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Northside Hospital-Forsyth kicks off holiday season with annual Celebration of Lights
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Karli Brand pets a Scottish Highlands cattle at the petting zoo. - photo by Micah Green

Hospital holidays by the numbers

* 66 feet how tall the tree is

* 60,000 how many lights are on the tree

* $550,000 how much has been raised at the Celebration of Lights since its inception

Thousands of twinkling lights lit up the dark night sky, tinsel loosely wrapped around the 66-foot tall Christmas tree.

Smiles radiated warmth through the crisp evening air as children’s fingers wrapped around steaming cups of hot chocolate, the beverage’s foam dotting their cold noses.

Northside Hospital-Forsyth’s annual Celebration of Lights brought thousands to the hospital in Cumming Friday evening, kicking off the holiday season and bringing joy and aid to those fighting cancer.

The event — now in its 28th year —brings together families and individuals for a tree lighting ceremony and performances by local groups.

This year brought singers from Vickery Creek and Lakeside middle schools’ choruses to the hospital, with Coal Mountain Elementary School, Sole Impulse Dance Studio and Sawnee Ballet, as well as others, performing dances and other routines.

Santa, too, was in attendance.

“The event is a community event so that we can raise awareness for all of our cancer programs,” said Lynn Jackson, administrator of Northside Hospital-Forsyth. “It’s really in memory of anyone who has been involved with any type of cancer and their families. It’s to honor our survivors and at the end of the event, we celebrate by lighting our tree.”

This year’s tree, a foot taller than last year’s 65-foot tree, holds more than 60,000 lights, Jackson said, and it sat higher in the sky this year as it was atop three recently opened floors that were built in an expansion project to the hospital.

“We hope that it gives hope to anyone who’s been touched by cancer,” she added.

Jackson said one of the most enjoyable parts of the night is being able to kick off the holiday season as a community.

“It’s such a great community event and brings the community together,” she said. “It’s so fun to just be together and enjoy.”

Though that may be her favorite part of the event, her 5-year-old grandson, Bentley, said his is the cookie decorating.

“Making cookies is my favorite,” he said, though he added the event’s bouncy house was on his list.

The celebration, which is geared towards all ages, offered sand art, face painting, balloon artists, a petting zoo and a woman in stilts, as well as food and drinks.

Forsyth County resident Gwen Baker, who works at the hospital, said this was her 10th year attending.

She brought her daughter, son-in-law and the couple’s seven-month-old son — all newcomers to the event.

“I wanted to show them what Northside puts on,” Baker said. “This is one [of] the things that they do that’s really great and you just look around at all the kids are smiling and laughing, and there’s something for all age groups.”

Money raised at the celebration goes to the hospital’s cancer institute, which provides screening, low-cost services and out outreach to Forsyth and other surrounding communities.

Since its first celebration in 1989, Northside has raised more than $550,000, in part by selling tree lights that can be dedicated in honor or memory of family, friends and doctors.

“It is our hope at Northside that everyone will have a wonderful holiday season; happy and healthy,” Jackson said.

Lights can be purchased through Dec. 31 online at