ALBANY -- Lights and music are signature parts of Christmas celebrations, and Southwest Georgians have plenty of options for capturing the festive holiday spirit in sight and song.
Thanksgiving night is the traditionally the evening when communities turn on their downtown holiday displays. Over the years, families have gotten in their vehicles and driven downtown to see the first lights of the season.
At Chehaw, the lights turn on Friday night. But Doug Porter, executive director of the park and animal habitat, says it'll be worth the wait. If you've taken the light tour at Chehaw before, you're in for an entirely new experience, he said.
"I guess the main thing this year is it's all new," Porter said. "We built all the light displays ourselves this year. We've got some music with some of the displays that we've never had before."
The changes have been designed to make the experience better for park visitors, he said.
"We've just put a lot of thought into how people can enjoy it more," he said. "This is the first the first year of multiple years of improvements. We're going to build on it every year. We're trying out some new things."
One of those new approaches is groupings of displays.
"This year we've done some grouped displays, like one area that's a bunch of snowflakes ... giant snowflakes. So, it'd be a like a snowflake forest," Porter said.
The parks natural habitat for animals hasn't been overlooked in the celebration.
"We created some monkeys, actually they're gibbons, that swing through the trees," Porter said. "We made about 20 of those and they're all synchronized around the train loop. So, they jump off the ground, swing through the trees and go off into the forest in sequence."
Also this year, Chehaw's adding the sounds of Christmas.
"Several displays are timed to music," he said. "We bought some timers so that when the music is playing, the lights are kind of dancing in time to the music."
Park officials have even redesigned to route to make it more visitor friendly.
"And we're taking people through the center," Porter said. "The loop road that goes around the park ... that was always the route in past years.
This year we're taking them up through the center of the park, so there'll be a little more space for us to spread out some of the displays and there's even room to pull off if people want to stop, and they wouldn't block traffic."
Porter said a great deal of planning and work will be realized when the light switch is flipped on at 6 p.m. Friday.
"We set up a welding shop at the beginning of the summer and we've had guys out here cutting steel and welding Christmas trees and snowflakes, candy canes and all those things ... all summer," he said. "They started actually setting them up four or five weeks ago."
The Festival of Lights at Chehaw will be open nightly 6 p.m.-9 p.m. through Dec. 31, though it will be closed for the evening on Christmas night. Admission is $15 per car, and rides on the trolley train are $3 per person. Santa Claus will be making appearances each weekend.
Of course, more Albany holiday traditions will follow soon, including the Dec. 4 Celebration of Lights Parade, the Albany Symphony Orchestra's community favorite Peppermint Pops on Dec. 11 and a special take on "A Christmas Carol" for two long weekends in December by Theatre Albany.
The 6 p.m. Albany holiday parade has the theme of "Christmas Through the Looking Glass," led by Albany's own "Alice" -- 6-year-old Akaia Stiggers.
The Theatre Albany presentation of "A Christmas Carol," which opens Dec. 9, will give a new interpretation to the famous tale by Charles Dickens. "What I did about 15 years ago is I sat down and I took the book and I basically adapted it for the stage," Director Mark Costello said. "And I tried to keep to the original story.
"I put in in the framework of some Christmas carolers who, instead of doing Christmas carols, were going to do a different kind of caroling. They were going to perform this 'Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens."
That version was performed by Theatre Albany twice, but this year's show has a new twist. "We have rethought the piece and it's a Victorian Christmas party, much like Fezziwig's party in the book, and so the set is basically an open warehouse where people have gathered together for a Victiorian Christmas party. ... What happens is all the guests at the party take up parts in the show."
A preview of the Theatre Albany production is scheduled for the Dec. 5 SouthView. You can get information on show times and tickets prices below.
Here is a look at upcoming holiday events in Southwest Georgia and nearby.
Albany's downtown Christmas lights will officially be turned on this evening, as will those in many other area towns. Down the road in Moultrie, the lighting will be a festival in itself.
Downtown Moultrie will feature Santa and live reindeer in the courthouse square when the annual canopy of lights are turned on at 6 p.m. Strings of lights stretch from the top of the courthouse and over the surrounding streets in one of the most picturesque downtown displays in the region.
FANTASY IN LIGHTS
The granddaddy of area lights shows, however, is a bit further up the road at Callaway Gardens. Already in full swing, Fantasy in Lights, the Southeast's premier holiday show with more than 8 million lights, is open nightly at 6 p.m. through Dec. 30.
One thing you should remember: With more than 2 million visitors since it opened 18 years ago, the Fantasy show draws crowds. Picking a date and getting tickets in advance is the smart approach here.
Tickets for Prime show dates sold in advance (today, Fridays, Saturdays and week of Christmas) cost $22, adult; child 6-12, $11. Value show dates purchased in advance are adult, $16, children 6-12, $8. For same-day purchase, adult tickets are $25 each, and $12.50 for a child 6-12.
