It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, or at least that’s what light-decorated speakers were playing when the Athens Uptown Business Association kicked off the annual “Home for the Holidays” Tree Lighting.
Businesses opened their doors to Athens community members Thursday evening to celebrate the start of the holiday season. The event was funded by the Chamber of Commerce.
At 6 p.m., Santa himself climbed out of an Athens fire truck on the corner of Court Street and West Washington Street and made his way to his seat inside 5 N. Court St., where children lined up to take pictures with him.
“It’s always nice when Athens puts together something to include the whole family,” said Mary Marvell, who stood in line with her 4-year-old daughter to talk to Santa.
After getting their picture, Marvell and her daughter made their way down the street, where children were welcomed onto John Hutchison’s horse-drawn carriage. Hutchinson, a retired school teacher, held the reins for a ride around the block.
Hutchison, owner of Hutchison Horsedrawn Wagon & Carriage Service LLC, said the AUBA had been a valuable partner to him in the past when a fire burned down his two barns a few years ago. He lost three of his horses, his wagons and “basically everything horse-related.”
“See those sleigh bells you hear?” Hutchison said as he beckoned to his two sleigh bell-decorated Percheron horses, Dick and Bell, who also had Santa hats perched on tops of their heads. “They were a gift from my friends at AUBA. They sent them to me after the fire. And it makes me feel like tearing up just thinking about it — kids would send me 50 cents in an envelope and say they wanted to help me get more horses.”
Wendy Jakmas, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said she hoped that the event motivated people to do winter shopping in the Uptown businesses.
“It’s a huge collaborative effort and we’re so appreciative of our businesses,” she said. “Our hope is that we can provide nice wholesome family entertainment and in return, people will patronize our businesses. It’s a win-win.”
In addition to being able to get their faces painted at Mountain Laurel Gifts, children could have a free-for-all with sprinkles and decorate cookies at Brenen’s Coffee Cafe.
“I think sometimes Uptown gets a stigma that it’s all just for the college students,” said Josh Thomas, co-owner of Brenen’s. “It’s a way to bring the community back Uptown for a night.”
Dawn Worley-Sims, project manager for Chamber of Commerce, said the event not only gives Athens residents a reason to come Uptown, but also helps college students feel more comfortable in their city.
“We’re really glad that the students are here to really enjoy it too,” she said. “When college students are away from home, we want this to feel like home.”