“Nights of Lights” Holiday Festival. A Bright Idea For Downtown Fernandina?

Imagine this: white lights outline and silhouette the historic city of Fernandina Beach from the ground to the rooftops. Pipe in holiday music (by reactivating the in-ground sound system) and you have a winter wonderland — without the snow, along historic Centre Street. Read more about an idea for a holiday festival featuring glowing lights on downtown buildings.

BRIGHT IDEA: Nights of Lights Festival? Imagine Fernandina Buildings Outlined in White Lights
BRIGHT IDEA: Nights of Lights Festival? Buildings Outlined in White Lights?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.


New, innovative ideas don’t always have to be your own. Sometimes it is easier and better to borrow them from others.

This can be true in business, as in life. So here is an idea that we can pull from a recycle bin of a neighbor and make it our own.

Jacksonville Beach officials are mulling the idea of starting their own “Nights of Lights,” a holiday festival of glow that has catapulted tourism to another level in nearby St. Augustine. There, white lights outline and silhouette the historic city from the ground to the rooftops.

St. Augustine’s lights festival has become so popular that it has been extended from November 17 to January 31 — and earned acclaim from media darlings such as Southern Living magazine. It is pure Disney-like magic.

And it has had enough of an impact that other towns like Jacksonville Beach are looking at mimicking it. After all, St. Augustine coined the idea of a cornucopia of Christmas lights from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. So they already borrowed it.

So why couldn’t or shouldn’t Fernandina Beach adopt the idea. The historic downtown is already adorned with twinkling white lights in some 28 trees along Centre Street. (By the way, these new lights were bought with private donations to replace the old ones that were removed by former city officials.)

Incorporating a design of white lights on the buildings to accent those in the trees would be absolutely breathtaking here. Pipe in holiday music by reactivating the in-ground sound system and you have a winter wonderland — without the snow.

Granted, it is already enchanting here at Christmas time. The lighted tree at the foot of Centre Street and the holiday decorations are festive. However, this new idea could take it to another level.

Some people say they don’t want our town to become another St. Augustine — and sell out to tourism. We don’t need to do that here; we have a solid economic base of two mills, a port, two posh resorts and expanding industries.

Fernandina Beach can still attract a higher class of tourists even by borrowing some ideas from other places. This can be applied to more than a Christmas light festival.

For instance, city officials could inquire to St. Augustine officials about accommodating, yet controlling, street musicians (without inviting catastrophic ripples of freedom of speech). Or ask other towns how they have removed silt from their marinas, or operated effective municipal golf courses.

You don’t have to recreate the wheel. Just have the perception to utilize one that already exists, and one that is proven.

The “Nights of Lights” festival in St. Augustine is an overwhelming story of success. Something like this would work wonderfully here.

Some naysayers will find fault. They might say the buildings are too old, or too precious to place lights on them. Or that this idea has been floated — and flopped — before here. Or that Christmas time is unique and special here without the additional frivolity.

Steve Nicklas
Steve Nicklas

Big and bold are already proven here. Drive through the idyllic neighborhood on Citrona Drive next Christmas time, and see for yourself. Cars wait in line to pass through the neighborhood, which transforms itself into a charming holiday spectacle.

This idea of a lights spectacular is being considered by other towns such as Jacksonville Beach, and for good reason. It contains a proven formula for success — and that’s one notion that never gets old or redundant.