Christmas arrived with a countdown and a bang at Saturday's annual The Augusta Chronicle Christmas Light-up Spectacular.
This year's 40-foot cypress tree on the Augusta Common was lit with thundering fireworks as a backdrop, much to the cheering crowd's delight.
The lighting capped an afternoon of events, beginning with the Miss Augusta Fantasy Parade. Hundreds of people lined the sidewalks, stood on planters and waved to the passing floats that inched down Broad Street.
"I come here to get my Christmas spirit," said Laverne Clark, who tries to make it to the parade every year.
Children with jackets zipped tight against the steady breeze chattered excitedly as the rumble of marching band percussion grew louder. Beauty queens with crowns yelled "Merry Christmas," and JROTC students twirled rifles with crisp precision.
After more than hour, the parade tapered off and the crowd converged on the Common, where merchants hawked items ranging from knitted caps to boiled peanuts.
Santa Claus sat in a wooden rocking chair, listening closely to each child's request. Parents snapped pictures of the braver kids and gently tried to pull the timid ones closer to Father Christmas. A bucket of candy canes usually did the trick.
"He can bring me anything he wants," said Savannah Franklin, 7, who already got a cocker spaniel named Rosebud for her birthday in November.
Around 6 p.m. all the best seats around the tree were taken, and anticipation was building.
Children chased each other through the shadows and young couples strolled with arms linked . Choirs singing Christmas music competed with the constant jangle of Salvation Army bell ringers.
Spontaneously the crowd counted down - "5...4...3...2...1" - then a flash of color illuminated downtown as the Christmas lights came on and fireworks exploded in the sky .
"With budgets being cut it's really great they're still doing this," said Marc Payne, who brought his daughter and her friend to the parade and lighting. "It's great for downtown."