Nights of Lights: Behind the Scenes

Have you ever wondered what it takes to pull off St. Augustine's Largest Holiday Light Display?

November 2, 2022

When asked, visitors to St. Augustine’s annual Nights of Lights Celebration often describe the experience as “dazzling…spectacular…amazing…enchanting.” And why wouldn’t they? Seeing the Ancient City aglow with millions of sparkling white lights is an unforgettable holiday experience that over the past 28 years has become a tradition for hundreds of thousands of visitors. It’s no wonder Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic Traveler magazine and the American Bus Association have all selected the Nights of Lights as one of the best holiday light displays in the world!

But while mesmerized by the lights, decorations and holiday cheer, few visitors consider the amount of work required to bring this sparkling event to life. And while some might shake their heads in awe and say “man, I’d hate to have to string all these lights,” the job is far more demanding than most can imagine. In fact, the city’s Department of Streets and Grounds begins the work eight weeks in advance of the Saturday evening before Thanksgiving when the lights traditionally blaze to life for the first time. During those preceding weeks, the department’s dedicated staff not only string the fresh-from-the-box lights, they also adorn the city’s Victorian light posts with red ribbons and freshly-fluffed wreaths, place evergreen garlands on public buildings, decorate more than a dozen giant oaks as well as the city’s Christmas tree, a 25-foot fir from Sugar Mountain, North Carolina. Placed in the Plaza de la Constitucion, the tree is the centerpiece of the Nights of Lights and the backdrop for tens of thousands of family holiday photos.

The scale of this project is hard to imagine. For example, if all the lights installed just in the Plaza were connected into one single strand it would be more than 12 miles long! Fortunately, the city has many partners that help. A private firm, Angels in the Architecture, decorates the trees along the Bayfront and the beautiful Bridge of Lions spanning Matanzas Bay while local hotels and businesses join in with the stipulation that their lights must match the color of the city’s and the decorations must be removed by the first week in February.

The scale of this project is hard to imagine. For example, if all the lights installed just in the Plaza were connected into one single strand it would be more than 12 miles long! Fortunately, the city has many partners that help. A private firm, Angels in the Architecture, decorates the trees along the Bayfront and the beautiful Bridge of Lions spanning Matanzas Bay while local hotels and businesses join in with the stipulation that their lights must match the color of the city’s and the decorations must be removed by the first week in February.

After the decorations have been installed and the lights come on each evening through January, the folks at the Streets and Grounds Department move on to their next responsibility – they do a nightly patrol to make sure all the lights are on. Then, each Monday, they clean up debris left by weekend visitors, fix any electrical problems, and replace missing or broken decorations. And when Nights of Lights end? The first week in February is devoted to removing decorations, re-cycling the lights and packing everything away for the next edition of this bright holiday tradition.

The Mystery of the Red Bulb: More than 20 years ago, a city employee had a ‘bright” idea; he would tuck a single red bulb among the millions of white lights at the Nights of Lights. Then, he would challenge his young daughter to find it. Over the years, the tradition has continued, and more and more people get involved in the search. Want to find it? You can search and search or improve the odds of finding it by solving the clever clues on Angels in the Architecture’s Facebook page.

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