By Joel Hall
For the seventh year in a row, the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department and the Rainbow House, Inc., children's shelter will host the Festival of Trees and Lights at Clayton County International Park.
From Dec. 4th through Dec. 20th, the entrance to the park will be decorated with a variety of animated, light displays, and on weekends, the park's Nassau Building will feature entertainment, shopping, and activities for children and their families.
On Friday, Dec. 4th, at 5:30 p.m., Clayton County officials will host an opening ceremony, that will include a countdown at dusk, in which the lighted displays will be turned on for the public.
Former Clayton County Commissioner Virginia Gray helped start the program seven years ago, as a way to raise money for Rainbow House, which provides emergency shelter to displaced and abused children.
A member of the Rainbow House Board of Directors since 1990, Gray said the event serves as a way to bring the popular holiday-lighting displays, featured at places such as Lake Lanier, Callaway Gardens, and Stone Mountain, to Clayton County.
"It's a means of fund-raising for the Rainbow House, but it is also a massive family activity for citizens around Clayton County," she said. "If you can't get to Stone Mountain or Callaway Gardens, we have the same kind of activities right here. It ... is absolutely beautiful."
From Dec. 4th through Dec. 20th -- Tuesday through Sunday, between 6:30 and 9 p.m. -- visitors will be able to drive through the parkway of International Park and view a variety of still, animated and interactive displays, including dancing penguins, snowmobile-riding elves, Santa playing golf, and others.
Clayton County International Park Administrator Troy Stubbs said this year's festival will feature 30 lighted displays provided by Brandano Displays, Inc., of Margate, Fla., which cost about $20,000 to coordinate.
"We have a bunch of different displays from last year," Stubbs said. "We have an elf on top of a candy-cane crane, there is an elf on a snowmobile, there is a dragon, there is a man on a computer, dancing penguins, a golfing Santa, and a big ol' rocking horse with an elf on it.
"The Rainbow House really depends on this event to set the costs for them for the rest of the year," he said. "We have just used our services to help it grow and become more successful."
On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, between Dec. 4th and 20th, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., International Park's Nassau Building will host a holiday activity center, featuring arts and crafts, a cake walk, a gingerbread-man decoration, photos with Santa, live entertainment, gift wrapping, hay rides, and concessions.
On those days, Rainbow House will host "Santa's Gift Shop," a treasure trove of toys and other holiday items that can be purchased with colorful "Santa Bucks," according to Rainbow House Business Manager Maresha Williams.
"All the toys are new and in boxes," she said. "We've got dolls, trucks, cars, they have scarves, accessories for the home, small little trinkets ... Everything will start at $1. I don't think anything will be priced over $8. We trade U.S. Dollars for 'Santa Bucks.' It's fun to see the kids exchange their Santa Bucks for something they want."
For the first time this year, the festival will feature an "Adopt a Tree" contest, in which citizens, groups, or organizations can pay $75 to sponsor a six-foot-tall Christmas tree. Visitors will judge the trees based on their decoration, and at the end of the festival, prizes will be awarded to the sponsors of the top three trees.
Williams said the event serves as Rainbow House's largest fund-raiser. While helping keep the organization financially solvent, the funds also help provide a Christmas for the children residing at Rainbow House, she said.
"All the proceeds go to the benefit of the children," Williams said. "A lot of these children come in here with nothing. It goes toward their needs, but many of their wants as well."
Tuesday to Thursday admission to the festival is $5 per car, $7 per commercial van, and $15 per bus. Friday to Sunday rates, which include entrance to the holiday activity center, are $7 per car, $10 per commercial van, and $20 per bus.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, at dusk, the park will host a holiday "Movie in the Park" viewing of "Alvin and the Chipmunks." For more information, call (770) 478-6905, or visit www.rainbowhouseinc.org.