Santa Claus waits to greet children at the Dec. 6 opening of the Festival of Trees and Lights at Clayton County International Park.
JONESBORO — Jana Grayson showed a group of cakewalkers how to get down at Clayton County International Park last Friday.
While everyone in the cakewalk at the opening ceremonies for the Festival of Trees and Lights was encouraged to dance as they paraded around a circle of chairs, most people only did faint movements.
A slight bop of the head here. Light shaking of the arms there.
But Grayson was different. She really got into it. In fact, she got so into it that the person running the cakewalk held her up as an example of what everybody else should have been doing.
Grayson strutted, bopped her head, moved her arms and spun in circles as she passed by the chairs. She recently retired and moved to Jonesboro. She was attending her first Festival of Trees and Lights since her daughter, Alana, was in one of the orchestras that performed at the opening ceremonies.
“I love the cakewalk, the music, the dancing. I love all of it,” said Grayson. “This is my favorite time of year.”
Anyone who missed the opening of the festival shouldn’t despair. It will be going on every Tuesday through Sunday until Dec. 22 at International Park, 2300 Ga. 138 in Jonesboro. Proceeds are split between Clayton County Parks and Recreation and the Rainbow House children’s shelter.
Rainbow House provides services, assistance and a home for abused and neglected children.
“The Rainbow House really does a good deed for children who may not be as fortunate as your children are,” said Board of Directors Chairwoman Jackie Hubbard. “We want to make sure they have everything they need, the care that they need, and to make sure that their Christmas will be just as good as your children’s Christmas. You’re helping them by being here.”
Money collected at the park gates, to just see the lights throughout the park, go to the parks and recreation department. Money collected from hayrides and other activities held every weekend in the park’s Nassau Building go to Rainbow House.
The activities include gingerbread men making, s’mores, an ornament creation station, the cakewalk, photos with Santa Claus, a game area, live entertainment, concessions and a Santa’s Workshop where families can buy toys and winter hats and mittens. Karaoke will take place on Sunday nights at 7 p.m.
M.D. Roberts Middle School orchestra member Taylor Tookes smiled and laughed with fellow orchestra member Kaleb Lowe as they made gingerbread men.
“I like how a lot of people from the community come here and have a good time,” said Tookes. “And, for some people who can’t afford to do the same things or have the same fun elsewhere, they can come here and celebrate Christmas.”
While Tookes’ gingerbread man had a thin layer of icing that was just enough to hold the Twizzlers, M&Ms and gumdrop decorations in place, Lowe covered his in a thick layer of icing. He was also a bit mischievous and got organizers to let him keep his icing cup after he was done.
“I like licking the icing,” he said. “It tastes really good.”
A small group of individuals, community groups and government bodies — such as State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), Clayton County government and the city of Jonesboro — have sponsored and decorated trees which are on display at the Nassau Building.
Several officials thanked Rainbow House Executive Director Virginia Burton Gray and other officials from the group during the opening ceremony for the work done by the organization.
“You’re doing a tremendous job and it’s all for the children of Clayton County, and if you think about it, our children are our greatest assets and we as a society need to make sure we take care of them,” said Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner. “Not everyone is as blessed as those of us here in this room.”
Glanton and his wife, Pearla, presented Gray with a $500 donation for Rainbow House during the ceremony. Glanton is a member of the Rainbow House Board of Directors.
“God bless you and thank you for the great service that you do for our county,” said Glanton.
International Park Administrator Troy Stubbs said parks and recreation officials and Rainbow House leaders are continually adding onto the event to make each year better than the previous one. He hinted that residents can expect to see a bigger event next year.
“Hopefully, each year it gets better,” said Stubbs. “Next year, we are looking to upgrade very, very much so. I don’t want to give away too much but we are trying to do something with an ice skating rink, some carnival rides and some things like that, so be on the lookout for that next year.”
The festival will be open to the public Tuesday through Thursday from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Admission prices also vary between the weekdays and the weekend.
Admission prices Tuesdays through Thursdays are $5 for cars, $7 for vans and $15 for buses. Prices Fridays through Sundays are $7 per car, $10 for a van and $20 per bus.