When visitors step onto the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee this holiday season, they will find themselves awash in the color and illumination of the inaugural Mountain Country Christmas in Lights. In this small pocket of Southern Appalachia beside Lake Chatuge, the fairgrounds will be lit with a festive air never seen quite this way before when twinkling lights take dominion and Christmas reigns supreme.
Amidst schedules of the many events that call the fairgrounds home throughout the year, construction for the light display has been going on since August. While passersby will be able to see some of the lights from Highway 76 as they approach, it’s only inside that seven different light exhibits will be revealed—Peppermint Valley, Frosty’s Trail, Poinsettia Place, Toyland, Candy Cane Lane, Rudolph’s Village, and Santa’s Workshop.
“This light idea is something we’ve been thinking about for years, and we were able to secure some funding this year to hire professionals to really do this right,” said Liz Oridiales, a member of the Hiawassee City Council and mayor pro-tem. To implement the initiative, Towns County partnered with Universal Concepts, a full-service design firm that specializes in commercial holiday and special event lighting and décor. Using Hotel/Motel Tax dollars, the county invested $150,000 into the attraction in hopes of amping up tourism during the slower winter season.
In the summer, Towns County and surrounding areas offer a lot to the residents and people who visit, including trails, lakes, and mountains that offer many recreational opportunities. But in the winter, everything slows down. “What we wanted to do is have an attraction that will bring people here in the winter,” Ordiales said.
The hope is that each year, the county will be able to add exhibits to the display. Many churches and community members have gotten involved in supporting the event, so while the primary focus is the lights, there will be plenty of other activities for visitors to see, do, and eat. This includes craft booths, carolers, hot chocolate, chili, hot dogs, cider, and other sweets as well. A live Santa (and his lap) will also be available so that children can detail their Christmas wishes. Meanwhile, the music hall will host a number of concerts throughout the season, including southern gospel groups Brian Free and Assurance, Karen Peck and New River, and Wilburn & Wilburn. Lee Greenwood and Lorrie Morgan will headline the Patriotic Country Christmas Concert on Dec. 16.
Other features guests will be privy to include the antique farm museum, which will be open and playing host to a new organ display with instruments that date back to the 1800s. These organs won’t remain quiet either, as there will be people playing Christmas music on the vintage instruments. For the elderly and handicapped, there will be golf carts available for the tour.
While Hiawassee’s support has been significant to the planning and implementation of a Mountain Country Christmas in Lights, Hilda Thomason, general manager of the fairgrounds, said the event really serves the whole tri-state area. “I think it will help fill the hotels and the restaurants and the shops when winter time is slow … People love the Christmas season, and I think it’ll bring families here and they’ll spend here and give a big boost to the economy and the area.” But it’s not just about tourism, she noted, adding there will be a live nativity scene to celebrate the holiday’s roots and the “true meaning of Christmas.”
“I think it will be a great way to bring the community together to celebrate the Christmas season,” she said.
The Mountain Country Christmas in Lights event will be open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 6 to 10 p.m., starting Thanksgiving night and running until New Year’s Day.