, Coppula said, and the top 15 winners for the poem and essay contests read their works at a special event.

Every October, dozens of restaurants from downtown Bethesda participate in Taste of Bethesda, a celebration of the restaurant community. Coppula said about 60 downtown Bethesda restaurants participate.

“People love Taste of Bethesda. It’s the oldest event,” she said. “It’s a beloved street festival.”

In nearby Friendship Heights, there’s always something going on at the Village Center, said Jennie Fogarty, associate program director. The center hosts a dizzying array of activities.

“There’s something different every day,” Fogarty said.

Friendship Heights residents and neighbors who want to celebrate the Fourth of July and New Year with tasty food and good company should look no further than the Village Center. It holds annual New Year’s Day, Fourth of July and Community Day celebrations, Fogarty said. Community Day marks the anniversary of the center’s opening, April 13. Food aficionados may enjoy the Taste of Friendship Heights event in September, featuring about a dozen of the restaurants from Friendship Heights.

Besides typical yoga, strength training, aerobics and Pilates classes, the center offers chair exercises for people with limited mobility, Fogarty said. Those who want to learn a new tongue or culture can come to the center for free Yiddish classes or courses taught by the Italian cultural society.

The center’s crowning jewel, though, is its speaker series, Fogarty said. She said for at least 10 years, the center has hosted several speakers a month. Past speakers include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and presidential debate moderator and former PBS “NewsHour” anchor Jim Lehrer.

The Hubert Humphrey Park, a local favorite located in front of the Village Center, offers a welcoming place to catch a breath of fresh air, too, Fogarty said.