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Host the Perfect Holiday Party

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Make Your Holiday Party Unforgettable with Warm Wishes and Celebrations. 'Tis the Season to Cherish Moments with Loved Ones.

Besides being one of the greatest painters in the history of art, conceiver of futuristic inventions and scientific discoveries, did you know Leonardo Da Vinci was also a party-planning genius? He was commissioned to execute elaborate celebrations in courts across Europe.

Most of us fret over the holiday gatherings that are bound to fill our calendars but hosting one of our own comes with added levels of stress and anxiety. Assuming you’re willing to brave pushing complicated family dynamics aside long enough to celebrate the holidays together, hosting a gathering is still an overwhelmingly daunting task.

Allow me to provide you with some words of encouragement and hugely helpful pointers that will embolden you to throw a holiday shindig equal in gusto and moxie to one of Da Vinci’s legendary events – maybe minus the robots he created to amuse his wealthy patrons. 

Plan to entertain and enchant your family and friends with a feast for the senses. We may not be creating mechanical lions that offer lilies to kings like Da Vinci did, but your guests will admire and appreciate the thoughtful touches you put into hosting the perfect holiday party.

No need to feel panic-stricken. Read on!

Mom is right — clean the house!

Delight your guests with the sights and fragrances of a tidy, clean house but don’t try to take on the whole home at once. That would make anyone feel overwhelmed.

Leading up to the holidays, tackle one room at a time and perform a deep clean. Freshen walls with water and white cleaning vinegar. Try a product like White House All-Natural Cleaning Vinegar in lavender scent. Mix one part vinegar with one part water, sponge your walls with the solution from top to bottom. This mixture is a great multipurpose cleaner for a variety of household uses, including sparkling windows.

Wash your curtains or have them dry-cleaned. Have your rugs professionally washed. Alpha Omega Carpet Cleaning is a great local choice; call them at 678-772-6661.

Dust the furniture, the blinds and all the nooks and crannies, decluttering as you go so your holiday decorations can take center stage.

Deck the halls

Once the home is clean and tidy, you’ll be ready to spring your holiday decorations from storage. Consider your favorite holiday trimmings as built-in party décor.

Enlist some help carrying the boxes and containers to a central location in your home. Then, blast your favorite carols as you carefully unbox and set them out.

Some people begin this task right after Halloween, some reserve it for Thanksgiving Day and others don’t feel right about starting before December. I would encourage you to do this earlier rather than later, especially if you plan to host a holiday party.

However, make your move whenever you hear your inner Mariah Carey voice calling to you in her whistle register, “It’s tiiime!”

Outside, make sure the landscaping is neat. Install some winter flowerbeds or fill your flowerpots with holiday greenery and ornaments to greet your guests and neighbors with holiday cheer the minute they see your home.

Put up holiday lights and any outdoor decorations you love. Nothing conveys Christmas magic like twinkling lights. Make sure yours are in working order before your event.

Warm white lights (yellow or golden) evoke a cozy, traditional Christmas look that complements red and gold decorations. Cool white bulbs, with their blueish tinge, lend themselves to a more modern, frosty esthetic and silver decorations.

Seasonal smells

Transport your guests to memories of happy holiday celebrations gone by and brighten their mood with Auburn Candle Company’s Fall/Winter collection at the Forum. Fill the house with the woodsy scent of fresh cut pine trees, whether you have a fake tree or a real one you’d like to enhance. Try their Balsam Fir, Pine Needle or Woodland Spruce soy candles.

Then walk across the bridge to Buff City Soap at Town Center where you’ll find plenty of ways to treat guests to more seasonal aromas. Bonus: The fresh air and exercise will be invigorating and ease some stress.

Stock guest bathrooms with their Holly-Day scent in foaming hand soap, bar soap, body butter and body oil. Wash the holiday linens with the same scented laundry soap or use wax melts to infuse your whole space with a holiday party vibe. Holly-Day will envelop guests with a warm welcome — it’s the scent of homemade cookies with notes of honey, lemon and vanilla.

Maybe you’d prefer the Peppermint Bark scent of candy canes, white chocolate and hot cocoa, available in all the products listed above.

