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Children celebrate holly jolly Christmas at 100-year-old estate

LaGRANGE – By the time doors opened up for the 10th annual Children’s Christmas Celebration on Saturday morning – half an hour earlier than originally scheduled – eager children and parents were already lining the walkways leading up to Hills & Dales Estate, excited to see what the 100-year-old landmark had in store.

The children’s celebration featuring gingerbread houses, ornaments, Mama Jama, Santa and reindeer was an overwhelming success this year thanks to the hard work of the estate’s staff who aimed to make sure that both children and parents had a great time at the event that has swiftly become a community holiday tradition.

“I think this is the best representation of our community that we’ve had anytime,” said Joanna Baxter, who organized the event. “… We’ve had everyone from the community come, and that’s what we want. We wanted it to be a real community event, and I think it was successful for that.”

The event has grown over the years, from several dozen children decorating cookies a decade ago to the full event that it is now. The staff added on special touches to all of the crafts in celebration of the home’s 100th anniversary, but the event’s momentum has been building steadily ever since that first year.

“We started out, the first year we went to Debbie (Barronton of Cakes by Debbie) downtown to make 75 cookies… and I made different colored icing, and I had it down here, and we decorated maybe 60 cookies,” said Executive Director Carleton Wood. “That was the first year 10 years ago, and now it’s crazy (busy). We added in Mama Jama. We added in music for sing-alongs … And this year we had reindeer, so it has kind of grown.”

The reindeer were brought in to make the estate’s 100th Christmas extra special, and they were from the same herd as the ones originally scheduled for Christmas on the Hill before the event was rained out. The two reindeer at the event are part of a group of nine reindeer who reside on a farm in Cartersville.

“We have Georgia’s largest herd of reindeer,” said Scott Allan of Pettit Creek Farms in Cartersville. “… We have a sleigh that we hook them to or pens like this.”

The reindeer as well as camels and other animals roam the 80-acre farm that is currently covered with two miles worth of Christmas lights when they aren’t touring the state. Comet and Cupid – the reindeer that accompanied Allan for the event – travel all over the state for Christmas and Frozen-themed events and recently guest starred in ‘Office Christmas Party’ alongside Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman. Despite their brush with fame, meeting kids is still the best part of touring with the reindeer, especially during the season when everyone is on the lookout for flying reindeer.

“The smiles and watching the babies’ eyes light up (is the best part),” laughed Allan. “They argue with me that they aren’t real reindeer, that there is no such thing as reindeer. …  (To fly) they’ve got to get 12.6 feet of runway to get vertical lift. That’s why the pens are in 11 feet on the inside.”

Hills & Dales Estate is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday now through Dec. 23. The estate will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for the holiday. After Christmas, the estate plans to return to normal hours, though it will be closed on New Year’s Day.

Reach Alicia B. Hill at alicia.hill@lagrangenews.com or at 706-884-7311, Ext. 2154.