25 Years of St. Augustine’s Spectacular Nights of Lights

St. Augustine’s sensational Nights of Lights has been illuminating the oldest city for a quarter of a century. So this is the year to make a visit during Nights of Lights a must-see part of your holiday.

What started as a simple effort to breathe new life into the historic area of downtown St. Augustine has developed into one of the greatest holiday traditions in Florida and has remained so for a quarter century.

The annual Nights of Lights celebration that begins the weekend before Thanksgiving and runs through the end of January turns the Nation’s Oldest City into a winter wonderland that might be lacking in snow, but it’s a white Christmas feel that holds captive most visitors to Florida’s Historic Coast. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands (organizers cannot get an exact fix on just how many lights are involved) of white lights are strung along buildings, public fixtures and businesses during the holiday season.

The event that has origins dating back to 1993, has holiday visitors – young and old, families and couples – marveling at the illumination that fills the streets once the sun has set. Nights of Lights has now turned into a tradition that is a must-see for travelers visiting the South and has garnered world-wide notoriety.

While the annual event has deepened in tradition with each passing year, the beginnings of the event are steeped in local lore and remains an example of civic pride that only accentuates the magic of Florida’s Historic Coast.

Before Nights of Lights, the downtown area was basically closed in November and December for the most part after the sun went down. Businesses shut down, most restaurants closed and shops saw no need to pursue tourists after dark.

The nocturnal dormant nature of St. Augustine seemed to be a waste of cultural and commercial potential. So city leaders began exploring a Nights of Lights display, especially during the holidays. It seemed a shame to have so few visitors travelling to the picturesque town.

Only a “Feliz Navidad” (Spanish for Merry Christmas) string of lights served as a greeting on the famed Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine before Nights of Lights. Why not stage more of this kind of lighting to enliven St. Augustine with strands of lights staged throughout the city?

The classic and historic architecture incorporated in dozens of buildings in St. Augustine seemed like a natural holiday framework if only some bright lights could showcase the aesthetics.

With tenacity and persistence eventually the business community raised enough to fund the first year’s  city-wide light display. The city soon came on board to support and grow Nights of Lights, too.

All of the sudden, little by little, shops and restaurants started opening on St. George Street during the holidays. And the rest is history.
To set St. Augustine apart from cities, only white lights are used during Nights of Lights. White lights draped the eves of downtown buildings accentuating the historic architecture of St. Augustine.

It has now been a draw for 25 years.  While it’s not likely a white Christmas with snow will befall St. Augustine any time soon Nights of Lights offers the closest thing in the South.