Live stimuli for the eyes and nose

Awaken the holiday spirit within your visitors when they lay eyes on your décor. Sonya Harrison of My Secret Garden suggests we take a moment to think of the “story” we want to tell our guests and then carry it throughout our home for a cohesive look.

A fan of the outdoorsy smell of crisp greenery, Harrison recommends we use as much of it as possible to fill our homes with that “Christmas smell.”

It starts at the front door where she proposes hanging a classic wreath dripping with ornaments and berries to match our holiday colors and theme. Don’t forget an oversized bow.

“I like to layer solid and patterned ribbons to make hand tied bows,” Harrison said. Use them to adorn the garland on handrails as well as to provide accents at the front door.

“Incorporate fresh magnolia, cedar and forced blubs like paperwhites and amaryllis,” Harrison added.

My Secret Garden sells an array of fragrant plants for a seasonal spruce-up of your home. They make custom arrangements and wreaths upon request. Find fresh cut Frasier firs, wreaths, garland and a collection of swoon-worthy holiday treasures like mouth-blown glass and hand painted ornaments.

In the bathroom, Harrison recommends fresh orchids in red or white containers with a small bow in your color scheme. Candles and greenery at the base add interest.

Guest bedrooms scream Christmas with the addition of a small wreath hung with ribbon on the dresser mirror and poinsettias in coordinating containers and bows on the nightstands.

“We do help decorate and set up Christmas decorations. That is planned in advance of the holiday season,” Harrison shared. Book them for next year to enlist professional help with live décor and more from My Secret Garden. Visit mysecretgarden.com.

Melissa Gunderson

What’s your story?

Holiday themes abound. Selecting one can be unnerving, but there’s a look to suit every personality and style.

Generally, if your home is modern, go with sleek, contemporary, minimalist holiday décor. If your home is traditional, a more classic Christmas style works best.

Or use what you already have, add some new favorites and embrace an eclectic Christmas!

On the oldworldchristmas.com website, Rachael Mitchell lists some 2023 Christmas decorating trends. Convey elegance and tranquility with soft neutrals. Retro and vintage-inspired nostalgic kitsch honors the charm of yesteryear.

You can add an unexpected twist by going pretty in pink. From blush pink to subtle pastels, pick your favorite playful shade and have fun with it.

A woodland whimsy theme brings the outdoors in with a focus on forest creatures and nature that adds a sense of warmth to your home. “Think faux fur tree skirts, pinecones, rustic wooden ornaments and garlands made of twigs and berries,” Mitchell blogged.

Finally, the writer suggests a white Christmas tree which can be styled in any theme to serve as a striking backdrop for ornaments in metallic shades, softer colors or bold jewel tones.

Let your imagination run wild — but stick to a budget. Things can easily get out of hand if you decide to revamp all your Christmas décor.

Still popular is the granny chic style characterized by a modern spin on classic, ornate design elements like tassels and trims, or your grandmother’s fine china, wallpapers and patterns. Ransack mom’s attic and mix heirloom with more modern pieces in a not-too-cluttered fashion.

Don’t forget to bake grandmother’s Christmas cookies!

Grandpa chic is gaining in popularity too. It’s the same idea, born out of nostalgia for homes with more character than modern, white boxes. Vintage and antique treasures are assembled in a contemporary way.

Dark colors like forest green and tobacco brown typify grandpa chic, along with leather accessories, wood accents and Christmasy, but masculine, plaid textiles.

Can’t commit?

“I think people are gravitating towards the classic, traditional Christmas themes. Santa and Frosty ornaments seem to be trending. To shake it up, add whimsy with fun fabric ribbon. I love peppermint stripe ribbon or fun picks for your tree. They add a little flair to the classic color palette,” Harrison said.

A pop of lime green makes the reds appear brighter, according to Harrison. She feels a more modern take on Christmas décor includes bright blue, blush pink or a natural, monochromatic palette against the dark green branches of a Christmas tree. The possibilities are endless!

Can’t decide on one theme? Setting up vignettes throughout your home on bars, buffets, mantles and tables allows you to embrace more than one style.

