NEAR AND AWAY: INSTANT VACATIONS ON ONE TANK OF GAS
St. Augustine’s holiday glow
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 3:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 3:54 p.m.
For a city that thirves on festivals, St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights may be the queen of them all, spanning more than two months of holiday grandeur in the heart of the Old City.
Each night in December and January, two million white lights illuminate the historic district’s shops, inns, homes and public spaces. As with anything in this 500-year-old city, the event claims a historical tie: The lights are inspired by the old Spanish custom of displaying a white candle during Christmas time.
While the lights are spectacular, they’re just the title attraction. In the Old City and its surroundings, nearly every night of the holiday season has its own event, from tours of historic homes decked out in their holiday best to candlelight processionals and caroling.
A CELEBRATION WITH HISTORY
Throughout December, visitors can follow a costumed guide through Christmas Past, a candlelight tour of the five historic homes of Old St. Augustine Village. The homes, dating from 1790 to 1909, are decorated to reflect the era of their construction. Christmas Past begins each Friday and Saturday of the month at 7 p.m.; Admission is $7. Info: (904) 823-9722.
The Christmas Tour of Homes on December 4 gives an inside look at some of St. Augustine’s lovingly restored private residences. Sponsored by the city’s garden club, the tour’s $15 admission also includes a tea and a visit to the club’s holiday boutique. Info: (904) 826-0242.
The spotlight shifts to the waterfront on December 10 for the Regatta of Lights, a parade of decorated boats. Beginning at 6 p.m., the boats will line Matanzas Bay between the Bridge of Lions and Castillo de San Marcos. Info: St. Augustine Yacht Club, www.sayc2000.com.
The following evening, December 11, the historic Plaza de la Constitucion glows in the light of hundreds of luminaria from 5- 8 p.m. The free event includes a holiday sing-along.
On December 17, carolers in 18th century period dress make their way by candlelight from the Plaza de la Constitucion to the Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine’s 300-year-old coquina fortress on the Matanzas Bay. Caroling starts at 7 p.m.
Always mindful of its Spanish heritage, St. Augustine observes the custom of Las Posadas, a candlelight procession led by re-enactors dressed as Mary and Joseph, also on December 17 at 6 p.m. The processional leaves the Basilica of St. Augustine on Cathedral Place at 6 p.m., walking to the Mission of Nombre De Dios for live music, free refreshments and a live nativity scene.
HOLIDAY SPIRIT FOR A CAUSE
Many of St. Augustine’s holiday events return their proceeds to the community, such as the Cheesecake Challenge— December 10 from 6-9 p.m. at the Plaza — in which 18 local chefs and restaurants battle for visitors’ votes while raising funds for Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
A toy or non-perishable food item is the only admission charge for Holiday in the Gardens, the annual evening event at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. Tucked between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River, this unique park opens its formal gardens Dec. 9-10 from 5-9 p.m. for caroling, storytelling and candlelight tours of the grounds.
At the St. Johns County Festival of Trees at World Golf Village, walk amid a forest of lavishly decorated trees in a variety of themes. Admission is free, but proceeds from the $1 ballots for the bestdecorated tree go to local charities. Entertainment includes readings of holiday books and choral performances. The event begins December 2 from 6-9 p.m., continuing daily from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. through December 17, and concludes on December 18 at 6 p.m., www.wgv.com, (904) 940-4123.
With 25 bed-and-breakfast inns divided between two days, December 10-11, the Holiday Tour of Historic Inns showcases some of St. Augustine’s finest old homes. The walking tour, which also includes refreshments, bene- fits the local Police Athletic League. Tickets, which cost $30, are available from any of the inns on the tour. Info: (904) 810-5635, www.staugustineinns.com/tour.
For a truly breathtaking view of Nights of Lights, Old City Helicopters offers evening tours starting at $149 for up to three passengers. Reservations are required and space is limited; call (904) 824-5506 or visit www.oldcityhelicopters.com.
While much of the historic district is walkable, two trolley companies offer Nights of Lights tours. Santa’s Big Red Christmas Train treats its riders to a holiday singalong, with free parking behind the Visitors Information Center, from 6-9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays until December 23 and nightly from December 26-30 (www.redtrains.com). Or take the Holly Jolly Trolley, with Friday and Saturday tours through December 23 and nightly tours until New Year’s Eve (www.trolleytours. com).
Rest assured, they’ll leave the lights on for you.
ST. AUGUSTINE TOURISM RESOURCES
Free Guide: 1-800-OLD CITY
Nights of Lights events
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