While shoppers flocked to stores last weekend in search of post-Thanksgiving deals, the 40-memeber volunteer staff at Sunbury’s Dunham Farms offered an alternative to holiday season commercialism.
For the second consecutive year, Laura and Meredith Devendorf, owners of the 30-acre farm estate, decked the halls of their barn-style cabins with boughs of holly and strung lights from countless trees for the farm’s Holiday Festival of Lights and Music.
The Devendorfs, a mother-daughter team, said that despite the $20,000 it cost to host their first festival, the event was such a success that they decided to do it again this year.
“We thought the community needed this,” Laura Devendorf said.
“It embodies our family’s holiday traditions of making good food, singing and listening to great music, being outdoors during some the year’s best weather, and simply reconnecting with the childlike wonder of Christmas,” Meredith Devendorf added. “We have enjoyed similar festivals in our travels and wanted to create an event in our own community where families and friends could unplug from the hectic commercialism of the holidays and rediscover the love and joy that is the heart of the season.”
The event began Saturday afternoon with a poolside visit from Santa and the old-time sounds of the Washboard Band led by Liberty County resident Norman Harris.
“Before the organs, the drums and all the fancy stuff we have today, this was how we use to play music,” he said. “Sometimes we used a spoon, a broom handle — whatever we could find to make noise.”
For $5, a horse-drawn buggy parked nearby offered patrons a 30-minute tour of the farm’s oak groves and historic 19th century-era decorated wooden cabins. Freshly smoked ribs, baked beans and homemade potato salad tempted the taste buds of attendees as they strolled among the trees.
Laughter could be heard inside the walls of the farm’s makeshift “Candy Land,” where children scampered and had their faces painted as they listened to Mrs. Christmas Tree read a story.
“As you can see, we have lots for the kids to do that is different, and there is something for everyone,” Laura Devendorf said, holding up a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer paper bag puppet.
Dusk fell and the farm’s illuminated live oaks, strung with thousands of Christmas lights, seemed to come to life.
Visitors, who paid no more than $10 to enter the festival, stopped by the farm’s country store to peruse an array of canned jams and jellies, freshly-ground coffee and trinkets. Others enjoyed the sultry jazz sounds of bass musician Ben Tucker and singer Kim Polote under the dimmed lights of the newly built Live Oak Hall.
The Griewahn family sat down to enjoy each other’s company and a barbecue dinner at a picnic table outside the farm’s store.
The Richmond Hill residents said the festival offered something to do in an area where Christmas activities and large celebrations are few and far between.
“We come from a place where we are used to having a big festival of lights. [South Georgia] doesn’t really have anything like that,” Catrina Griewahn said. “So this is great. The girls got to meet Santa and take a hay ride through the forest to see the elves. We love it.”
Meredith Devendorf said helping local residents make family memories and community connections is very important.
“We are humbled by the support and generosity of our friends, and we couldn’t do without them,” she said.
The Devendorfs said they plan to donate 10 percent of the festival’s ticket sales and all of the food sales to Seabrook Village, the nation’s first living history museum representing African-American landowners after the Civil War.
“Laura and I both grew up here on the family farm, and we feel a tremendous personal connection with our community and its history. We were both raised to use the blessings we have to foster positive things within our neighborhood,” Meredith Devendorf said. “To paraphrase the great Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, Southerners don’t have a ‘white’ history and a ‘black’ history — we simply have a single, shared history.”