My mantlescape and living room tree are elegant in gold, silver and white, but the colorfully decorated tree bejeweled in peacock-patterned blue ribbon in the formal living room reads granny chic. My “fragile” lamp from the Christmas Story movie is kitschmas cute.

The dining room is woodsy with a pinecone and bird printed tablecloth. Part of an oak tree trunk, DIY sanded and glazed in clear acrylic, serves as a yuletide base for my centerpiece. Rounding out the woodland themed tablescape are napkins embroidered with stylized stag antlers in dark brown, Christmas tree patterned plates and glossy white stags sporting flocked wreaths around their necks. Live magnolia branches adorn the mirror above the buffet, intertwined with brown silk ribbon.

Like mine, your home may have more than one Christmas story to tell after decades of collecting and curating décor. Feel free to break any rules and do what kindles your Christmas spirit.

However we choose to deck the halls in holiday finery, the important thing is we’re setting the scene to create new memories with our loved ones.

Tablescapes

Set your table several days in advance. Harrison has fun, whether dressing it up or keeping it casual. She pictures lanterns in varying sizes, with candles or ornaments inside, placed atop fresh greenery. Layering garlands, berries and small poinsettias is an easy way to achieve a classic look. 

Chef and caterer Melissa Gunderson of Morsels by Melissa loves to artfully assemble lavish fabrics on the table with some magnolia or evergreen branch accents. She completes the scene with candles and flowers.

For a buffet display, Gunderson recommends creating different levels using robust containers under black, cream or white fabric. “Bunch colorful, themed linens around each level. Then, place greenery, décor and candles around the corners of each level and between the food,” she advised.

I propose an all-white Christmas village like the Mark Feldstein & Associates 31-Piece Porcelain Tabletop Winter Village (found on Amazon.com) lit with battery-powered tea lights, sprawling across the length of the table atop a mountainous, snowy base, complete with bottle brush evergreens in varying sizes. Use sturdy boxes of assorted heights to create the landscape. Then cover them with a faux snow blanket table runner like the PREXTEX Large Artificial Snow Roll, available through Amazon.

Tip: Get better quality tea lights with remotes for ease of use. The ones that come with the set don’t last long.

But any Christmas village you have will make a charming tablescape. At Pottery Barn, find gingerbread figural houses. Make them glow by tucking tiny string lights inside. Nestle a combination of small, tall and wide homes atop a white table runner and include holiday foliage and garland along the length of the runner for a nostalgic centerpiece.

A soft touch

Pottery Barn, T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods are great places to find warm, cozy throw blankets and holiday pillows to layer on seating, complementing your decorating scheme while indulging your guests’ sense of touch.

Sounds of the season

Your company will hear uplifting echoes of laughter, clinking glasses and Christmas carols. I’ve looked into the highest-rated musicians for you. Elite Strings offers duo, trio and quartet booking options for your holiday parties.

“Last year we worked with a group of carolers for a candlelight sing-along of Christmas favorites,” co-founder Erica Ransbottom shared. With a snow machine, an appearance from Santa himself and lights illuminating the garden, Ransbottom said of the party what we all hope to hear about ours, “It was magical.” Visit EliteStrings.com.

Blue Sky Atlanta Music & Entertainment has been America’s most referred entertainment company since 1991. Concierge talent Jim Tiernan represents some of the best available for any occasion.

Tiernan shared some options for a Christmas party: “Favorites include classical string players, traditional Christmas carolers, solo pianists and guitarists, jazz trios and quartets.” Find more at BlueSkyAtlanta.com.

Budget-friendly music options

Looking for something more low-key? Have your smart speaker play holiday tunes or create a free playlist on Spotify.

Some of us still own CDs we’ve collected over the years. If you don’t mind DJing while entertaining, play your treasured favorites for guests. There’s a certain joy in anticipating each next song because you’ve memorized their order. Not that I’d know…

Or find a TV channel that plays holiday music. For DirectTV subscribers, channel 858, All Xmas, plays fun Christmas carols 24/7.

There’s also a YouTube video to play on your smart TV; it’s a crackling hearth, garlanded for the season, and eight hours of mellow, instrumental holiday music here.

