It was almost time for the Christmas on Green Street parade Sunday, and Boy Scouts Troop 219 of Gillsville walked up Green Street, putting lighters into little white bags to light the tea lights inside.
Assistant scoutmaster Lee Simmons said lighting the luminaries helped the troop get its community service hours in. Between it and Troop 227 of Lula, they estimated they would light around 500-600 lights.
"They can get their service hours in, and we like doing things for the community," Simmons said. "And we like being cold - just kidding."
Temperatures had already dropped to 34 degrees before the antique car parade involving about 100 vehicles was about to start. One driver, John Pittman, said he owned nine antique cars, and the reason he chose his ‘55 Chevrolet was a good one:
"It had heat in it," he said.
The parade began at the civic center and headed south as spectators spilled out onto Green Street.
This is the second year that the street has been closed off for the event.
"It makes all the difference, and it's safer," said Martha Hodge, event organizer and Hall County Historical Society member.
Each year for the past 10 years or so the historical society has organized Christmas on Green Street, which is funded by donations and run by volunteers.
Along with the parade, the festivities included open houses with free goodies and hot chocolate, carriage rides, train rides, storytellers and lots of singing.
Despite a decline in donations this year, event organizer Dorene Pilcher maintained that this Christmas on Green Street was the greatest.
It's "still the biggest one we've ever had," she said, "because of all the support with the schools and churches singing."
Students from Gainesville Middle School, led by music director Craig Bailey, played on the porch of the Garner-Hulsey House. Jonathan Olsen, 12, said they were a special group of the band selected to play at the event.
"We didn't have many rehearsals, but we had time to practice it," he said.
Olsen listed his favorite songs to play on his instrument, the trombone. "I like ‘Rudolph...' and ‘Jingle Bells,'" he said. "They're pretty fun."
Standing on the sidewalk before the house, Daniel Nguyen, 14, of Gainesville waited to hear his sister perform in the band. At one point, Michelle, 12, rushed from the porch to her brother and mother, Hong Vuong, 40, to grab some gloves so she could play her flute without frozen fingers.
Nguyen said they planned to wander around more after the performance and take in some more of the sights and sounds and stuff to do.
"You've got everything right here on one street," he said. "Everyone feels like family here."
A trio of young men dressed smartly in gray jackets stood under an electric pole far from the Hulsey-Garner House, singing a gospel song a capella. Corey McNabb, Tanner Sloan, and Durham Harris, ages 16, 18, and 17, have been singing together for almost two years as the collective "True Harmony."
"We sing all the time at churches and stuff," Sloan, said, "and we thought this would be a chance to get out and sing."
They sang "Prayer of the Children," a gospel hymn, just before the start of the parade.
The parade began at 5 with dozens of brightly colored antique Chevys, Pontiacs, Fords and other cars. But Grier Burton, 3, of Gainesville was almost more impressed by the modern autos driven by the Gainesville Police Department. He said he liked the motorcycles, "the fire truck and the old police car."
After the parade the crowd headed down the street where they were free to wander in and out of Green Street's historic homes with singers and players continuing to perform on front porches.
A lively mariachi band played in the front of the Adams house, where the law offices of Corso, Kennedy and Cambell are located. Built around 1881, the house is one of the oldest on Green Street, and in the folk Victorian-style, it's also more unconventional than the Greek revival architecture well-represented in the historic neighborhood.
Owner Arturo Corso purchased and restored the vacant property - along with the house next to it - not long after he and his family moved to the area.
"Since then we have been warmly received by the community," he said.
It is this welcoming that inspires Corso to open his home during Christmas on Green Street. He said he is happy to be part of a community that values preservation.
This year there were nine historic houses open for touring during the event. This viewing of historic homes, Pilcher says, is the heart of Christmas on Green Street.
"People jump at the chance to (go inside and) look at house they've grown up seeing their whole life," she said. "These houses are gorgeous. They are special houses, and people will make an effort to come (and see them)."
As she stood waiting for the lighting of the Christmas tree, Gainesville Rotary Club member Marsha Hopkins, 56, said she appreciated the opportunity to see the house her great-great grandfather built, which is where the historical society is located now.
"That's just sort of special to me that I get to see that every year," she said.
The old Hall County Bank sign read 32 degrees when it was time to light the Christmas tree. This was the 29th year of the lighting of the holly tree at the end of the street, and Hopkins said that she remembered some lightings that were chilly, but this was probably the coldest.
"We've had a lot of cold ones," Hopkins said, "but this one gets the record."
There was still a crowd despite freezing temperatures, and the tree-lighting program began with the Gainesville High School chorus performing.
"The kids love to come out and the freezing cold and sing," director Julia Lackey said, laughing.
This year the tree featured 3,500 new lights. The tree is maintained by the Rotary Club.