The Uptown sidewalks were dressed with holiday style Wednesday night as the boughs of the Athens Christmas tree were lit — and for the first time in more than 40 years, students were rocking around the tree alongside city residents.
The Athens Uptown Business Association presented the annual Athens Tree Lighting Festival, which featured Christmas crafts, activities and events from different Athens businesses that stayed open late for the festivities.
“This is such a really happy event,” said Pamela Rollins, manager of Mountain Laurel Gifts, 25 S. Court St., which provided free holiday face painting. “It gets everyone in the mood for Christmas and is a great event for the kids.”
While the evening had festive locations to enjoy all over Athens, the main hub was at the corner of Washington and Court streets. Santa arrived promptly at 6 p.m. with the Athens Fire Department and took his place inside a decorated shed, where he listened to the whims and wishes of children.
Just outside Santa’s post was the Athens Christmas tree donated by Ohio University. The 15-foot pine, chopped down at Oxbow Drive, was adorned with lights and handmade ornaments and served as a popular photo spot for young couples and children alike throughout the evening.
Carols filled the air as the Singing Men of Ohio, along with Title IX, performed Christmas carols on the steps of the Athens County Courthouse.
“This is my second year here, and I come to support the choir, but it’s just a great way to kick off the holiday season,” said Jamie Cooley, a 2011 OU alumna.
The clacking of hooves sounded along with the carols as Hutchison’s
Horsedrawn Wagon & Carriage Service offered free Uptown wagon rides.
“The carriage rides were probably the biggest draw for students since they haven’t had the experience before,” said Dawn Worley-Sims, project manager of the Athens Chamber of Commerce. “It’s certainly an experience that they will remember.”
Though the event was a carefree time for families and students, Sami Ritchie, manager and buyer for The Other Place, 43 S. Court St., which provided free holiday hair wraps, said the event encourages a greater message as well.
“We think this event is important because it brings the community Uptown and shows them the benefits of shopping locally,” she said. “It also gets back to the true meaning of the holidays, giving and community togetherness.”