In Gainesville, the holidays don’t start with turkey, but with chicken.
Esteemed the Poultry Capital of the World, Gainesville heralds the season with one of its quirkiest (albeit befitting) events: Jingle Mingle and the Lighting of the Chicken.
The handcrafted 25-foot, 1,500-pound metal fowl sits atop Main Street Market at the intersection of Main and Spring streets, where it was installed nearly 20 years ago.
Although the chicken has changed over time, having been dismantled and rebuilt in 2017 due to rust and age, it remains a beloved fixture in all seasons and the centerpiece one of Northeast Georgia's most far-out holiday traditions.
Jingle Mingle was started long ago by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce as a business after-hours networking event, and eventually blended with Main Street Gainesville’s Lighting of the Chicken, according to the program’s manager Nicole Parham.
The reimagined family-friendly event was officially handed off to the city in 2019, and has been ringing in the holiday season ever since.
“Jingle Mingle and the Lighting of the Chicken is how Gainesville kicks off our quirky holiday season,” Parham said. “There's just such a fun charm with the old buildings that tell the story of the origins of our city. (It’s) a really fun place to gather as a community and enjoy what our town has to offer.”
The cherished tradition returns to Gainesville’s historic downtown square from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, with crowds expected to flock by the thousands.
With open houses at the shops on the square, live music, carriage rides, Santa arriving on a Gainesville fire engine, the Coca-Cola bear, musical entertainment all leading up to the lighting of the chicken, downtown Gainesville will be brimming with holiday cheer.
Jingle Mingle also marks the start of the holiday shopping season, fulfilling Main Street Gainesville’s goal to support the small businesses “that make downtown such a wonderful place to be and such a hub for our community to enjoy,” according to Parham.
“We are just so excited for people to come downtown and see all the development that's been happening,” Parham said. “There's that fun appeal of how much downtown has grown in the past few years.”
Santa, otherwise known as Curtis “Bear” Sloan, has been part of Jingle Mingle for the past nine years and has borne witness to the growth of both the event itself and the children who attend it with their families.
His favorite part of Jingle Mingle is coming in on the fire truck with his elves and Mrs. Claus, and seeing the faces of the children light up.
“What I’m really happy about is Christmas is coming, and Nov. 19 is the start of one of the best seasons in Gainesville,” Sloan said.For more on this year’s Jingle Mingle and the Lighting of the Chicken, visit exploregainesville.org/event/jingle-mingle.