Contact 1 (800) CALLAWAY or www.callawaygardens.com for information.
If you're not in the crowds shopping Friday morning, you can bring your child to downtown Albany for a first visit with St. Nick at the Flint RiverQuarium, which kicks off its 12 days of Christmas at 9 a.m. with Breakfast With Santa at the aquarium.
A BUSY CALENDAR
And it gets busy from there. Here's a look at events scheduled for the coming weeks:
Christmas on the River: 6 p.m., Dec. 2, Earle May Boat Basin, Bainbridge. Singing, horse and buggy rides, marshmallows and the lighting of the Christmas Tree.
Morgenstern Trio: 8 p.m. Dec. 2, Thomasville Cultural Center, 600 E. Washington St. Young trio from Germany, noted for its impressive performances throughout Europe, makes its U.S. debut as winner of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award. Admission: $35, adults; $15, students. Presented by the Thomasville Entertainment Foundation. Contact (229) 226-7404, www.tefconcerts.com.
Cooking Healthy for the Holidays: noon-1 p.m., Dec. 3, Dougherty County Health Department, 1710 S. Slappey Blvd. Jodie Zelman, registered dietician LD with Palmyra Medical Center, speaks on healthy holiday cooking. "Heart healthy" lunch served and each participant receives a healthy cooking recipe book. Free to the public, but reservation required. Contact (229) 430-6230.
Jingle Bell Jam: Dec. 3, State Theatre, Pine Ave. Benefit for Bridgewood Academy for Special Needs Children and Albany Autism Center starts at 6:30 p.m., silent auction; 7:30 p.m., music; 9 p.m., live auction. Performers include Chosen, Faith Jackson, Not Yet Felons, Landis Frier, Ryan West, Cole Taylor, Running Down Romance. Tickets are $20 each and cash bar available. Contact (229) 669-0084.
Ashburn Christmas parade, 6 p.m., Dec. 3, downtown Ashburn.
Christmas at the Center: Dec. 3-5, Thomasville Cultural Center, 600 E. Washington St. Explore the center's halls decked with beautiful holiday splendor, catch a special performance by a variety of talented dancers and musicians, visit the Candy Cane Cafe, Mistletoe Market and Peppermint Place for treats and gifts, and visit Santa and Mrs. Claus. Contact (229) 226-0588 or www.thomasvilleculturalcenter.com.
Hometown Holidays, Dec. 4, Tifton. Contact (229) 556-7439.
A Red, White and Blue Christmas: Annual Christmas parade, 6 p.m., Dec. 4, downtown Moultrie. Pre-parade show 5 p.m. Contact Moultrie Main Street Program at (229) 890-5455 or www.moultriega.com.
Spirit of Christmas Parade and Festival: Dec. 4, downtown Leesburg. 22nd annual parade starts at 10 a.m.; 2nd annual festival starts at 9 a.m. downtown. Contact (229) 759-2422.
Celebration of Lights: 20th annual holiday parade, 6 p.m., Dec. 4, downtown Albany. Theme is "Christmas Through the Looking Glass." Contact (229) 883-8330, Ext. 210.
Tallahassee On Ice: Ice skating at Kleman Plaza. Opens 3 p.m.-10 p.m. Dec. 4; weekends through school holidays, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Dec. 5-17 3:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Skating available through Jan. 3. Contact (850) 891-3866.
Candy Cane Lane: Visit to candy cane factory, 3 p.m.-10 p.m., Dec. 4, McCarty Park, Tallahassee.
The Winter Festival: Dec. 4. Lighting ceremony, 6 p.m., parade judging platform, South Monroe Street at Bloxham Park, Tallahassee; 3K Jingle Bell Run, 6:15 p.m., Park Avenue at South Monroe Street; Holiday parade, 7:15 p.m., start at Monroe Street at Tennessee Street. Also, arts and crafts, exhibits, five entertainment stages, animated light displays at various locations in the downtown Tallahassee parks and commons.
Cookies, Crafts & Santa: 2 p.m.-4 p.m., Dec. 5, Albany Museum of Art, 311 Meadowlark Drive. Storytelling, cocoa station, face painting, holiday crafts, cookie decorating, pictures with Santa and holiday entertainment. Cost: 415 per child. Fundraiser for the Albany Museum of Art.
Merry Fishmas -- Discovery Days: 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 5 and 19, Flint RiverQuairium; Crafts and activities for the whole family. Contact (229) 639-2650.
Sundays at Four Concert: 4 p.m., Dec. 5, Trinity Anglican Church, 218 W. Jackson St. Thomas University's Arts for the Community presents "Gloria!" Features The Thomasville Singers. Contact (229) 227-6964 or www.thomasu.edu/actu.
