Columbia County's Christmas season officially begins this weekend with parades and tree lightings.
Grovetown will turn on its holiday cheer Friday evening in the form of thousands of lights that will illuminate the intersection of Old Wrightsboro Road and East Robinson Avenue.
"This is the curtain call," said Mayor Dennis Trudeau, who is retiring this year after 20 years.
Performances from area school musical groups will begin at dark in the parking lot of the Grovetown Senior Center. A visit from Santa Claus will be preceded by lighting the city tree, along with lights at the senior center, the gazebo and Memorial Park. Hot chocolate and coffee will be served.
The city's annual Christmas parade will wind through downtown Saturday afternoon. Laura McManus, a parade organizer, said the more than 60 entries in the parade include marching bands, Girl and Boy Scouts and antique and classic cars. Members of Fort Gordon's Youth Challenge Academy also will march in the parade.
"They usually put on a good show with their marching and drill," McManus said.
The parade begins at noon and the route runs from Summerfield subdivision along East Robinson Avenue to Wrightsboro Road, she said. Santa Claus will arrive in time to ride at the end of the parade on a fire truck.
Also Saturday, Columbia County will hold its seventh annual Christmas in America tree-lighting celebration with festivities beginning at 4 p.m. in the Columbia County Amphitheater and Memorial Gardens behind the library.
"We know the Christmas season is really under way when we turn on the lights during the Christmas in America ceremony," said Barry Paschal, co-chairman of the event and publisher of The Columbia County News-Times . "Last year's event was probably the biggest one yet, and was the first time it was held at the amphitheater, so we're expecting similar crowds this year to get in the holiday spirit."
Craft vendors will be set up at the Memorial Gardens starting at 4 p.m. The Lakeside High School jazz band is performing to open festivities, with mistress of ceremonies Jennie Montgomery, anchor of News Channel 6, starting the program at 5:30 p.m.
Honorary tree lighters this year are world champion paralympic shot-putter Scott Winkler, of Grovetown, and 2007 Columbia County Merchants Association Fair Queen Megan Weathers.
Singers will include the Columbia County Elementary School Mass Chorus and The Dickens Carolers of First United Pentecostal Church, in Augusta. The Columbia County Ballet will perform a selection from its "New Nutcracker" ballet.
The annual Martinez-Evans Christmas Parade, organized by the Merchants Association of Columbia County, will wind its way through Evans Sunday.
The parade begins at 2 p.m. and will run along Washington Road from Ronald Reagan Drive to Belair Road, then up Belair Road to Belair Elementary School, said Reynold Borseth, a parade organizer.
"It is family oriented," Borseth said. "We want parents to bring children to it and have a good time, get everyone in the Christmas spirit."
More than 100 floats from area schools, civic groups and businesses will be on display in the parade. This year, floats will be judged before the parade starts.
"So category winners, they can show their trophy as they go down the parade route," Borseth said.
Spectators are asked to bring new unwrapped toys for members of Cub Scout Pack 620, of Greenbrier Elementary School, who are collecting them for Toys for Tots, said Jeffrey Holder, den leader.
The pack will have a large banner on the front of their float and members will accept toy donations from the crowds as they travel along the parade route.
Borseth said, as always, the parade will end with a special guest.
"The last float will be Santa," Borseth said. "He'll be bringing up the rear and wishing everybody a Merry Christmas."
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