It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Liberty County.
The yuletide season kicked off with the Hinesville’s annual Tree Lighting Celebration in Bradwell Park Thursday.
Families and local community members gathered together to see the decorated tree from light up and mark the beginning of Christmas.
Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown counted down and lit the tree to the sounds of cheers and applause.
People lined up for popcorn handed out by the Hinesville Police Department, sipped on hot cocoa from served by local Vietnam veterans, saw dances and listened to choirs from Calvary Missionary Baptist Church.
This will be Celinette Mojica’s first Christmas in Hinesville and it seemed to be getting off to a great start.
Her family is originally from New York.
"I thought it would be a nice way to kick off the holiday season," Mojica said on why she attended the tree lighting. "We’ve never been to the one in Rockefeller Center, so when I heard about this I thought we should come."
The tree lighting also featured a train ride, which Mojica’s children were the first to ride.
Rotary Club hosted a gingerbread house contest at the Hinesville Area Arts Council Gallery. Different organizations made elaborate gingerbread houses that featured a skating rink, bell tower, Christmas tree next to a fireplace sleigh and boat made out of chocolate, gingerbread men, icing, candy canes and all sorts of candy. Attendees were able to vote for $1.
Another highlight of the winter festivities was the 20th annual Illuminated Christmas Parade in downtown Hinesville Friday, hosted by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce, which invited everyone to enjoy wear their most comfy pajamas.
People lined the streets with blankets and chairs to watch the parade.
It was Amanda Smith’s second time at the parade. She lives in Glennville and decided to bring her family to Hinesville.
"We don’t have a parade in Glennville and I just love Christmas so we come here. I also work on post," Smith said.
Her favorite parts of the parade are the floats, lights and dancers.
Terri Halston and her family just moved to Liberty County this week from Fort Hood.
"I saw the event on Facebook and checked out the page. We didn’t have anything else to do and we wanted to get to know the community and businesses around here," Halston said.
It was her kids’ first Christmas parade. Her family was looking forward to seeing Santa, horses, decorative floats and music from the bands.
There were no horses but the parade did not disappoint.
The Fort Stewart band played "Frosty the Snowman", dogs in tutus walked in the parade, motorcycles revved up Main Street, a train ride carried costumed characters like the Ninja Turtles and the Cat in the Hat, there were decorated speed boats, Christmas scenes featuring a home and fireplace, dances, a caravan of semi-trucks honking their horns, the Grinch and of course Santa Claus to close out the parade.
"I thought it went very well," Leah Poole, executive director of the Chamber and CVB. "The staging area worked out so much better, it was perfect. The Fort Stewart Military Police and Hinesville police worked so well together. They really made the process seamless for us."
There were more volunteers participating on the parade committee, which brought in a lot of new ideas.
"If anybody wants to help or serve on the committee they can. We’re open to suggestions," Poole said. "In 15 years I’ve never seen the parade. I’ve seen it go out of the parking lot, but I’ve never watched it live. So having a spectator’s point of view really helps and get our juices flowing."
People also had a chance to get their Christmas shopping done early on Saturday at several events featuring vendors and unique gifts.
The Chamber hosted its 10th annual Christmas in the Park behind the Main Street shops.
Christmas in the Park used to be held in conjunction with the Hinesville tree lighting. Poole said moving it to Saturday behind the shops provided more space, longer hours and a Christmas market feel. The move also brought in vendors from Richmond Hill, Savannah and Pooler, along with local vendors.
Attendees had their choice of unique, handmade items for sale. Vendors sold blankets, Christmas decorations, jewelry, clothes, make-up, children’s books and organizations passed out information. Kids stayed entertained with activities at different booths, which included coloring and decorating ornaments. There was also a train ride, bouncy houses, photos with Santa, Mrs. Claus greeting the community and a petting zoo.
There were performances by Liberty Prayer Chapel Inc., Inspiration Performance Studios, Snelson Golden Middle School Step Team, Full Gospel Tabernacle, Leah Hayes, Liberty County High School Pride Ambassadors Chorus, Liberty Elementary School Chorus and the Girl Scouts.
Francene Rowland and Wayne Howerton have always enjoyed coming out to community events.
"We always come out to stuff like this. We were at the parade last night, came to Blues Brews and BBQ, we come to all the events," Howerton said. "I think it’s cool that they have something like this in the community."
Rowland, who works at Liberty Regional Medical Center, was at the event working her jobs vendor table, handing out popcorn and kid tattoos but she probably would have been at the even anyway.
"It’s a great way to bring people out of the house, away from the TV and video games, and I love being out here in the community," Rowland said.
Howerton said they like to support local businesses and it provides fun activities for children.
At the market they learned about a mentoring program for their daughter, got her a bracelet and signed up to have a chef come to their house and cook for free, while learning about healthy eating.
A number of local churches held Christmas events as well Saturday.
First Baptist Church Hinesville had a Christmas Craft Show that also featured local crafters, live entertainment, food and photos with Santa.
The 8th annual Christmas Bazaar at Dorchester Village Civic Center was another one stop Christmas shop with a variety of handmade gifts, photos with Santa and food.
Walthourville had its annual Lighting of the Tree Celebration on Saturday that featured singing, hot chocolate and cookies.
For the history buffs, Fort Morris hosted "A Colonial Christmas" where attendees enjoyed colonial refreshments, 18th century music, caroling and firing of the Christmas guns.