The town of Shadydale, Georgia, has a population of about 400 residents who see each other as one big extended family. So it comes as no surprise to learn that they have their own unique way of celebrating Thanksgiving and the holiday season. What comes as a bigger surprise is the way the town folk quietly enjoy the events, intentionally keeping outsiders from intruding into their “family” tradition.
Ask anyone in town what their plans are for the Saturday after Thanksgiving and they will tell you that they’re busy, but not much else. Unlike most of us, they will not be spending the evening snatching up sale items; they will be spending time with family and friends and attending the annual community pot-luck dinner and Christmas festival.
Each year the tradition plays out the same way. The festivities begin around dusk when the community gathers at the Mason’s Lodge for dinner. Dozens of fresh and delicious dishes line the buffet tables and remind diners that there is food beyond cold leftover turkey. Some of the contributions are always the same and expected by all. Other dishes are new and exciting experiments, or family favorites making their public debut. One thing is certain, it’s some of the tastiest food you will ever eat.
Waiting in line to create a plate gives everyone a chance to catch up with neighbors they haven’t seen in a while; long commutes and never-ending farm chores can be brutally disruptive to a social network. There are more opportunities to catch up and let the kids run amok while you eat. And yes, you can let the kids move about freely in this tight-knit community gathering without fear of them being snatched or hurt by strangers. In a town this size if you don’t know someone, you can bet the lady sitting next to you does and will gladly tell you if there is anything to worry about, including stinky feet.
After dinner, weather permitting, the party moves outside and across the two-lane highway to the Santa Shack. The shack looks more than a bit like an old outhouse and sits in the center of the town green. It is located there year round, causing many strange looks from visitors and passers by, but this time of year it is decked out in all the finest holiday trim. Families gather around the shack and sing carols, listen to Christmas and Bible stories, and continue their visits with friends and family impatiently waiting until…
Suddenly the night sky is filled with flashing lights and the wail of sirens as Santa himself rides into town on a fire truck. The truck rides right up to the shack and deposits Santa on his throne. Once there, he gets straight to work collecting Christmas wishes from every kid in town. Mom and Dad can listen in from the window and when the list has been given, the visit with Santa ends with a picture and candy cane – what else? It’s no wonder this is kept a closely guarded secret, this is one small town Thanksgiving tradition that just wouldn’t be the same with interlopers.