By Joel Hall
Gingerbread men somersaulting over the street onto gingerbread houses, ice-skating penguins, and snowmen on bicycles are just a few of the unique displays to be seen at this year's Festival of Trees and Lights.
The Christmas season-long, drive-through, lighting display and celebration is sponsored by the Rainbow House and the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department. It began on Friday night at Clayton County International Park.
From now until Dec. 21, the park will be decorated with 34 different lighting displays, some of them featuring animated sequences. In addition to the displays patrons can visit throughout the week, the park's Nassau Building will host a variety of weekend activities for local youths. They will include hay rides, bungee jumping, arts and crafts stations, a discount shopping store, games, musical entertainment, and photos with Santa Claus.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Rainbow House, a local shelter for runaway and abused children.
Monique Henderson, marketing and program director for the Rainbow House, said the shelter launched the festival in 2003 as a "drive-through of sparsely-lighted trees." With the county's financial assistance over the last two years, the event has become regional, rivaling the displays at Lanierland Music Park in Cumming and the Callaway Gardens lighting display in Pine Mountain, she said.
The purpose of the festival is to "bring a Christmas festival to the community that [is] cost-effective," and "to bring awareness to the Rainbow House and the services we provide," said Henderson. "It's grown every year. Last year, we had about 2,000 more people than the previous year and we raised $7,000 more than [the previous] year."
Henderson said last year's festival raised over $19,000 in three weeks, and was attended by about 6,000 people. She hopes this year will be even better. Most games and activities cost $1 or $2 .
"Even given the economic downturn ... we hope they will come here instead of driving to Lanierland or Callaway Gardens," Henderson said.
Troy Stubbs, administrator of Clayton County International Park, said the county spent $20,000 on the lighting display this year. "We've kind of helped [Rainbow House] out and have made the program bigger and bigger as the years go by," said Stubbs. He said the proceeds of the event will "help provide programs, services, food, clothing, and care for Rainbow House's children in need."
Sharon White, a commissioned foster mother with the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services, said for the last two years, the event has offered a way to entertain the nine children in her care.
"It's a safe environment and they have a lot of games for the kids," said White. "It's fun when you get to ride the hay ride and see the lights. If you can't drive all the way to Stone Mountain, it's here on the Southside."
The Festival of Trees and Lights will continue at Clayton County International Park until Dec. 21, from 6-9:30 p.m., with the exception of Mondays, when the park is closed. Special weekend events will take place in the park's Nassau Building on Dec. 12-14, and Dec. 19-21, from 6-9:30 p.m. On Dec. 13, the park will host a "Christmas Movie in the Park."
The weekend rate for entrance into the park and the activities in the Nassau Building are $7 for cars, $10 for vans, and $20 for buses. Tuesday through Thursday rates are $5 for cars, $7 for vans, and $15 for buses.
For more information, visit www.rainbowhouseinc.org, or call (770) 692-1733.