Updated Thu, Nov 28, 2013 11:08 am
Downtown Athens will be even more festive this holiday season with the expansion of decorations along Court Street, a new home for Santa and the addition of a gingerbread house competition.
The Uptown for the Holidays planning committee met on Wednesday afternoon to finalize preparations for the winter holiday events, but in the past few weeks steps have been taken to affix wreaths and lights to light posts on Court Street.
John Wharton, president of the Athens Uptown Business Association, said that the popular holiday decorations on Court Street will be expanded even further this year to span the entire length of the street.
According to Athens Deputy Service-Safety Director and planning committee member Ron Lucas, Ohio University dedicated the funds to put electric outlets on the light poles that span from Mulberry Street (in front of Baker University Center) to Union Street. In prior years, Christmas lights were only on poles from Union to Carpenter Street.
Lucas said the project was recently completed and that the lights should be lit Monday or Tuesday.
In addition to the extra lights on Court Street, Wharton said that business owner Les Cornwell has donated funds in order to decorate the former armory building on Carpenter Street.
“It will be really attractive,” Wharton said.
Cornwell has contributed significant funds to provide the wreaths and lights in the downtown area in the past few years.
Another change coming to this year’s holiday events is that Santa Claus will be getting a warmer home on Court Street. In prior years, Santa was located inside a small house in front of the Athens County Courthouse. This year, he’ll be visiting with children and families inside 5 on Court.
Wharton said the new location will allow families to visit with old St. Nick even if the weather is less than desirable. He said this will also help alleviate some congestion with people boarding and exiting the free horse-drawn wagons that run the down Court Street.
Downtown holiday events will kick off on Dec. 5 with the annual tree lighting ceremony from 6-8 p.m. Wharton said the tree in front of the courthouse will be lit at 6 p.m. and that Santa will be transported downtown accompanied by the Ohio University Marching 110 drumline. The event will also feature choral music, wagon rides and other holiday activities for families.
In addition to the event on Dec. 5, Santa will also be downtown on Dec. 12 and 19 from 6-8 p.m. Wagon rides will be held on Dec. 7 and 14 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Dec. 12 and 19 from 6-8 p.m. Court Street will be closed to vehicular traffic during these events.
The Athena Cinema will also be offering free screenings of family holiday movies every Saturday starting this weekend through Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. With the donation of a canned good, families can screen the movies at the downtown theater and receive free sugar cookies.
Movies to be shown include Home Alone (Nov. 30); Elf (Dec. 7); The Rise of the Guardians (Dec. 14); and The Polar Express (Dec. 21).
Wharton has also invested to expand the sound system in the downtown area to play holiday music throughout the season. The sound system currently stretches from Court Street Diner down to the Athena Cinema.
Wharton has purchased six additional speakers for this year, however Lucas said it’s not clear if the speakers will be able to be installed this year due to logistics. Lucas said that the city just purchased a Sirius Radio subscription for the system, which he said could be used during other downtown events throughout the year such as the International Street Fair.
Lucas said that many downtown business owners contributed to the decorations and events.
“Various people play Santa Claus,” Lucas said.
Continuing this year will be the outdoor decorating contest for downtown businesses and Ohio University sororities and fraternities on adjoining streets. Wharton said a retired art teacher will be judging the decorations this year.
In addition to the decorating contest, there is also a holiday gingerbread contest. The entries will be displayed at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum and in storefronts in the downtown area beginning on Dec. 5. Prizes will be awarded to the best creation in various categories and grand prizes will be awarded to those who create a replica of a historical landmark in Athens County. Judging will take place on Dec. 4.
Jan Hodson and Joyce Mullins are organizing the inaugural gingerbread contest. Hodson said she had the idea for the contest about seven or eight years ago, but it wasn’t until she retired this year that she decided to implement it. She said that she received encouragement from Paige Alost, executive director of the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, to undertake the project.
“Joyce and I grew up in Athens and have good memories of Christmas on Court Street,” Hodson said. “We want to bring that back.”
According to Hodson, there are 14 entries for the gingerbread contest this year, including seven in the group category (of which The Athens Messenger is entered), two in the professional baker category, two in the teen division, three in the adult category and one child entry.
“We have 14 entries for the first year and we’re really happy about that,” Hodson said, noting that every category received an entry. She said that most of the entries are of Athens County landmarks.
A $100 prize will be awarded to the top entry in each category and one $500 grand prize will be given to the top Athens County landmark submission across all categories.
The Thompson family in Athens said they decided to take a stab at creating gingerbread creations for the contest this year. On Tuesday, the family was testing out their gingerbread recipe.
Amber Duff-Thompson said creating gingerbread has been a learning experience for her family. She said the family — husband Scott; Emmy, 7; and Owen, 9 — hopes to create a replica of White’s Mill. The family is also hosting Ohio University Chinese student Mengxing Niu who will be helping with the American holiday tradition.
“She shares Chinese New Year with us and we share Christmas with her,” Amber said.
Niu — who goes by her American name Linda — said that Christmas is more of a romantic holiday in China.
“Not many Chinese students get to have this experience (with an American family),” Niu said. “I love them.”
In addition to the White’s Mill replica, Emmy is entering her own creation — a replica of Cornwell Jewelers on Court Street. Emmy said she likes designing the gingerbread.
The municipal parking garage on East Washington Street will be free during the holiday events, including after 5 p.m. on Dec. 5 and 12 and all-day on Dec. 7. Starting Dec. 14, parking in the garage will be free 24/7 through midnight on Jan. 1.