‘Twas the first week of December
And all through the town
Christmas lights were twinkling
Spreading joy all around
My apologies to Clement Clarke Moore for mauling his beloved 1823 holiday poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” But there’s something about Christmas in small towns that boosts the holiday spirit and makes the season brighter.
Perhaps it’s because of the old adage “there’s no place like home for the holidays,” or maybe it’s because small-town merchants go all-out to decorate their storefronts with special Christmassy touches.
Whatever it is, I find myself drawn in early December each year to Georgia’s small towns to savor their Christmas magic — peering into storefronts with Santas and elves of nearly every shape and size, and walking the streets decked with blinking lights and cherished, antique ornaments. Few churches are without manger scenes and green wreaths hanging from their front doors.
Georgia has scores of small towns that transform into holiday showcases beginning in early December. No sooner is Thanksgiving over than city workers and townsfolk are stringing lights, decorating Christmas trees on town squares, and hanging wreaths and ornaments from streetlamps.
They must work steadily to be ready for their town’s biggest event of the season, the Christmas parade, which often culminates in a festive lighting of the community’s Christmas tree. Many Georgia towns schedule their parades early in December. For holiday events in a specific town, check its official website.
In two Georgia towns, though, Christmas is ingrained in their personas, as borne out in their names. One is the little town of Bethlehem in Barrow County, between Atlanta and Athens. The other is the even tinier town of Santa Claus in Toombs County in South Georgia.
Not surprisingly, a Christmas theme runs through both towns year round. Their streets bear Yuletide monikers: Bethlehem’s main thoroughfare (of course) is Christmas Avenue. Its other streets include Mary, Joseph, Shepherd, Angel, King, David, Star, Manger and Judea streets. Santa Claus‘s City Hall, which is decorated for Christmas all year long, sits at 25 December Drive — and there are Candy Cane Road, Rudolph Way and Dancer, Prancer and Sleigh streets.
In Bethlehem, instead of a lit-up Christmas tree, it’s a huge, bright “star” — made of incandescent light bulbs and sitting on a post in the center of town — that grabs the attention each holiday season. It’s why Bethlehem calls itself “the little town under the star.” It’s turned on after Thanksgiving and shines through New Years Eve.
But the main reason people come to Bethlehem in December is its U.S. Post Office branch. They want their Christmas cards and gifts mailed from there so they will bear a Bethlehem postmark. Well over 120,000 people from all over Georgia — and the Southeast — come to the little town to have their Christmas mailings stamped with a “greetings from Bethlehem” message.
“It’s a hard place to get in and out of in December,” Bethlehem Mayor Sandy McNab told me.
Here are holiday scenes from other Georgia towns: