Holiday cheer was served in cups of hot chocolate while Santa, Mrs. Claus, a team of delicate reindeer and some jolly elves personified holiday wonder Tuesday during the annual Christmas in the Park in downtown Hinesville. For the fourth consecutive year, Christmas in the Park was jointly sponsored by the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority and the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.
Despite unseasonably cold temperatures for Coastal Georgia, the holiday festival was well attended, said HDDA Executive Director Vicki Davis. Davis estimated a crowd of around 4,000 people ebbed and flowed throughout the evening, beginning at 5:30 and ending with the ceremonial tree lighting at 8:30.
“We’ve got 3,220 lights on the tree and they’re brighter this year,” she said. “They’re LED lights which are also more energy efficient.”
The layout seemed to work better this year, too, Davis said. Booths and activities were more widely dispersed so festival-goers weren’t squeezed into one short city block, she said.
Davis also credited the event’s success to the community’s involvement.
“There are so many organizations involved with this,” she said.
Santa stood near the Christmas tree, receiving hugs from outgoing children and waving at cautious toddlers not yet accustomed to Old Saint Nick. Kindly Mrs. Claus swept through the crowd, handing out candy canes and warmly greeting families.
“I’m just a private citizen that loves to spread joy,” said Mrs. Claus, a.k.a. Julie Parrott. Parrot designed and sewed her heavy red velvet skirt. She began sewing doll clothes at the age of four, and now sews items for nursing homes and children’s hospitals.
Youngsters eagerly scrambled into a stationary sleigh harnessed to four live reindeer for photo taking. The five-year old reindeer, owned by Georgia Reindeer of Rockmart, were — of course — named Prancer, Dancer, Comet and Cupid.
“Our first (reindeer) came from Alaska,” Sandy Demore of Georgia Reindeer said.
“This (team) is our third generation (born and raised) in Georgia,” John Roper of Georgia Reindeer said.
“They’re deer but they’re like a cow,” Demore explained. “They chew cud and have three stomachs.”
A group of Gum Branch Baptist Church members portrayed a living nativity scene on South Main Street. Some of their fellow church members wore Dickensian costumes and wandered from corner to corner, singing traditional Christmas carols.
Bethesda Church’s spirited elves publicized their congregation’s upcoming puppet show to be performed at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 18. Bethesda Church is located at 116 Patriots Trail in Hinesville.
Local merchants remained open until 7 p.m. so residents could shop in the second and final Holiday Open House which coincided with Christmas in the Park. Davis said the winner of the $500 shopping spree grand prize would be selected Wednesday.
As the chill evening drew to a close, local dignitaries were called to the stage to offer a few words before ceremonially lighting Bradwell Park’s tallest tree.
“The lights on this tree signify soldiers coming home to family and friends”, said Col. Peter Hoffman, chief of strategic partnerships. “But we’re not all home; we still have one brigade that’s there (in Iraq), the 4th Brigade. Keep them in your prayers.”
Hoffman thanked the community for graciously supporting service members and their families, adding Liberty County has been the most welcoming community he’s encountered during his tenure in the Army.
“We have a lot to be thankful for this year. We are truly blessed,” said Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, referring to the redeployment of most 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and Liberty County’s relative financial stability. Hinesville is better off than many other towns across the U.S., Thomas said. The city is strong compared to other communities which are floundering in a shaky economy, he said.