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COVID-19 forces changes at Nights of Lights in St. Augustine

Organizers canceled the lighting ceremony to try to cut back on crowds, just one of the changes due to COVID-19.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — The pandemic has taken up nearly all of 2020 and now it's affecting the holiday season. 

The virus has now forced changes to holiday traditions, including Nights of Lights in St. Augustine that kicked off on Saturday. Organizers canceled the lighting ceremony on the first night and started the tradition a week early to try to cut down on crowds. 

On Saturday night, there were crowds, but the plaza where the lighting ceremony usually happens wasn't packed person to person like usual.

"I come every year, COVID or no COVID," St. Augustine resident Mary Watts said. "This is a tradition for me."

"It has been a little more low-key," Billy Richardson, a St. Augustine resident said. "We didn't even know what time the lights were coming on tonight."

People at Saturday's event said they see it also as a chance to help struggling businesses that were hit hard by COVID-19.

"I think they've been struggling for a long time to hold their own, so this is sorely needed," Carole Palmer said. "I'm actually happy to see some of the lines. When I was walking through St. George Street and the people were lined up and I was like "yea." 

They also said the lights bring a sense of normalcy in a time of unknown.

"We kind of missed their graduations and missed all the celebration of that, so it's nice to kind of feel like we're getting back to normal a little bit knowing that there's still stuff going on," Richardson said. 

The shuttles aren't offered this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions. The city's spokesperson said after this weekend, they'll evaluate parking and they're working with community stakeholders to see if there are some options for alternative overflow parking.

Nights of Lights lasts until the end of January 2021.