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More than 350,000 lights twinkle to welcome visitors to the Edisto Memorial Gardens during the holiday season.

Coupled with at least 3,000 feet of garland draping and gleaming snowflakes resting atop light poles in downtown Orangeburg, as well as the brightly lit Memorial Square and perfectly trimmed City Hall, workers and volunteers give of their time and talents to make sure Orangeburg is ready to welcome Christmas each year.

Orangeburg is grateful for the care the city of Orangeburg Parks and Recreation Department workers and volunteers with the Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association take to ensure the lights are working, the displays are perfectly placed, and regular duties are handled, as noted by their eagerness for the season to arrive and the carloads in which they attend the Children’s Garden Christmas.

OPRD and DORA have received special recognition as the recipients of November’s Orangeburg County Community of Character trait: gratitude.

Work begins nearly two months before the Children’s Garden Christmas and Kid’s Walk lights are ever lit, city of Orangeburg Parks and Recreation Department Director Buster Smith said. At least 20 OPRD and one Department of Public Works employees dedicate the majority of that time perfecting the 75 display scenes and 100 trees lining the Edisto Memorial Gardens. They are also responsible for wrapping garland on the downtown poles.

Additional DPU workers assist in creating downtown’s wonderland by putting up snowflakes on light poles.

“As far as the garden lights go, we probably start the second week in October actually erecting the display,” Smith said. “It usually takes from that time to up to 30 minutes before they (the lights) are turned on to complete it.

“There’s always something at the end, but they (OPRD employees) handle it pretty well.”

Smith said his workers must perform their normal duties as well, including litter control, mowing city lots, cleaning up restroom and picnic areas in the Gardens and maintaining the landscapes of city buildings.

“We find that it’s really a morale thing, a booster,” he said. “We try to find things for them to do out of the ordinary everyday responsibilities throughout the year. It does our workers just as much good as myself, and they understand the importance of it, especially to our young people.”

Smith said not only do Parks and Recreation and DPU employees get in the holiday spirit readying the city for Christmas – the city’s Service Department also helps by handling decorations in front of City Hall and on the square and assisting DPU with its holiday assignments.

“I appreciate the honor given to our employees, but we certainly couldn’t do the whole thing ourselves,” Smith said. “It’s a team effort,” he said, adding that the Children’s Garden Christmas wouldn’t be a success without the support of Mayor Paul Miller, Orangeburg City Council, the Department of Public Safety and so many others.

OPRD workers provide daily maintenance on the displays, replacing light bulbs and checking plugs and sockets, Smith said, and each evening, a supervisor from either the Gardens or Parks and Cemetery division of OPRD are in attendance at the Children’s Garden Christmas in case of an emergency.

“If something goes out, they’re troubleshooting,” he said. “It’s a daily maintenance thing on the displays.”

Children’s Garden Christmas began in 1993, according to T&D archives, and featured 50 lighted trees, silhouette figures of animals, ice skaters, carolers, snowmen and Santa and his reindeer.

This year, the event saw the addition of two new displays – a frog jumping and Santa and Mrs. Claus riding bikes.

“This has become something that’s not only looked forward to by Orangeburg and Orangeburg County,” Smith said. “We have quite a bit of participation from surrounding counties, too,” as well as visitors passing through the area and staying in local hotels, he said.

The free seasonal event, which has been recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society as one of the top 20 events in the region, attracts approximately 300,000 people a year to both the vehicular trail and the Kid’s Walk. Several years ago, a live Santa was introduced and is available for children to visit between 6 and 9 p.m. every Friday and Saturday night until Christmas.

“Since we’ve started the Children’s Garden Christmas, I have just noticed so many more people are decorating their yards for Christmas,” Smith said. “I think that’s in part due to the Children’s Garden Christmas. If you ride around, there are just beautiful, beautiful displays.

“I think it has just sort of spilled over.”

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DORA volunteers also stay busy this time of year, preparing the city for its annual Christmas program at Stevenson Auditorium and the lighting of the Christmas tree and Memorial Plaza lights.

“From the board, to all the activities, to the Taste – we couldn’t do any of it without a good core of volunteers,” said Bernice Tribble, DORA’s executive director.

Gloria Garrison, 2006 president of DORA, said she is extremely grateful to the more than 50 committee and board members of DORA and its sponsors, as well as all the department staff for the city of Orangeburg who give so much time to bring Orangeburg to life at Christmas and other special times of the year.

“By doing this, it’s made a difference in our city and the way we feel about ourselves,” she said. “It’s really fun when you see everyone coming together.”

Special DORA projects throughout 2006 included a Street Dance, the Taste of Orangeburg, a Halloween judging contest, “Scarecrows on the Square,” “Winter Serenade” and an Edwin McCain fund-raising concert.

A second fund-raiser, featuring Eddie Miles in concert, will be held in February.

“We’re very grateful to the city of Orangeburg and surrounding areas for supporting our events and helping make Orangeburg a great place to live,” Garrison said, adding that it’s a honor for DORA to be recognized by the Community of Character.

“Everybody’s been very generous. We’ve been very fortunate. We have a very good board and very good committee members to work with.”

T&D Staff Writer Wendy Jeffcoat can be reached by e-mail at wjeffcoat@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-534-1060. Discuss this and other stories online at TheTandD.com.

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