Downtown Winter Haven Lights Up For Holidays With Starlight Nights
by James Coulter
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go. This holiday sentiment is certainly true for Downtown Winter Haven. The holiday lights are up and the downtown businesses are open late for its first annual Starlight Nights.
For the next six weeks, residents and guests can either take a holiday stroll or drive through a Winter Wonderland, as countless lights, holiday displays, and Christmas trees have been set up and lit up for the holiday season.
Every evening from 5:30pm to 10pm, Downtown Winter Haven will be alive with holiday lights with local eateries, bars, and shops open late. When you’re done admiring the lights, feel free to step inside one of the many shops or eateries.
Take a peek at the many Christmas window displays before stepping in for some evening holiday shopping or a bite to eat. Many bars and eateries will be hosting specials.
Dozens of local businesses are currently partaking in a holiday window display contest. On the week of Dec. 7, these displays will be judged by mystery judges to determine which display is the most festive. The first-place winner has a chance to win $1,000.
Various holiday-themed events are also planned at the Ritz Theater. A special Elvis Tribute Show will be hosted on Dec. 3 and 4 at 8pm. Jolly Old Saint Nick will also be dropping by for pictures on Dec. 5 at 6pm.
Starlight Nights was conceived to help promote the holiday spirit in Downtown Winter Haven. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many large-scale events such as the annual holiday tree lighting ceremony had to be canceled. Main Street Winter Haven wanted to create something to help draw people out of their homes and downtown this season, hence Starlight Nights was created, explained Bailey McDaniel, Assistant Director at Main Street Winter Haven.
“Starlight Nights was born out of a need for holiday joy this year,” McDaniel said. “I think everyone can use something to be excited this year.”
The holiday lights were officially lit on Nov. 25, the evening before Thanksgiving. A test run was hosted earlier that morning to ensure that everything worked, McDaniel said.
“The only challenges we worked through were getting everything to get on at the same time and to make sure we were all doing this in a pandemic friendly way,” she said. “I think people will be cautious these couple of nights. Tonight [Nov. 25]…being one of the most foot traffic-heavy downtown, especially for our bars and eateries, I think we will be getting a good number of people downtown, and I think it will pick up from there.”
Vaughn McAshan, Vice President of Citizens Bank and Trust, and a member of the Main Street Board of Directors, like everyone else on the board, wanted to see something done for the holiday season to bring people together downtown, especially to help lift their spirits during these uncertain times.
Setting up the holiday lights and displays required countless hours from dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers within the past few weeks. Last Sunday, many high school students from the Interact Club, Key Club, and Boys Club, gathered together to help decorate the downtown area, McAshan said.
“Main Street got together and we decided we really would like to do something to bring the community together at Christmas time and Starlight Nights idea was born,” he said. “It is exciting to see all the lights come on. We have been holding our breath.”
Hopefully, the bright holiday lights, coupled with the businesses remaining open late during the holiday season, will draw many curious onlookers downtown. McAshan and the others are hoping that word of mouth will help spur interest in locals taking a holiday stroll or drive downtown and frequenting the local businesses there.
“I think people are ready for something like this where they can celebrate together safely and enjoy downtown,” he said. “It will be an attractive part of downtown and bring a lot of businesses to the downtown area and bring the community all together in this challenging time.”
For more information about Starlight Nights, visit the WH Main Street website at: https://www.mainstreetwh.com/event/starlight-nights-downtown, or their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/425279485101217/