Children squirmed in line, hoping to tell Santa Claus all their Christmas wishes, while their parents sipped hot cider and listened to the sounds of festive music filling the air.
It may be the week before Thanksgiving, but the Christmas spirit was tangible on the Gainesville square Thursday night for Jingle Mingle.
The event is hosted each year by Main Street Gainesville and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. Local downtown businesses stayed open late and offered sales and free refreshments.
“We do this as a kind of kickoff to the holiday season,” said Regina Mansfield, manager of Main Street Gainesville. “It just grows every year. It’s a great night for people to get a start on their holiday shopping, and of course they can get their visits in with Santa.”
In the center of the square, families lined up to have their children take pictures in a giant white sleigh next to Saint Nick himself. Children could also write letters to Santa and drop them in the mail.
Train rides and horse-drawn sleigh rides were also offered, and many of the holiday activities were free.
The Believers Band from Gainesville First United Methodist Church garnered quite a crowd as it performed in the Main Street Market, and the radio station played music through the square.
“This year, I think we’ve got six live performances,” Mansfield said. “There’s something going on in different locations on the square.”
Lane Hartness made it a family affair and brought her mother, her in-laws and her 2-year-old daughter Haley Grace to see Santa Claus. Hartness said her family has attended Jingle Mingle each year since Haley Grace was born.
“It’s so nice to get the kids out, to have the community come together for this,” Lane Hartness said.
“Haley Grace gets excited and she really has a good time,” added Lane’s father-in-law, Eddie Hartness.
The highlight of the night, however, is a quintessential Gainesville event: the lighting of the Holiday Chicken. This year it included a laser light show, and families laid out blankets on the square to watch the show.
“It’s just fun,” Mansfield said. “You can see all kinds of people here, all different ages, and more and more keep coming. It’s just a lot of fun and a good event for the family.”