Columbia County ushered in the holiday season with community Christmas festivities throughout Harlem, Grovetown and Evans this past weekend.
Harlem residents gathered on the front lawn of City Hall for the lighting of the city's tree Thursday.
As the sound of North Columbia Elementary School's chorus rose above the crowd as they sang Jingle Bells, 5-year-old Caitlynn Power had the best seat in the house - atop the shoulders of family friend Daniel Taveras.
A tempting aroma of hot chocolate lured her from her lofty seat just as the crowd let out a collective cheer when the tree lit up.
In Grovetown, residents gathered Friday for a similar holiday tradition.
"We still have that little-city feel about us and we get to kick off the holiday season tonight with our tree lighting," said Grovetown Mayor pro tem David Daughtry to more than 1,000 people gathered to watch the lighting of the city's Christmas tree and city buildings.
The Grovetown Elementary School's chorus sang carols as people bundled up against a late autumn chill and sipped hot cocoa.
Special guests Santa Claus and CBS reality television personality "Boston Rob" Mariano were on hand to light up the city.
Mariano, of Survivor: Marqesas and The Amazing Race fame, is a contributor on CBS' The Early Show.
Children lined both sides of Robinson Avenue and collected candy as more than 80 floats, horse-drawn carriages, antique cars, marching bands, church groups and boys and girls scout troops proceeded down the parade route.
After some concern Saturday that the weather might not hold up for the Grovetown parade, the sun poked through the clouds as the parade got underway.
"It's always sunny in Grovetown," said Mayor Dennis Trudeau as the sun shone brightly on the gazebo in front of city hall.
In Evans, more than 2,000 people turned out for the fifth annual Christmas in America, the lighting of the official Columbia County Christmas Tree at the Evans Judicial Center on Saturday night.
This year's celebration honored Hurricane Katrina evacuees displaced or permanently moved to Columbia County.
About a dozen evacuees came to the podium as honorary lighters of the tree, including Justin and Amanda Black, eighth-graders at Evans Middle School.
Columbia County Fair Queen Mandy Wheeler also was an honorary tree lighter.
Staff Writer Valerie Rowell contributed to this report
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