As the tree's lights flashed on, they signaled the end of the ceremony - and of a long process.
On Saturday, Columbia County played host to Christmas in America. It was the first Christmas-tree lighting the county has had, and it gave residents something to cheer.
Columbia County News-Times Opinions Editor Barry Paschal and County Commissioner Jim Whitehead made a deal early in the year. Paschal would help Whitehead organize a Memorial Day celebration, and Whitehead would help Paschal light a tree. Both events were put on without tax dollars.
"The process began last January," Whitehead said. "We wanted to do something special for the people of the county."
The people of the county responded to the gesture. Hundreds made their way to the Evans Government Complex to see the tree lighted. Nancy Erblong of Evans was delighted to see the county have its own tree.
"I think it is a wonderful way to bring people together," Erblong said. "We are our own county, and we need to have our own thing too."
To help light the tree, members of each of the four county emergency organizations were asked to hit a switch.
Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker was joined by Columbia County Sheriff's Department Lt. Denise Match, Martinez Fire Department Lt. Daniel Gwinn and Gold Cross representative Karen Phillips.
Tori Orr, 3, snuggles up with Santa Claus at the Columbia County's Christmas in America. The event was the county's first Christmas tree lighting.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"On this Christmas we are going to honor the people who serve Columbia County," Whitehead said. "We want them to know that they are in our thoughts."
The tree wasn't the only thing for people to get excited about, though. Santa Claus made his way to the complex and was available for pictures. Children from each of the county's elementary schools sang Christmas carols.
"We tried to get as many people involved as we could," Whitehead said. "We are trying to prove that we are one county."
The night before, hundreds of Grovetown residents turned out for that city's annual tree lighting. But the city's lights cover more than just the cedar next to the old City Hall - they're on the gazebo across Robinson Avenue, and they illuminate a dozen figures in the area.
"It's beautiful," said Jean Newman, attending the ceremony for a fourth year.
Planners gave the event an American twist with a performance by Terri Gibbs, who sang a patriotic medley.
The night began with remarks from City Councilman David Daughtry.
"If this gets any bigger, I don't know what we are going to do," he said.
As it was, residents sat and stood 10 deep in the parking lot, and public safety officers blocked off a stretch of Robinson Avenue to accommodate the crowd. They opened their blockade only once - to let a golf cart through
"There's Santa!" screamed 10-year-old Kayleigh Story.
After a day of clouds and occasional rain, the event was held under a fairly clear sky.
"We prayed all week long (for clear weather)," Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau said.
Columbia County Christmas Parade winners.
Sponsored by the Merchant's Association of Columbia County.
Marching and Dancing Groups
First Place - Fort Gordon Dynamic Steppers; Second Place - CSRA Shag Club; Third Place - Evans High School Junior ROTC Male Drill Team.
First Place - Pack 56; Second Place - Girl Scout Troop 472; Third Place - Martinez-Evans Girl Scout Unit.
First Place - Santa's Christmas Shoppe; Second Place - Graystone Ranch; Third Place - Canterbury Trails Equestrian Center.
Churches and Religious Groups
First Place - Master's Worship Center; Second Place - Trinity Baptist Church; Third Place - Martinez United Methodist Church.
First Place - Augusta Housing Authority; Second Place - Augusta Shrine Club Go-Cart Unit; Third Place - Columbia County 4-H Horse Club
Best Overall - Augusta Housing Authority
Parade Chairman's Trophy - Trinity Baptist Church.
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