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Stockbridge treats residents to yuletide celebration

Photo by Valerie Baldowski
Abbey Potts, 3, had her picture taken with Santa Claus during Stockbridge's Holiday Festival. The city organized the event at the Merle Manders Conference Center as a way to spread holiday cheer, and reach out to the community.

Photo by Valerie Baldowski Abbey Potts, 3, had her picture taken with Santa Claus during Stockbridge's Holiday Festival. The city organized the event at the Merle Manders Conference Center as a way to spread holiday cheer, and reach out to the community.

More than 250 adults and children packed the Merle Manders Conference Center in Stockbridge, to usher in the Christmas season, as the city held its ninth annual Holiday Festival on Tuesday.

Singing the Stockbridge Middle School chorus could be heard on the facility's upper level, as families watched dancing, marionette puppets, or browsed arts-and-crafts tables set up various vendors, or helped themselves to refreshments, or visited Santa Claus.

Downstairs, the activities included jewelry-making, face-painting, and even-more-festive arts-and-crafts tables. Outside, under a covered area, hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos and cheese, chili, and hot chocolate were served, during the event that last from 5 p.m., to 9 p.m.

Upstairs, Peter Hart, co-owner of Tucker-based Atlanta Puppet, was on a stage set up in front of a brightly-lit Christmas tree in one corner of the room. Hart was moving his marionette puppets into place in preparation for the "Holiday on Strings" show. As he worked, a few curious children crowded around to watch, asking questions about each puppet.

Hart said the show is an original production. "It's a variety marionette show with a holiday theme," he said. "It starts off with Christmas unicorns, then it's followed a toy that comes to life and learns how to dance, a teddy bear that juggles a candy cane, a visit from a German couple that do a little Polka dance, a family of rabbits where ‘Pa' plays Christmas fiddle, mountain-style, mom rides a unicycle and juggles, and junior does a clogging dance. Then, we finish up with ‘Jingle Bell Monkeys.'"

Hart said he has performed at the Stockbridge Christmas festival for the past four years, and the show is popular with children.

The annual festival takes months of preparation, said Ray Gibson, Stockbridge assistant city manager. The event is a concerted effort the city to make its residents feel welcome, he said.

"Miranda [Roberts, director of events for the Merle Manders Center,] and her department pretty much start planning in January, pretty much the whole year to organize it," he said. "It obviously promotes the Christmas spirit ... I think this is a great event to do that."

Lori Fletcher, of Stockbridge, one of the adults in attendance, was standing the stage while her 4-year-old granddaughter, Myah Gates, moved around the room with four of her friends. This year marked the grandmother's first time attending the festival. The most popular activity with Myah was her visit with Saint Nick. "She's been wanting to see Santa Claus," said Fletcher.

The cold, rainy weather failed to dampen the holiday spirit. "I was talking to Miranda [Roberts] earlier, and she was sharing with me that, in the nine years, this is the first time that weather's ever [been instrumental]," said Stockbridge City Councilmember Mark Alarcon.

"There's a great turnout, I think, considering the treacherous weather … I'm glad to see this many men, women, and children out enjoying what the city's trying to do in giving back," he added.

"Everybody appreciates the ‘giving back' portion of it," he said. "They [residents] appreciate us giving back and making such a nice event happen close to home, as opposed to having to drive to one of the malls."