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Christmas super fans: Love of holiday spills from Nutcracker to watching Christmas movies all year
A ballet slippers ornament hangs on the Christmas tree at Danielle Aikens' Northeast Georgia School of Music and Dance in downtown Gainesville. Aikens is such a fan of the holiday she watches Christmas movies all year long.

Christmas super fans: Follow our holiday series profiling local residents who go all out to deck the halls.

As a young girl, Danielle Aikens-Holland fell in love with the sights and sounds of one of her favorite shows, “The Nutcracker.”

And 20 years ago, she met the man she would later marry while working in the production as a ballet dancer.

Aikens-Holland recalled meeting her now-husband Justin Holland, who was performing the roles of party parent and Mother Ginger. However, she was dating someone else at the time.

“He ended up working with the company that did our shows afterwards, because he had always been involved in theater, so he was always working backstage,” she said. “I saw him every year after that.”

In the present, Aikens-Holland now puts her love of the show and the Christmas season to good use as the founder of the Northeast Georgia School of Music and Dance. Holland works as the school director.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was in high school to bring a full-length ‘Nutcracker’ to Gainesville,” Aikens-Holland said.

The show is now in its third year, a production getting larger and more creative each year. The latest rendition, performed Thursday at Riverside Military Academy, incorporated ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop dancing with new sequences.

“This show has been quite the undertaking this year,” Aikens-Holland said.

So much so, she said, that it has delayed her usual decoration at the house, but the tree in the studio’s foyer keeps the couple in the holiday spirit. The Nativity scene, however, has stayed up year-round.

To stage a performance each year requires Aikens-Holland and the studio to begin auditions right after school starts in the fall, which lengthens the founder’s holiday time.

“I think it definitely makes it start a little bit earlier and we get to enjoy it a little bit longer,” Aikens-Holland said.

This is no problem for Aikens-Holland.

In the blistering summer heat, Aikens-Holland is blasting Christmas music from her Pandora stations and filling her Netflix queue with every self-described cheesy Christmas movie available.

She gets excited when the store is stuffed with Christmas supplies in October, despite what others may think.

“I am probably one of those people that are the reason we skip over even Halloween now,” Aikens-Holland said.

Aikens-Holland credits her love of the season back to her childhood, where she said she has many fond memories of decorating Christmas trees and seeing “The Nutcracker.”

“I just remember watching it even when I was little and thinking how magical it was and loved it,” she said. “It was a tradition that my mom and I had.”

Even when the curtain closes Thursday, there’s still more work to be done, Aikens-Holland said. Students will still have classes in preparation for spring competitions, but the day after the show gives the couple a chance to get much-needed Christmas shopping done.

“We usually kind of do a kind of big, marathon shopping spree once ‘Nutcracker’ is over and we have some time,” she said.

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