Although the city of Athens is illuminated with Christmas lights every December, the recent switch from quarters to semesters at Ohio University will allow students to watch the town transform into a winter wonderland right before their eyes.
Students had traditionally not been able to see the holiday lights and decorations on campus and in the city, because winter break started before Thanksgiving when the university used the quarter system, and the city’s decorations were not brought out until after Turkey Day.
The city does more than put out lights and hang up wreaths; the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is packed with festive fun, from carriage rides and caroling Uptown to visits from Santa Claus.
“There’s so much more (for students) to do in Athens than sit in their dorms and be grumpy they have to be here for an extra three weeks,” said Meredith Jensen, the communication manager for the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Athens has an old-time feel that really shines during the winter.”
Kicking off the holiday season is the annual Tree Lighting Festival at the Athens County Courthouse, 1 S. Court St., Wednesday night from 6 to 9 p.m.
During the tree lighting, Santa Claus will ride down Court Street with the Athens Fire Department and the Singing Men of Ohio will perform on the courthouse steps.
The event has been organized by the Athens Uptown Business Association for more than 10 years and brings the community together, said Dawn Worley-Sims, project manager of the Athens Chamber of Commerce.
Other activities include bracelet making at Cornwell Jewelers, 77 N. Court St., cookie decorating at Brenen’s Coffee Café, 38 S. Court St., and face painting at Mountain Laurel Gifts, 25 S. Court St.
“(The festival) gets bigger and bigger every year,” said Celia Summers, sales associate at Mountain Laurel Gifts. “We’re really excited about the students being here, and hopefully they will be a part of it. I paint adult faces, too.”
Following the festival, John Hutchison, owner of Hutchison’s Horsedrawn Wagon & Carriage Service, will offer free Uptown wagon rides from 6 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday until Dec. 19. He will also provide rides Dec. 8 and 15 from 12 to 2 p.m.
“There’s something magical about the sound of hooves on a brick road that can’t be recreated anywhere else,” Jensen said. “It would be unfortunate for students to miss the opportunity to make that memory with their friends and loved ones. I just hope it snows; it will make the scene extra perfect.”