Colonial Night Watch Is Living History Under the Glow of Nights of Lights

Long before St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights, one of the deepest traditions on Florida’s Historic Coast reaches back to its founding. 

The Colonial Night Watch marches into the holiday season on December 1 in downtown St. Augustine. What started as the “British Night Watch” ran for about 25 years. But it slowly changed and morphed into the Colonial Night Watch that now celebrates the heritage of the area going back about 300 years and includes the multitudes of nationalities and cultures that helped establish Florida’s Historic Coast.

Now, there are reenactors who represent Spanish, English, French and Native American garrisons who at one time or another had some interaction with St. Augustine during those formative years centuries ago. The Colonial Night Watch came into being to celebrate the diversity of the town’s history and provide a more inclusive atmosphere.

The time period the reenactors are commemorating marks the Colonial era from 1735 to 1783. There usually are over 100 reenactors taking part in the Colonial Night Watch from throughout the Southeast.

Don’t be fooled by the term Night Watch. While that actually honors the brave soldiers who stood watch at night, the events on December 1 consume an entire day.

There are multiple events including cannon salutes at the Castillo de San Marcos beginning at 10 a.m.  This demonstration also includes fife and drum ceremonies along with flag raising customs. Musket firings and additional commemorations take place at the fort throughout the day such as pewter-making displays, corn-husk doll displays and other historical period displays.

The culmination, though, is at night when the reenactors commence in a torch-lit procession that marches from the fort to the historical quarter in the heart of downtown St. Augustine. That usually begins about 7 p.m. and the historic reenactors clad in their traditional colonial regalia are a sight to see, especially under the glow of the torches.

St. Augustine’s Mayor will address the procession with a formal welcome from the city. That will be met with a musket volley officially marking the event at night under the December sky. And then finally, the reenactors will make their way through the Colonial Quarter singing traditional Christmas carols.

The Colonial Night Watch is now running on its fourth year and the preservation of historical study and appreciation has come to represent the holiday spirit that coincides with St. Augustine’s annual Nights of Lights event where hundreds of thousands of white lights are strung from buildings throughout the historic area of the city.