Long Week­end

Ex­pe­ri­ence the sweet tra­di­tions and old-fash­ioned charm of Dahlonega, Ge­or­gia

Southern Living (USA) - - Contents - BY KAIT­LYN YARBOROUGH | PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY ROB­BIE CAPONETTO

Find Christ­mas charm in Dahlonega, Ge­or­gia.

WITH THE OLD-TIMEY AP­PEAL OF MAYBERRY, the quirky char­ac­ters of Stars Hol­low, and a laid-back at­ti­tude that’s all its own, Dahlonega strikes small-town gold. Tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, this easy­go­ing com­mu­nity of­fers sweep­ing views and plenty to do, with hik­ing trails for the ad­ven­tur­ous, an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of North Ge­or­gia winer­ies for week­end tours and tast­ings, and a his­toric town square with worn brick fa­cades cen­tered around a court­house, which dates back to the state’s early 19th-cen­tury gold rush. And while this whis­tle-stop feels se­cluded, you can eas­ily make it here from At­lanta in about an hour and a half.

Hall­mark Wor­thy

Catch­ing this place dur­ing Christ­mas­time is like peer­ing into a snow globe that came to life when no one was look­ing. From the out­side, Dahlonega is a whim­si­cal hol­i­day world draped in twin­kling lights, with ram­bling horse-drawn car­riages and vi­sions of

Santa Claus around ev­ery cor­ner. But the town isn’t frozen in per­fec­tion. This snow globe has been shaken up, leav­ing the scene bril­liantly askew, de­light­fully mussed, and end­lessly sur­pris­ing.

The day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing, Dahlonega’s Old Fash­ioned Christ­mas kicks off a month­long cel­e­bra­tion of the sea­son the only way it knows how: loud and proud. With a tree light­ing, a home­town pa­rade, and a fes­tive mar­ket on Candy Cane Lane, this com­mu­nity isn’t shy about its hol­i­day spirit. South­ern­ers aren’t the only ones who have no­ticed ei­ther. The Hall­mark Chan­nel filmed one of its sig­na­ture sea­sonal hits, Christ­mas in Homestead, in Dahlonega a cou­ple of years ago. “It just feels good,” ex­plains Tony Owens, sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion owner of The Fudge Fac­tory on the square. “Peo­ple are car­ol­ing. We’re open­ing our doors and invit­ing ev­ery­one in. There’s some­thing about smelling hot cider and toasted nuts. Our square just

harks back to a dif­fer­ent time. We have a busy Christ­mas sea­son, but it doesn’t feel like go­ing to the mall. You’re com­ing to home­town Amer­ica, to Main Street.”

Lo­cals Love It

Pass­ing by Woody’s Bar­ber Shop early on a Fri­day morn­ing, you’ll see ev­ery chair filled with older gen­tle­men get­ting their reg­u­lar trims. Later that day, the shop’s clien­tele starts to skew younger as cadets from The Mil­i­tary Col­lege of Ge­or­gia squeeze in for reg­u­la­tion cuts.

Across the square, the tiny Pic­nic Cafe & Dessert­ery lures in lo­cals and strangers alike, all look­ing to trade in the morn­ing chill for cups of hot cof­fee and freshly baked cin­na­mon rolls. Af­ter cross­ing the thresh­old (flanked by nutcrack­ers) and then brush­ing past black-and-white check­ered table­cloths (all topped with mini snow globes and Santa mugs filled with sweet­ener pack­ets), groggy guests can or­der their fare at the reg­is­ter. It’s easy to no­tice the reg­u­lars, now and again laugh­ing to­gether as the wait­ress whisks from ta­ble to ta­ble re­fill­ing cof­fee cups, drop­ping off pip­ing hot bis­cuits, and mak­ing con­ver­sa­tion with cus­tomers, many of whom she knows by name. A home­made cake, flaked with co­conut, sits un­der a glass dome on the counter. It’s a snow-white dream, beck­on­ing din­ers to come back for a slice.

Dahlonega is the type of place where res­i­dents can’t round a cor­ner with­out spot­ting an old friend. The shop own­ers play ten­nis to­gether on Satur­day morn­ings, con­firm­ing their match times as they cross paths on Fri­day af­ter­noons. You’ll find your­self get­ting more than a lit­tle nos­tal­gic—if not from the re­laxed pace (mo­sey­ing is pre­ferred to rush­ing in this cozy lit­tle burg) then from the gen­uine warmth of every­body here.

“Peo­ple used to look at me funny when I walked around in my pa­ja­mas, but now they don’t even bat an eye,” says Kathy Aerts (re­ferred to as “Kran­berry Kathy”) with a cheeky grin. She owns Cran­berry Cor­ners gift shop. On ev­ery first Fri­day of De­cem­ber, Kathy and her staff wear their Christ­mas pj’s to work. She’s ap­pro­pri­ately clad in a blackand-red plaid set as she greets ev­ery shop­per with an an­i­mated, “And where are your Christ­mas pa­ja­mas?”

