LAWRENCEVILLE - For seven years, the Harrison family has kicked off each Christmas season by gathering on the Historic Courthouse Square.
This year was no different as 25 members of the extended family converged on the corner of Crogan and Perry streets to watch the annual lighting of the Gwinnett County Christmas tree.
"Everybody comes to this corner," said Robin Harrison as her 8-year-old grandnephew sat in her lap, eating ice cream and drinking hot chocolate.
Hundreds of other families ushered in the holiday season Thursday night in similar fashion, crowding onto the courthouse lawn and downtown streets as Christmas songs rang out.
A majority seemingly had baby strollers or children in tow, while others perused stores or snapped up hot chocolate.
The festivities culminated with the lighting of a roughly 35-foot-tall Fraser Fir decked with ornaments and wrapped in endless strands of lights.
To the delight of children, Santa Claus arrived minutes later in a horse-drawn carriage, escorted by a Lawrenceville police motorcade.
Rob Packer of Lawrenceville said the tree lighting has become a family tradition - one that's undertaken after eating turkey.
Joining him on the square were family members from Ohio and his three daughters who were there to see Santa and possibly tell him their Christmas wishes.
"After dinner we bring the kids down," said Packer, as other children ran up to pet his friendly basset hound, Cooper.
Merchants and others familiar with past tree lighting ceremonies said the crowd was on par with or greater than last year's turnout.
Some attributed it to the crisp, made-to-order weather.
"It looks to me like there are more people than last year," said Robert "Bob" Clark, president of the Lawrenceville Tourism and Trade Association, which promotes downtown businesses.
The only disappointment for some was the lack of ice skating. A temporary ice rink, which went up for the first time last year, was unavailable Thursday because of machine problems.
The rink, which is housed in a tent on Crogan Street, should be iced over and ready for skating by Saturday, said those responsible for it.