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Ring in Christmas with local events
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Christmas events: See a complete list of area Christmas events

A high school band and a solo singer will be among the entertainment at the third annual lighting of the Flowery Branch Christmas tree tonight.

The event is one of several Christmas-related events going on this holiday weekend and next weekend, as residents get into the spirit of the season.

The North Georgia Zoo, home of Wildlife Wonders and Paradise Valley Farms, is welcoming guests 5-9 p.m. Saturday to experience its Holiday Celebration under the Stars. North Georgia Zoo is located on Paradise Valley Road in Cleveland.

Visitors can take a guided flashlight tour to see the animals at night, including howling wolves, glowing eyes of nocturnal animals and kangaroos and deer. There are also water buffalo, yaks, zebras and camels.

The event includes a hayride and live nativity, and is led by an experienced animal guide.

"When they get a tour, they're getting an amazing interactive experience," owner Hope Bennett said.

Admission to the event is $25 for the tour, with $1 off when you bring an unwrapped toy. The live nativity is a requested donation of $5.

In Gainesville, the annual Mingle with Kringle returns for its eighth year Dec. 5, the first of three weekends the event will take place. The event continues Dec. 12 and Dec. 19.

At Mingle with Kringle, Santa will be on his "throne" at Main Street Market from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The same weekend, downtown Gainesville stores will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for special holiday sales, live music and carriage rides during the Downtown Holiday Open House.

The annual Christmas on Green Street will be Dec. 6. It features live music, carriage rides and a classic car parade that starts at 5 p.m. along Green Street in Gainesville.

Members of the Gainesville Newcomers Club, dressed in period clothing, will tell histories of historic homes along the main Gainesville road.

Clermont will usher in Christmas with its parade at 1 p.m. Dec. 5.

Floats will begin lining up at noon near U.S. 129 and Main Street, said co-organizer Emily Harper, and spectators are asked to bring one unwrapped toy as admission, which will be donated to Toys for Tots.

"We can expect a lot out of it this year because we have more people who have signed up to participate," she said.

Local veterans groups will be marching, along with floats from several school Key clubs and local high school bands. The town's Christmas tree will be lit at 6 p.m. Dec. 5.

"We're going to have a good time," Harper added.

In Flowery Branch, the tree lighting program begins at 5:45 tonight, with a performance of the brass ensemble from Johnson High School, and at 6 p.m. the Rev. Emerson Ross from Mount Zion Baptist Church will give a devotional. The choir from Mount Zion also will perform.

"They have a couple of selections after his devotional, and then we close out the lighting of the tree," said Mary Jones, who is chairwoman of the tree lighting committee for Flowery Branch Better Hometown. "We have a lady in Flowery Branch who grew up here — Janice Bryans — she closes out with a solo. "She has a beautiful voice."

Then, Flowery Branch's police chief turns on the tree.

"It's a nice tree, and the city does a good job decorating it," Jones said. "It's a good way to kick off the holiday season. It's something everyone can come and enjoy."