LAWRENCEVILLE - Hundreds of people braved the dropping temperatures and the gusty wind to attend the 20th annual Lighting of the Tree on Thursday evening at the historic courthouse in Lawrenceville.
People huddled under blankets and sipped hot beverages as they listened to a band sing holiday favorites such as "White Christmas," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Deck the Halls."
The orange, red, blue and green lights were activated on the 35-foot tree as the band finished singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth," prompting cheers from the crowd.
Minutes after the tree lighting, St. Nicholas arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, as the band sang "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Here Comes Santa Claus."
Buford resident Denyse McGrath said it was her first time at the festival, and she was enjoying the event.
"I've always wanted to come, and we have never made it," she said.
So this year, McGrath said her family ate an early dinner at 1 p.m. to make sure they had time to enjoy the event. Her twin daughters, who will be 4 in February, were running on the courthouse lawn, stopping for up-close looks at Christmas lights shaped like snowmen, snowflakes and a train.
"They like Christmas lights," she said before the annual ceremony began. "They're very into Santa this year, so this is very exciting."
Lifelong Lawrenceville resident Janice Lee said she and her family have attended the festival for 17 or 18 years. It's become a family tradition to visit the Lawrenceville Square after enjoying a Thanksgiving meal at home.
"It's an annual thing we always do with our family," said Lee, who was accompanied by her children and grandchildren. "I like being in the town with all the people and the festivities."
First-time festival attendee Kelli Cook was hoping to create a tradition for her 10-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. The Dacula resident said she came to the tree lighting because it was close to home and the football tournament her family normally attends was canceled.
"We had traditions when I was a kid," Cook said. "I think it's good to pass those along to your children."