As music plays in the background, the best sounds of all will be the merriment of everyone partaking in your holiday banquet.

A festive feast

What’s the perfect holiday menu? “Variety is key,” Gunderson said.

The chef believes it’s important to know your guests. Some will crave red meat; others prefer chicken. Offering a little of both is a splendid option. Gunderson suggests comforting sides like mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. For hors d’oeuvres, five to seven items make for a nice buffet.

Consider meat options like pepper-seared filet with horseradish cream and chicken skewers with a mouthwatering sauce, a few starchy items like mac and cheese bites or twice-baked mini potatoes, some vegetarian options like hot spinach and artichoke dip with fresh vegetable crudités and perhaps some cucumber cream tea sandwiches.

Of course, one must round out every good menu with dessert. If it’s a hot dinner buffet, Gunderson suggests bread pudding with a caramel-bourbon sauce or a warm peach crisp. For an hors d’oeuvres menu, serve sweets like flourless chocolate cake bites, key lime squares and banana pudding.

Time-saving tip: Most everything can be prepared a few days in advance and oven-finished the day of the party, warmed and served. Cold items can be stored in containers and placed on platters right before guests arrive.

“Definitely do your prep before the day of your event. Otherwise, you’ll be worn out and unable to enjoy your party,” Gunderson warned.

More time for guests and glam

Want extra time to primp and tantalize partygoers’ taste buds without slaving in the kitchen? Morsels by Melissa can do the cooking for you!

“We make anyone’s event much easier by providing a scrumptious buffet. Let Morsels do the work. You reap the benefits,” Gunderson smiled.

Whether you want a delicious spread dropped off — or set up and served while a skilled team busses tables during your event — Morsels will cook everything to perfection, have everything running smoothly and make your party the talk of the town.

Since they provide full service, they’ll clean up, place your packed-up leftovers in the refrigerator and leave you more than satisfied.

While buffets are easiest on hosts, a simple, plated meal or family-style platters are also an option. Learn more at morselsbymelissa.com or email Gunderson at morselsbymelissa@gmail.com.

Special Addition by Patrizia Winsper

Check out Delectable Food and Cocktail Recipes for Your Holiday Festivities

Cheers!

Interesting beverages will wet the whistle, complement the tasty meal and deliver more delectable flavors to your guests. I picked the brain of the knowledgeable and helpful Rob Ramos, general manager at Corners Fine Wine & Spirits, for some direction.

For a well-stocked bar, Ramos suggested, “Have the basic spirits: bourbon whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin, brandy Cognac, champagne or other sparkling beverages and liqueurs.”

For the winter, he pointed me towards wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Chardonnay. Packaged hard seltzers or ready-to-drink liquor (RTD) is premixed, eliminating the need for any bartending skills. 

Seasonal picks of the Corners Fine Wine & Spirits team include Christmas at Biltmore wines and celebratory ales like Samuel Adams Beers for Cheers seasonal variety pack of six festive styles: Winter Lager, Holiday White Ale, Old Fezziwig, Cold IPA, Boston Lager and Oaked Vanilla Porter. Yuengling Hershey’s Chocolate Porter is another popular beer choice. 

The holidays are a fun time to try limited edition Canadian whiskey, Crown Royal Salted Caramel, and Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack — a spiced apple cider whiskey liqueur, best served warm to enhance the aromas of warm apple cider, orange peel, cinnamon, clove, toasted oak, vanilla and whiskey.

Bacardi Coquito, a cream-based liqueur, is a traditional Puerto Rican holiday cocktail. It’s made with Bacardi Superior Rum, dairy cream, coconut milk (“coquito” means little coconut), sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.  

Liqueurs like gingerbread and peppermint are popular at Christmas. You can’t go wrong with cocktails like Bailey’s espresso chocolate, espresso martinis, screwball eggnog, mudslide and white Russian RTDs.

Tips for the bar

To avoid a mad dash on the day of your party, Ramos advises preparing the drink cart or bar in advance.

“It’s good to have mixers, stirrers, shakers, straws, napkins, wine openers and bar towels. Ice down beers and RTDs, designate a space for decanters, drinkware and ice,” he said.

