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Hospital celebrates hope on new night
Annual tree-lighting festival raises money, spirits
After finishing her performance with Born to Dance, Sarah Taylor, 11, stopped to decorate a cookie Friday night at Northside Hospital-Forsyth’s Celebration of Lights. - photo by Crystal Ledford

Gloria Wyatt wasn’t able to make it to last year’s Celebration of Lights at Northside Hospital-Forsyth.

As the hospital’s director of volunteer services and community outreach, the annual event with its numerous family-friendly activities, is a big part of Wyatt’s job each December.

“But last year at this time, I was going through chemotherapy and radiation,” Wyatt said, who today is a one-year survivor of breast cancer.

“I’ve always supported our oncology services and knew they were absolutely wonderful, but now that I’ve been on the other side I appreciate them so much more.”

Wyatt was chosen to light the giant tree atop the Forsyth hospital at the conclusion of the Celebration of Lights on Friday night.

Now in its 25thyear, the event which is also held at Northside’s Atlanta and Alpharetta campuses, raises money for the hospitals’ oncology services. Since it began in 1989, Celebration of Lights has brought in more than $520,000.

Each light represents someone who has battled cancer or a caregiver. The lights could be purchased during the event, or anytime throughout the month of December by going to or by calling (770) 667-4483.

Organizers were a little worried that weather would hinder attendance. But despite some forecasts that called for rain, the night ended up just unseasonably warm and muggy.

“Who would have ever guessed we would need air conditioning for something in December,” joked hospital administrator Lynn Jackson. “But the rain is holding off for us, so thank goodness for that.”

Besides the weather, this year’s event had a change in date. It had typically been held on a Saturday night immediately following the Cumming Christmas Parade.

This year, however, the celebration was Friday night and the parade moved to Saturday morning. Jackson said it didn’t seem the switch had any impact on the crowd at the hospital.

“I think we have just as many people as we always do,” she said. “We usually have between 3,000 and 5,000 people.”

They all filled a giant tent which is set up in one of the parking areas on the hospital’s campus and took part in arts and crafts activities, photos with Santa Claus and watching living entertainment from local schools and dance studios. There were also free snacks like hot dogs, popcorn and cookies.

“I think it’s a dual benefit [to attend],” Jackson said. “You’re doing something good for the community in helping the hospital to remember our cancer survivors, but you’re also having a good family time.

“Many people have been saying that this is their event that they use to help them kick off their celebration of the season, so it’s fun to know that we’re beginning to play a part in their routines and traditions.”

Christine and Gilbert Diaz ventured to the celebration for the first time Friday night.

“We have been here [in Forsyth County] for over 15 years and we’ve never been here,” Christine Diaz said. “But tonight we hung up some more lights on our house and we said let’s go.

“We never knew what all was involved. My husband said we’ve got to volunteer to be a part of this next year.”

As for Wyatt, she was grateful to the Diaz family and all the others who came out.

“This event represents hope to all of us who are cancer survivors,” she said.