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Carols highlight Christmas program on square
New event on the square draws from tradition in New Orleans
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Celebration of the Season on the Square

What: Community Christmas program, shopping and special events
When: Christmas program, 5:15-6:30 p.m. Saturday; shopping on the square is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and horse-drawn carriage rides will be available 4-8 p.m.
Where: Downtown square, Gainesville
How much: Free; carriage rides for a fee
More info: 678-462-2923 or russok@bellsouth.net

After moving to Gainesville from New Orleans, Kelly Russo was moved by the outpouring of support from this area to Hurricane Katrina victims.

The goodwill from local residents warmed her heart, but in the years since then, she said, it feels as if the community has become a little too disjointed again.

So, drawing from an annual Christmas event in her native New Orleans, Russo has organized a Christmas event on the Gainesville square that includes carols sung in French, local professional musicians and the support of local artists and businesses.

Celebration of the Season on the Square will bring local schoolchildren to sing seasonal favorites while also showcasing the depth of artistic talent in the North Georgia area, Russo said.

"I wanted to create a venue that paralleled a similar venue in New Orleans at Christmas time called Caroling in the Quarter," she said. "It's been a tradition for 63 years; various musicians are up on stage and a crowd of 6,000 to 8,000 people assemble and sing songs together."

To tailor the idea to North Georgia, Russo said she wanted to include the many artists who lived here, too.

So throughout the day on Saturday, local artists will be set up on the square to show their work, with 100 percent of the proceeds of any sales going to the artists. There will also be carriage rides 4-8 p.m., and businesses around the square will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for any Christmas shopping.

The centerpiece of the event starts at 5:15 p.m., when students from local schools will gather to sing Christmas carols, followed by performances from local songwriters.

The musicians will include Mary Jennings, a pop musician from New York; Allen Nivens, who performs Southern rock and country; Wilder Embry, who plays folk rock; Casey Cochran and his bluegrass band, the Camp Creek Committee; Larry Barker and Donna Hubbard, who play blues; Kimberly Clarke, an acoustic singer; and John Christopher Minton, also an acoustic singer.

Students have been practicing one carol in French, in honor of Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras, who is fluent in French and used to teach it at Gainesville High School and Brenau University.

"To honor her I wanted the children to learn a simple song sung in French," Russo said. "We practiced every Monday for a month at Main Street Marketplace, and the mayor has joined us for our final practice and is going to lead the children through the French song."

Near the end of the musical program, the crowd will be invited to sing along to traditional carols.

Artists who are interested in showing their pieces may e-mail Russo at russok@bellsouth.net, or artists may come on Saturday and sign up on the artists' roster when they arrive.

"This has been, for me, a labor of love as I see the start of something that is sure to take off," Russo said. "(We're) building a stronger, more cohesive community and showcasing the wonderful talent throughout Gainesville and Northeast Georgia."

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