An Evening with Darrell Huckaby: 7 p.m., Dec. 6, Moultrie-Colquitt County Library, 204 Fifth St. S.E., Moultrie. The free lecture and book signing by syndicated humor columnist and author. Contact (229) 985-6540.
Thomasville Music & Drama Troupe Christmas Show: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 7, Thomasville Municipal Auditorium, 144 E. Jackson St. Annual tradition for more than 30 years has holiday entertainment performed by the area's most talented young people. Contact (229) 558-9470.
Camilla Christmas parade, 6:30 p.m., Dec. 7, downtown Camilla.
A Christmas Carol: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 9-12 and 16-19, Theatre Albany, 514 Pine Ave. Retelling of the classic Christmas tale by Charles Dickens. Admission $20, adults; $15, seniors 62 and older. Contact (229) 439-7193.
Bainbridge Christmas Parade, 7 p.m., Dec. 9, downtown Bainbridge.
Victorian Christmas in Downtown Thomasville: 6 p.m.-10 p.m., Dec. 9-10, downtown Thomasville. Take a journey back to the 1890s with strolling carolers and musicians, horse-drawn carriages, entertaining holiday performances, holiday shopping, food and holiday delicacies, and St. Nicholas. Contact (866) 577-3600 or www.thomasvillega.com.
The Nutcracker Ballet: Dec. 10-12. Holiday favorite performed by the South Georgia Ballet at the Thomasville Municipal Auditorium, 144 E. Jackson St. Contact (229) 378-ARTS or www.sgpa.us.
Brother Heinrich's Christmas: Dec. 10-12 and 17-19. The story of Brother Heinrich, his donkey, and their magical meeting with angels on a Christmas Eve long ago presented by Thomasville On Stage and Company Theater, 117 S. Broad St. Contact (229) 226-0863 or www.tosac.com.
Peppermint Pops: Dec. 11, Albany Municipal Auditorium. Albany Symphony Orchestra's annual Christmas performance of traditional holiday favorites features the Albany Chorale and high school honor students. Matinee at 2:30 p.m.; evening performance at 7:30 p.m. No admission cost. Reserved seating for symphony season ticket holders.
Sylvester Christmas parade, 6 p.m., Dec. 11, downtown Sylvester.
Breakfast with Santa: 9 a.m.-11 a.m., Dec. 11, Flint RiverQuarium. Breakfast, Santa photos and admission to the RiverQuarium. Contact (229) 639-2650.
Christmas Workshop: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Dec. 11, Florence Marina State Park, 218 Florence Road, Omaha. Make Christmas decorations out of natural ornaments such as pine cones, sweetgum balls, magnolia seedpods and seashells. Pictures with Santa Claus. Fee: $3-$6, plus $5 parking. Contact (229) 838-4706.
Victorian Christmas: Dec. 11, Georgia Agrirama, Tifton, Exit 20 Interstate Highway 75.
Christmas Made Simple: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Dec. 11, Historic Westville, 1850s living history museum, 9294 Singer Pond Road, Lumpkin. Enjoy natural decorations, fun crafts and gifts that you can make and take home and famous mulled cider and gingerbread. Visit with Father Christmas and join him along with the Westville staff as they "Light the Lamps" in a special parade around the village. Special Event Admission: Adults, seniors, college and military, $15; children K-12, $7; Pre-K: free; Westville members, free. Contact 1 (888) 733-1850 or email@example.com.
The Nutcracker: Tallahassee Ballet performance, 10:30 a.m., Dec. 11, children's abbreviated show; 8 p.m., Dec. 11, opening night; 2:30 p.m., Dec. 12, matinee; Ruby Diamond Auditorium at Florida State University, Tallahassee. Contact (850) 224-6917 for ticket information.
It's a Wonderful Life: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, Rylander Theatre, Americus. National touring company brings the famous holiday film by Frank Capra to life on stage. Tickets $10-$15. Contact (229) 931-0001.
Merry Fishmas -- Tadpole Time: 10 a.m., Dec. 15, Flint RiverQuairium. A special time for pre-school aged children and their caregivers featuring story time, crafts and snacks. Contact (229) 639-2650.
Christmas on the Square: 5 p.m.-7 p.m., Dec. 16, Willis Park, Bainbridge. Horse and buggy rides, hot cocoa provided by Salvation Army, marshmallow roasts, singing by area school music group.
Snowy Sunday Stroll: 1 p.m.-4 p.m., Dec. 19, downtown Moultrie. There's a 100 percent chance of snow at 1 p.m., with restaurants and shops open. Contact Moultrie Main Street Program at (229) 890-5455 or www.moultriega.com.
Fintastic Day Camp: 9 a.m.-noon, Dec. 21, 22; Flint RiverQuarium. Contact (229) 639-2650.
Community Christmas Eve Carols: 6 p.m.-7 p.m., Dec. 24, Willis Park, Bainbridge. Community is invited to join in Christmas Eve carols.