The History: Looking back at Newnan Holiday Traditions

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By Emily Kimbell, Special to The Paper

For many, the Christmas season does not officially begin until Santa Claus arrives in downtown Newnan atop a fire truck, waving to the gathered community members and then lighting the Christmas tree in historic Newnan’s Courthouse Square.

Main Street Newnan says: “This annual tradition in downtown Newnan reminds us all of the importance of the holiday season: fostering hope, charity, forgiveness and kindness.” Watching the faces of the children (and adults) as Santa arrives to town, it is hard not to believe in a little of that Christmas magic.

Santa visits Newnan again at the annual city of Newnan Christmas Parade on Dec. 14. Each year, local businesses, churches, schools, and organizations displays floats and performances inspired by parade’s yearly theme.

The community’s traditions remain alive year after year, and with each community member that looks forward to the events or brings their entire family to the square, the tradition grows and quite literally becomes history in the making.

It is charming to realize that these holiday traditions have been part of our community for over a century. In fact, Newnan held its first Holiday Carnival in December 1900. An article published in the December 14, 1900 edition of the Newnan local paper “The Herald and Advertiser” reveals that a “Free Street Fair and Carnival” was held over the course of four days, from Tuesday, December 18 through Friday, December 21.

The carnival featured a variety of attractions including a high-dive act, vaudeville show, snake-handler acts, carnivalesque sideshows, a light show, and merry-go-round. While some of these elements have not carried through to modern times or are no longer appropriate, many elements of the holiday celebration of yore are still seen in our modern traditions.

The newspaper article reported that “All the stores and the entire fair district will be beautifully decorated” and live music will be provided every day of the fair (the “Famous Fifth Regiment Band” was the featured artist of the carnival).

The most anticipated aspect of the week, however, was the parade. The “Brilliant Floral Parade” was led by the Queen of the Carnival (Ms. Olive Dent) and “participated in by all Newnan society people, in handsomely-decorated carriages.” The parade participants congregated on Jackson street and marched toward the square and down Greenville Street, and of course, the best decorated float won a monetary prize.

The winter carnival of 1900 gave citizens a chance to celebrate as a community. As a report mentions, this was the time of year that farmers were ending the agricultural season, businessmen were winding down the financial year, and merchants were willing to close up shop for a few days and participate. Much like in 2019, the holiday events gave the local community a chance to exhibit hope, charity, and togetherness— a holiday tradition that we can all be glad has continued.

Pictured above … headlines and photos from “The Herald and Advertiser”of the Queen of the 1900 Winter Carnival and her Maids. And people in a photo from about 1910 are ready for a parade. The third person from the left on the wagon float is Clifford Glover, Sr. (Photo Courtesy of Coweta County Remembered  Collection at Newnan-Coweta Historical Society)

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Newnan-native, Emily Kimbell is the director of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society and McRitchie-Hollis Museum. Emily is currently finishing her doctoral studies at Georgia State University, where she also teaches English Composition courses and is an active member of her community often seen on stage in local theatre productions and writing for local media outlets.

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