Hurricane Matthew won't dull St. Augustine's glow during Nights of Lights

3 million white lights to illuminate historic city from Nov. 19 through Jan. 31

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Despite the gloom and destruction Hurricane Matthew brought to the nation's oldest city less than two months ago, the famed Nights of Lights celebration will make St. Augustine glow this holiday season.

Businesses are anticipating hundreds of thousands of visitors will come see the more than 3 million white lights strung about the historic city from Nov. 19 through Jan 31.

The festival will begin with a countdown in the Plaza de la Constitucion ahead of the official 6:30 p.m. start time. Holiday music and the lighting of the city’s Christmas tree will also happen during the festival. 

Historic landmarks and locations will be illuminated during the Nights of Lights and the Matanzas River will glow from the reflection of the millions of lights strung along the bay walk and on the Bridge of Lions.

The Nights of Lights was inspired by the tradition of lighting a single candle in the window to mark the start of the holiday season during the 250 years that St. Augustine served as the capital of Spanish Florida. 

But this year, the celebration will symbolize something different as the city hit hard by Hurricane Matthew is filled with cheer once again. 

Tom Dolan, the owner of Meehan's Irish Pub, was one of the many businesses on downtown St. Augustine's bay front that was impacted by the storm.

"We were underwater, pretty much from a foot of water up here to 5 feet of water in the back," Dolan said. "We were closed for 16 days."

Thanks to the pub's regulars, Dolan said, his business has rebounded. But he and many other local business owners are eager for holidays when the thousands of people who flock to the city to see the lights. 

"We're anticipating lots of guests in town, some new time and first-time visitors, some repeat guests," Dolan said. "They're going to see. St. Augustine may have been hit during the storm, but we haven't been beaten."

That's the same attitude that can be heard from other business owners and even street vendors like artist Charles Dickinson, who has been painting on location in St. Augustine for more than 23 years.

"It was about three weeks for me of daily cleaning and bleaching, discarding things. But I feel fortunate because it wasn't too bad," Dickinson said. 

He said the storm was a bump in the road for him and many others, but the town is resilient and he can't wait to share its beauty with the Nights of Lights visitors.

"I think we all in town work very hard and are very proud of our town and it's a beautiful place. I feel like it's the most beautiful town in America. That's why I'm here and I celebrate every day that I get to live here and paint the beauty of it," Dickinson said. 

The Night of Lights has garnered attention from all over the nation and continues to receive accolades. In 2012 and 2013, National Geographic named St. Augustine one of the top 10 places on earth to see holiday lights.

Click here for more information about the Night of Lights.