For Downtown Athens merchants, the Christmas season brings more than cash registers ringing like jingle bells.

The holidays also herald two fierce competitions that mean bragging rights for the year, the Cider Cup and Best Window Display. This year’s winner of the Spirit of Athens Cider Cup is Wildwood Deli, which also claimed victory in 2014.

“We will have it on prominent display,” said Wildwood owner Rhonda Fisher, who received the Cider Cup on Monday, Dec. 19.

More than 350 shoppers cast ballots for their favorite cider during the annual Sippin’ Cider, a holiday retail event hosted by Spirit of Athens where merchants allow shoppers to sample cider and vote for their favorite. SOA Executive Director Melanie Newton said the voting was close with Snapdragon Kids, Pimentos and The Right Dress Boutique finishing second, third and fourth.

Newton said the ballots ask for an address since there is a drawing for a door prize, and according to the ballots submitted, Sippin’ Cider drew shoppers not only locally but from the surrounding areas.

“We drew visitors from Madison, Decatur and Tennessee to our downtown,” Newton said.

Another event that drew visitors from surrounding areas was Christmas Open House held in late November. That event was hosted by the Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce and Spirit of Athens. This year’s theme was Winter Wonderland, and downtown merchants decorated their storefront windows in various winter themes from swans to ice skating.

The first place winner was Garnet’s, which claimed the title for the third year in a row. Second place was Snapdragon Kids and third place was Trinity’s.

“The storefront windows are a joy to see each year,” said SOA Promotions Committee member Holly Hollman. “When the merchants start decorating for the holidays, and the Courthouse grounds are decorated, it feels like Christmas in Athens.”

Downtown Athens is hosting a holiday trio that hits the right notes for the Christmas season: cider, Santa and seasonal sales.

The annual Spirit of Athens Sippin’ Cider event is Saturday, Dec. 10, from 5-8 p.m. at participating merchants. Spirit of Athens is a Main Street organization that works to enhance Downtown Athens, and this event encourages shoppers to support downtown merchants and enjoy family-friendly activities.

“Sippin’ Cider offers families a fun way to shop,” said Spirit of Athens Promotions Committee member Holly Hollman. “There will be seasonal sales to help you finish your Christmas shopping as well as free crafts and activities for the children and music for all ages to enjoy.”

The participating merchants will compete for the coveted Cider Cup and offer free samples of nice and in some cases naughty cider. The public votes for its favorite cider, and those who visit the required number of merchants can submit their judging sheets for a door prize drawing.

High Cotton Arts will start the festivities early with a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, who will be in an art studio decorated especially for photo sessions with Santa. Parents can bring a camera and make photos while children make sure their Christmas wishes are known. Santa later will walk around Downtown Athens visiting merchants and shoppers.

“I love visiting Athens and meeting with all the boys and girls who are out enjoying the festive events your city offers for the holidays,” said Santa, who has ordered a new suit to ensure he looks spiffy for his Athens appearances. “It also gives me an opportunity to remind them to continue to be good.”

The Lions Club Kiddie Carnival Train will offer free rides for children, and there will be a fire pit on The Square on the Courthouse side of Washington and Marion street for marshmallow roasting and S’mores. There will be music provided by Athens High School Choir and Tom Newton.

Here is a list of participating merchants, craft stations and musical entertainment locations:

Athens Arts League at High Cotton Arts

   Register for in-store ceramic Christmas item giveaway

   Make a snowman ornament

   Visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus from 3-5 p.m.

   Our Little Kitchen Food Truck

CEI Books

  Free gift wrap on $20 or more in purchases

  15% off children's materials

  Register to win a hymnal $15 value and book $45 value

  Athens High School Choir will perform from 6:30 to 7 p.m.


Crawford’s Gifts

  Buy one get one 1/2 off Christmas soy candles

  Ornaments 20% off

  Register for in store giveaway - $50 in Christmas decorations

Epiphany Boutiques

  20% off store wide

  Register for in store giveaway - $25 gift card

Gray and Holt, Inc.

  Register for in store giveaway - $50 gift certificate

Hendricks-Patton-Rancl, Inc.

  Free plastic sled with purchase of Flexible Flyer Sled

  Register in store to win a Snow Saucer Sled

  Football on TV for the big kids

House of Holland

  25% off all clothing

  50% off all home goods

  Register for in store giveaway - $50 gift certificate

  Live music by Tom Newton


  Register to win one free lunch with beverage - $15 value


  20% off storewide from 5-8

  Register for in store giveaway - $60 value


Snapdragon Kids

  20% off all clothes and shoes

  30% off Christmas

  Register to win in store giveaway - Christmas toy basket ($50 Value)

  Face painting for kids

Square Clock Coffee

  Register to win in store giveaway - $10 gift card

  Make a reindeer ornament

The Right Dress Boutique

  20% off storewide (excludes sale items)

  50% off Lovelee Soaps

  Game day dresses $20 and under

  Register to win in store giveaway - String Theory Bracelet - $45 Value

  Cookie decorating


  Register to win in store giveaway - $50 gift certificate

U.G. White Mercantile

  Register to win in store giveaway - ENO Hammock

Village Pizza

  Register to win in restaurant giveaway - $20 gift card

Wildwood Deli

  Register to win free lunch giveaway - $10 value

  Enjoy a fresh baked sweet with your cider