Drink identifiers like tags for glasses are helpful when you’re receiving a crowd.

Garnishes can include cherries, lemon or lime wedges, olives, mint leaves and orange peels. To elevate cocktails, create a velvety texture and frothy cap that serves as a canvas for your garnishes by making foam using egg whites.

First, do a dry shake to emulsify the egg; add the liquid drink ingredients, the egg whites — but no ice — and shake vigorously. Next, add the ice, shake again and voilà, you’ve added a little richness and magic to your cocktails.

Corners carries a selection of holiday-themed novelty items like napkins, kitchen and bar towels and cards, as well as an extensive selection of wine and spirits. Check out cornersatl.com.

A holiday drink a day keeps the Grinch away

General Manager Jonathan Gorman sharing his recipes with Patrizia Winsper

Despite coming up with several delightful holiday cocktail recipes for me, from Patrizia’s Pink Pajamas to Winsper Wassail*, serving two to three signature drinks at an event is more than enough, according to Ramos. He recommends making batches ahead of time and chilling the cold ones in pitchers for easy refills.

Corners Fine Wine & Spirits partnered with Stäge to create some holiday drinks. I requested a festive, refreshing, delicious drink and general manager Jonathan Gorman delivered by whipping-up a signature cocktail for me at Stäge.

Made with PAMA liqueur, a blend of all-natural California pomegranates, premium vodka and a touch of tequila, my Blushing Under the Mistletoe Martini will make your occasion feel like a celebration.

Since it’s the season of giving, I’m sharing the recipe with you. Just substitute my name with yours to make it your own.

Patrizia Blushing Under the Mistletoe Martini

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Grey Goose vodka 
  • 1 ½ oz. PAMA lime sour mix (equal parts PAMA liqueur, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and cranberry juice)

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a shaker.
  2. Add ice and shake vigorously.
  3. Strain into a martini glass with a sugar rim.
  4. Garnish with a lime wheel, a lime twist or fresh cranberries.

Warm wishes

At some point during your gathering, take a moment to survey the results of your efforts. Go ahead, smile like Mona Lisa while soaking in your own multisensory masterpiece.

Take pleasure in your favorite folks being titillated by the orchestration of sensory inputs. They will have seen your adornments, smelled the pleasing odors wafting from candles and the kitchen, heard pleasant music and banter, felt your warm hugs and couches made even comfier with snuggle-worthy throws and pillows and savored the taste of food and beverages that tell the story of our heritage.

The perfect holiday party may be an elegant soirée, a casual, multigenerational affair with family games or it can be a cookies and cocoa experience. It might be as simple as watching holiday movies while sharing a charcuterie board and wine with friends.

Choose what’s perfect for you. However you celebrate with those you hold closest in life, I’m sending warmest wishes with my final item in this aide-mémoire: Christmas comes but once a year, so make it a point to enjoy yourself!

Patrizia hails from Toronto, Canada where she earned an Honors B.A. in French and Italian studies at York University, and a B.Ed. at the University of Toronto. This trilingual former French teacher has called Georgia home since 1998. She and her family have enjoyed living, working and playing in Peachtree Corners since 2013.

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Community

Chabad Enrichment Center in Peachtree Corners Hosts Groundbreaking Ceremony

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A special groundbreaking ceremony for the new Chabad Enrichment Center will be held at the corner of Spalding Drive and Crooked Creek Drive this weekend in Peachtree Corners.

“For the past two decades, the Chabad Enrichment Center has provided a safe place to support, uplift and connect people in the community,” Rabbi Yossi Lerman said. “We are delighted to break ground for the building of our new Center in the heart of Peachtree Corners.”

The groundbreaking ceremony will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 22. Local dignitaries, community leaders and the general public are invited to honor this special event.

The Chabad Enrichment Center of Gwinnett is committed to providing every Jew the opportunity to celebrate joy through programs that nurture connection, belonging, cultural fulfillment and spiritual growth.

For more information, contact Rabbi Yossi Lerman at 678-595-0196 or rabbi@chabadofgwinnett.org. Or go to chabadofgwinnett.org.

