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St. Augustine City Commissioner Bill Lennon "flips the switch"
that begins the 10th year of the Nights of Lights by illuminating
the city with over two million white lights.
Click here to see Ester Kramer, one of St. Augustine's most senior citizens, light the city's Christmas tree
More information on the Nights of Lights can be found at www.nightsoflights.com.
In a city that is filled with a rich heritage and countless traditions, St. Augustine’s Mayor George Gardner may have started a new tradition when he and other officials launched the 10th season of the Nights of Lights on Saturday, November 22 in the Plaza de la Constitucion.
One of the city’s most senior citizens, Esther Kramer, was given the honor of lighting the city’s Christmas tree and City Commissioner Bill Lennon, the man who came up with the idea for the Nights of Lights itself was asked to do the honor of "flipping the switch" that started the event’s 10th year. In the past, city and county officials performed the lighting honors.
The Nights of Lights, a 10-week long holiday celebration centered around the historic city’s spectacular lighting displays, has been heralded as a major event across the region since its beginning back in 1993. The Nights of Lights runs annually from the Saturday before Thanksgiving through the end of January.
As it has since its initial season in 1993, the grand event began with the Nights of Lights Celebration that included performances Showtime USA and All Star Orchestra. Then at 6:30pm, the lighting ceremony began.
The New Tradition
Since it’s beginning, the honor of lighting both the city’s Christmas tree and the city’s extensive lighting displays, has been the domain of the City Commissioners, joined by members of the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners and members of the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council, bodies responsible for funding the event. But this year, Mayor Gardner broke with that tradition by starting what is sure to be a new tradition: inviting local citizens to do the honor of "flipping the switch."
At 6:30pm, with an estimated 8,000 people gathered in and around the Plaza, anticipation was high when Mayor Gardner got the crowd’s attention and called on a member of the community to do the honor of lighting the city's Christmas tree, a 25 foot Fraser fir from the Blue Ridge Mountains, decorated with over 400 hundred handmade red bows.
"The Christmas Song gives the season’s greetings: To kids from one to ninety-two," said Gardner "We can do better than that; we’re the Nation’s Oldest City. She rode a motorcycle at age 95 and climbed our lighthouse at 100. Tonight she lights our community’s Christmas tree. Let me introduce one of our community’s oldest ‘kids,’ 102 year old Esther Kramer."
Mrs. Kramer, who thought she had been invited to the lighting ceremony as a friendly gesture by the Mayor, was surprised by the announcement. As she made her way to the switch and prepared to light the tree, the thousands gathered in the Plaza began the countdown: "5…4…3…2…1!
In an instant, the huge tree burst into light, and the city reverberated with cheers.
Again, Mayor Gardner addressed the audience.
"This year we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Nights of Lights. From a few strands a decade ago to more than two million white lights outlining our historic skyline, our Nights of Lights has grown each year, and is recognized today as one of southeast America’s premiere holiday events. It began ten years ago as a notion, following holiday visits to other cities. To light our city on the tenth anniversary of his notion, City Commissioner Bill Lennon."
Commissioner Lennon, already on the stage, was just as surprised as Mrs. Kramer at the announcement of being so honored. Indeed, it was Lennon who had the idea of the Nights of Lights and has watched it grow into one of the city’s most successful and widely known events.
As Commissioner Lennon stepped to the master switch, the audience turned its eyes toward the oak canopy over the Plaza, the sweeping arch of the Bridge of Lions, and the fanciful spires of the City’s skyline, and of course, began counting down: "3…2…1!"
Like magic, over two million white filled St. Augustine's every corner with brilliant and magical holiday sparkle, transforming the Nation's Oldest City into an enchanted city of Light.
The 10th season of the Nights of Lights had begun.
It’s the city that make’s it special
St. Augustine's success with the Nights of Lights lies partially in the fact that the city has so many uniquely shaped historic structures in a very compact area. Once outlined in light, the sweeping Bridge of Lions, arched doorways of Spanish Colonial homes, the sturdy towers of the 19th Century hotels together with the huge oaks in the parks and the tall straight palms that line the streets all come together in a seamless display of light.
The City of St. Augustine is responsible for the installation and maintenance of the displays on nearly 100 locations, including buildings, parks, medians and gardens. Much credit for the continued success of the Nights of Lights goes to the hundreds of business and home owners throughout St. Augustine who voluntarily participate in the event. Because they join in, the City truly becomes a city of light.
The funding for the program comes from both the City and from the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council.
For a listing all the special events during the 10-week long Nights of Lights, and complete visitor information, call 800.OLD-CITY or visit www.visitoldcity.com.