Fur­ther along the store­fronts, find the bushy-bearded pro­pri­etor of Brad Walker Pot­tery, who’s known around the square by his col­or­ful moniker: the Hairy Pot­ter. If you reach out to shake his hand dur­ing the first week­end of De­cem­ber, you might find your­self clasp­ing chalky white fingers cov­ered in clay dust. “Sorry about that,” Walker says, wip­ing his palm on his flan­nel shirt be­fore ex­tend­ing it again. Af­ter a Thanks­giv­ing-week­end blowout, he’s re­plen­ish­ing his stock for Christ­mas crowds. “That week­end about did me in,” he says with a chuckle.

On the first Satur­day in De­cem­ber, out-of-town­ers start rolling in to at­tend Dahlonega’s hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties and to search for spe­cialty gifts they would never find at stores at the mall back home—things like home­made can­dles, Ge­or­gia wines, and an­tique trin­kets.

A Fes­tive Pa­rade

About an hour be­fore the an­nual Christ­mas pa­rade, the spec­ta­tors start lin­ing up shoul­der to shoul­der along the perime­ter of the square. One af­ter an­other, the floats and marchers that fol­low re­veal what makes this town so charm­ing. Spir­ited ladies from the lo­cal Jazzer­cise class pass by dis­guised as elves and per­form­ing a chore­ographed rou­tine. Vin­tage cars roll along. Candy tossed from floats rains down over the crowd.

Santa, dressed in moun­tain fin­ery, closes the show on his sleigh. Ear­lier in the day, any­one down­town might have caught him tak­ing a leisurely stroll around the square with Mrs. Claus be­fore stop­ping for pic­tures in front of the toy store. If you can imag­ine Santa set­ting up shop in the Ge­or­gia moun­tains, then the fur-lined cloak and rugged deer-antler walk­ing

stick sported by Dahlonega’s man in red will make a whole lot of sense.

Light­ing the Tree

Just af­ter sun­down, a mas­sive fir tree in the square lights up. It hap­pens not at the end of a countdown or strik­ing of a clock but in­stead on the high note of “O Holy Night.” (Well, ideally. In re­al­ity, the lights flicker to life about a breath or two af­ter. But some­how, this lit­tle pause makes it even bet­ter.)

Af­ter­ward, the live band en­ter­tain­ing the crowd moves to Shenani­gans, an Ir­ish restau­rant and pub right off the square, while some rev­el­ers squeeze into a nearby tav­ern to catch the fi­nal plays of the SEC Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship. There’s some­thing in­her­ently South­ern about singing carols at the tree light­ing one minute and hol­ler­ing at the tele­vi­sion screen the next.

Car­riages roam around down­town, filled with late-night, sweater-swathed pas­sen­gers cran­ing to catch ev­ery inch of the scenery. Right down the street, the Shenani­gans crew cel­e­brates well into the night. With white Christ­mas lights hang­ing from ev­ery wall within, the band kick­ing a tune around the pub’s back­side, and lin­ger­ing par­ty­ers mak­ing merry—it’s a warm, invit­ing scene for any passersby peer­ing in the win­dows from the side­walk.

So if hol­i­day stress sti­fles your joy, Dahlonega has the an­ti­dote: mo­ments of pure de­light that will take you back to the days of your child­hood. You’re cer­tain to find the Christ­mas spirit, whether you’re rid­ing in a horse­drawn car­riage be­neath twin­kling lights or sip­ping marsh­mal­low-topped hot co­coa and barely con­tain­ing your ex­cite­ment as you wait for the tree to light up. And yes, it might take just a few ex­tra sec­onds.

Hol­i­day Nostal­gia Carol­ers in the town square won’t mind if you’d like to start singing along.

Com­mu­nity Spirit The ded­i­cated res­i­dents of Lump­kin County pre­servedthe 1948 Holly The­atre. Down­town MagicAf­ter the of­fi­cial fes­tiv­i­ties are over, there’s still plentyhap­pen­ing here.

Sweets for Santa Pick up some cook­ies forSt. Nick at Dahlonega’s Pic­nic Cafe & Dessert­ery.

Lo­cal FareWine and dine at Mon­taluce Win­ery & Restau­rant. Clas­sic CharmThe re­stored 1888 House gets dressed up for the sea­son.

A Jolly Cou­ple Catch Mr. and Mrs. Claus as they stroll around Dahlonega’s town square.

Stock­ing Stuffers Snag hol­i­day gifts for ev­ery­one on your list at theDahlonega Gen­eral Store.

Whiskey Tast­ing Ven­ture about 15 min­utes out­side town for a tour of Z. Brown Dis­tillery.

Sou­venir Hunt­ing Find knick­knacks at the Dahlonega Gen­eral Store.

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