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Community

Volunteers Needed at County’s America Recycles Day Event

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Help Gwinnett County maintain a sustainable environment by volunteering at the annual America Recycles Day event Saturday, Nov. 9 from 9am to 12pm at Coolray Field.

Gwinnett residents are invited to recycle paper, paint, electronics, tires, clothing, sneakers and ink/toner cartridges. Volunteers ages 14 and up are needed to unload vehicles, break down boxes, distribute recycling information and support other America Recycles Day activities.

The event is rain or shine. Volunteers should register at www.VolunteerGwinnett.net.

For more information, please contact Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful at (770) 822-5187 or email gwinnettcb@gwinnettcb.org.

Coolray Field is located at 2500 Buford Drive in Lawrenceville.

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Community

Outdoor Burn Ban Ends, But Still Limited in Gwinnett

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The annual ban on outdoor burning put in place by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has now ended, but Gwinnett residents must still take precautions and check whether burning is allowed before burning yard debris or hosting bonfires.

The annual summer ban restricts open burning in metro Atlanta and larger counties between May 1 and September 30 to comply with Federal Clean Air Regulations. 

Even though the ban is now lifted, burning may still be restricted on a given day due to weather conditions and in accordance with High Fire Danger Warnings from the National Weather Service or Red Flag Warnings from the Georgia Forestry Commission. Recent drought conditions may also impact when and if outdoor burning is allowed.    

Residents who wish to burn limited amounts of yard debris are allowed to do so between October 1 and April 30, but are required to follow County ordinance restrictions that cover all types of outdoor burning.  Residents should review the outdoor burning ordinance and take required safety precautions before burning to reduce the potential risks of outdoor burning.

The types of fires that are allowed without a permit are:

  • The burning of leaves, limbs, and natural vegetation that may fall on one’s property.
  • Fires for the purpose of keeping warm when the outdoor temperature is 50-degrees or less.
  • Fires for the purpose of cooking food for human consumption.
  • Recreational fires in commercially available chimineas or outdoor fireplaces.

The types of fires that require written permits from Gwinnett County Fire Plan Review are:

  • Land clearing pit fires.
  • Bonfires.

The following general rules govern all outdoor burning:

  • Never leave an outdoor fire unattended.
  • Have a water hose or other means available to control the fire.
  • The Fire Marshal’s Office may temporarily prohibit any and/or all outdoor fires.
  • Burning is not permitted when prevailing winds are predicted to be, or are, in excess of 15 miles per hour, when the National Weather Service issues a Red Flag Warning or a Fire Weather Watch, or during an air pollution episode, such as an air pollution alert, warning or emergency declared by proper authorities. You also must wait at least 24-hours (one-day) following the passage of a cold front before burning.
  • No burning of solid waste or household garbage is allowed. No burning of any materials that emit a heavy dark smoke, such as rubber products, oils, roofing material and petroleum-based products, etc.
  • No burning when smoke presents a health hazard to persons near the fire.
  • No burning within 25-feet of a property line.
  • No burning shall be conducted within 20 feet of flammable or combustible materials (inclusive of homes, outdoor structures and decks) or in close proximity of explosive materials unless otherwise specified by the Fire Marshal’s Office.
  • No outdoor burning of limbs, leaves and yard debris is allowed on Sundays or at night. Any burning limbs, leaves or yard debris must be completely extinguished by nightfall.
  • Compliant bonfires, cooking fires and recreational fires in chimineas and outdoor fireplaces    may be burned at any time provided all other criteria and restrictions are applied.

In addition to the rules listed above, there are certain times during the outdoor burning period that may be designated as a “NO BURN” day due to weather conditions or Red Flag Warnings from the Georgia Forestry Commission. Outdoor burning may also be restricted in certain areas of the county where a medical burn ban area has been established.

Visit www.gwinnettfiremarshal.comfor more information and to see a brochure covering safe burning practices for outdoor and open burning. You can also contact the Gwinnett Fire Community Risk Reduction Division-Fire Marshal’s Office at (678) 518-4980 and select Option 3 for the Burn Information Line, or call the outdoor burn line at (678) 518-4979. Information on outdoor burning is updated daily by 9 a.m. both online and through the outdoor burn line.

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