Tree lighting sparks start of festivities

LAWRENCEVILLE - From the little town of Bethlehem to Suwanee's caboose lighting to Norcross's cemetery luminaries, local cities offer plenty of Christmas festivities.

The holiday season kicks off Friday with the 19th annual tree lighting at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse on the square in Lawrenceville. Ceremonies begin at 5 p.m. when the gazebo fills with entertainers, horse-drawn carriages roll through the streets and the courthouse opens for self-guided tours. The tree lighting ceremony starts at

6 p.m.

The big moment is at 6:45, when Santa Claus arrives. Miss Gwinnett County Caitlin Andrews and Miss Gwinnett County Outstanding Teen Melissa Harrel will have the honor of greeting the grand old man. Mr. Claus will take children's requests inside the courthouse.

Holiday tours and visits with Santa continue at the courthouse every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening until Christmas Eve.

Christmas festivities around Gwinnett and Barrow

There are distinctive celebrations planned in nearly every town:

• Bethlehem - Live nativity scene at 7 and 8 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23 on the town square (Ga. Highway 11).

• Buford - Downtown celebration starts at noon Dec. 2 with arts and crafts, food vendors, live entertainment, contests, Santa and a 4 p.m. parade. The public will judge the storefront window decorating contest.

• Dacula - Tree-lighting ceremony in the historical downtown at 7 p.m. Monday. Local choirs will serenade guests.

• Duluth - Festivities begin at 10 a.m. Dec. 2 with stage entertainment, children's activities and arts and crafts. Santa Claus will come roaring into town in a red Camaro convertible. Mason Elementary School chorus will perform for the 6:30 p.m. tree-lighting ceremony.

• Grayson - Tree lighting 7 p.m. Nov. 30.

• Lilburn - Parade on Main Street 10 a.m. Dec. 2.

• Loganville - Parade starts at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 2 on Main Street, followed by the tree lighting at 6:30. Members of the Hope Community Fellowship will sing and give a message.

• Norcross - Santa will arrive following the tree lighting at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 in Thrasher Park. Holiday Tour of Historic Homes Dec. 2. Celebration of Life luminaries in the city cemetery Dec. 9. Free downtown carriage rides from 6 to 10 p.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday night.

• Snellville - The 25th annual tree lighting 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the City Center, 2342 Oak Road. Santa and a marshmallow roast keep kids and adults in the holiday spirit.

• Statham - Tree-lighting ceremony 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the gazebo on Railroad Street. The Statham Elementary School chorus will welcome Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus with songs. Free tour of five historic homes and one restored church 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 9.

• Sugar Hill - 5 p.m. Dec. 2 at the town green gazebo. Sugar Hill Elementary School Chorus and the Family Church Choir will perform prior to the 6 p.m. tree lighting. Enjoy refreshments while the kids visit with Santa from 6:15 to 8 p.m.

• Suwanee - Annual caboose lighting at 5 p.m. Dec. 2 at the red caboose on Main Street in Old Town. Students from Level Creek, Riverside and Suwanee Elementary Schools will perform holiday songs while guest enjoy cookies, s'mores, coffee and wassail. Santa will arrive in a tractor-drawn sleigh.

• Winder - Parade at 7 p.m. Dec. 5.