The most exciting moment each year on Light-Up! Night is light-up itself and this year was no different. Even with the off-and-on again slight drizzle of rain, an estimated 10,000 people packed the Plaza de la Constitution and surrounding streets and gave thunderous cheers when the lights came on signaling the start of the 18th season of the Nights of Lights.
Light-Up! Night took place this year on Saturday, November 19 starting at 4:00pm with entertainment by Showtime and The All Star Orchestra. The lighting ceremony started at 6:30pm and light-up was at 6:45pm.
“It would be near impossible to find two members of our community who have contributed any more than Otis Mason and Tracy Upchurch,” said Boles in making the announcement. “Whether it has been in the classroom or in elected office or serving on civic boards and non-profit organizations, Mr. Mason and Mr. Upchurch have never hesitated to give of their time for our community, and now I am delighted they accepted the invitation to give us a little more of their time for Light-Up! Night.”
Otis Mason first started teaching school in his home town of St. Augustine in 1950 and retired over four decades later in 1992 as the last elected superintendent of St. Johns County School System. Today, Mason serves as President of the Friends of Excelsior, the support organization for the Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center of Lincolnville. In fact, his long education career started at Excelsior when the school included all 12 grades, and after his service in the Korean Conflict, continued there. He later taught at the new Murray High School until being named Principal of the W. E. Harris School in Hastings where he remained until joining the staff of the St. Johns County School District as Supervisor of Elementary Schools. Mason was elected Superintendent of St. Johns County Schools in 1984, reelected in 1988 and retired in 1992 at the time the position was transitioned to a hired administrative position.
Tracy Upchurch, currently an Assistant Professor at Flagler College, has served the St. Augustine Community in many capacities, both as a private citizen and a public servant, and on Saturday night will serve as the one who “lights the city.” A native of St. Augustine, Upchurch is a former city commissioner, mayor, and two term member of the Florida House of Representatives. Upchurch’s civic service includes serving on the boards of many organizations including Flagler Healthcare Systems, St. Augustine Rotary Club, Lightner Museum, St. Augustine Historical Society, University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, and Prosperity Bank. In addition to teaching at Flagler College, Upchurch was engaged in the private practice of law for twenty-five years and currently serves in an “of counsel” capacity to the law firm of Upchurch, Bailey and Upchurch.
As it has since its initial season, the Nights of Lights began with a spectacular lighting ceremony appropriately called Light-Up! Night staged in the city’s historic Plaza de la Constitución located in the heart of the historic district.
The program began at 4:00pm with a spirited holiday performance by Showtime USA, a high energy fun filled singing and dancing troupe of children and teens that has delighted audiences at Walt Disney World, Busch Gardens, and Six Flags Over Georgia. For Light-Up! Night, Showtime USA delivered a wide variety of holiday musical favorites.
Then at 5:30pm, the All Star Orchestra, under the direction of Gary Strohminger, returned for yet another year, now being as much of a tradition as the lighting ceremony itself. The popular 16-piece band, performed from the Gazebo and filled the Plaza with great swing and big band sounds all in grand holiday style.
The most exciting moment on Light-Up! Night is, of course, light-up. In the early years of the event, governmental officials were called upon to flip-the-switch, then later the honor was given to members of the community identified as unsung heroes, those who contributed to the betterment of the community often without recognition.
Mayor Boles took the best of both traditions by inviting a member of the community to light the tree and a former mayor to light the city having invited all former St. Augustine Mayors to join him in Light-Up! Night ceremonies. Boles is St. Augustine’s 118th mayor since the city became part of the United States in 1821. Currently there are 11 living former mayors. They and their years of service are: John Bailey (1965-1967), Arthur Runk (1973-1975), Edward Mussallem (1975-1979), Fred Brinkhoff (1979-1981), V. Noel Helmly (1981), Ramelle Petroglou (1981-1982, 1983-1985), Tracy Upchurch (1990-1992), Greg Baker (1992-1995), Len Weeks (1995-2000), Mark Alexander (2000-2002), and George Gardner (2002-2006).
Recognized as one of the Southeast’s major seasonal events, Nights of Lights has brought holiday excitement to the Nation’s Oldest City annually now for 18 years. The 10-week long event begins with a simple flip of switch that magically fills every corner of the city with brilliant white lights, transforming the Nation's Oldest City into an enchanted city of light.
It all started as a suggestion by a city commissioner as a way to distinguish St. Augustine in the holiday season by decorating the city with white lights. Running annually from the Saturday before Thanksgiving through the end of January, Night of Lights was named by AAA as one of its 12 Favorite Places to Catch the Holiday Spirit in the USA and Canada, and for the third time the American Bus Association named the event among the nation’s top 100 events.
There is pleasure enough walking St. Augustine's old world streets anytime of the year, but during the Nights of Lights when historic buildings, downtown parks and the city’s historic Bayfront sparkle with over three million individual lights, the delight is greater than ever. As is often overheard during the Nights of Lights “It makes a special place more special.”
St. Augustine's success with the Nights of Lights lies partially in the fact that the city has such a large volume of unique historic structures in a very compact area. When outlined in light, the sweeping Bridge of Lions, the many 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.
But Nights of Lights is more than something to see; it is something to do. Boasting a full calendar with a wide array of special events and activities visitors will find things to do day and night. Truly it is one of the most festive times of year for a city that thrives on festivals.
Night-time tours of ancient buildings and inns led by storytellers in period clothing, rollicking train and trolley tours through the narrow brick streets, art walks featuring more than 30 galleries serving free holiday refreshments on the First Friday in December and January, special Saturday night antique shopping events, a dazzling regatta, Florida ice skating, luminaries in the town plaza, holiday concerts, even a Christmas parade, are among the special events to be added to the memory books of visitors and residents alike.
For complete visitor information including a calendar of upcoming events during the Nights of Lights visit St. Augustine-Ponte Vedra on Florida’s Historic Coast.
For visitor information including dining, shopping, lodging, attractions, and tours, during the ten weeks of Nights of Lights, contact St. Augustine/Ponte Vedra on Florida’s Historic Coast by calling 800.653.2489 or visiting www.floridashistoriccoast.com
Visitor Information Center & Historic Downtown Parking Facility
For additional information regarding the St. Augustine & St. Johns County Visitor Information Center and the adjacent Historic Downtown Parking Facility visit www.vicparking.com.
Information regarding participation
For guidelines to participate in the Nights of Lights by adding displays to property in the city's historic districts, click here.
For general questions regarding Light-Up! Night and the Nights of Lights, call the city’s Public Affairs Department at 904.825.1004 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nights of Lights is funded by the City of St. Augustine and the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council. The City of St. Augustine manages the installation and maintenance of displays at over 100 locations, including buildings, parks, and gardens throughout the city, but credit for the success of the Nights of Lights is shared with the businesses and residents who voluntarily participate at their own expense truly making the city a city of light.