JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A downtown neighborhood known for its churches is putting on a holiday light show this year, and you don't even need to leave your car to enjoy it.
Jacksonville's Cathedral District, bounded roughly by Main, Bay, Liberty and Union streets, is lit up with thousands of white lights to be marveled at through the end of the year. The district kicked off the display Friday.
The five historic churches in the district — Mount Zion AME, St. John's Cathedral, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, First Presbyterian and First United Methodist — are also lit up in white and purple to celebrate the season of Advent. Several other historic buildings, including the Morocco Temple, Bedell Law Firm, the Yates Building and the new Elena Flats apartment complex, will also be lit up for the tour.
A smartphone app includes a map of the neighborhood, an introduction by Courtney Lewis, music director of the Jacksonville Symphony, and music from the symphony. Visitors using the app can click on the icon for one of the historic churches or buildings and learn about its role in the Cathedral District. The app can be downloaded for free from cathedraldistrict-jax.org, and there is no charge to take the tour.
Ginny Myrick, president and CEO of Cathedral District-Jax Inc., said they threw a traditional street festival last year and wanted to do the same for 2020 before COVID-19 threw a wrench into that plan. "This year, that’s just totally not going to work," Myrick said. "So what we did was come up with this clever idea — I thought it was clever — a self-driving tour of all of the Cathedral District."
She said there will be no activities, no choruses in the street, no food trucks for the event named Christmas in the Cathedral District 2020: Let There Be Light. "We don’t want anybody out of their cars," she said. "We want everyone to wear a mask and be safe."
Thousands and thousands of lights have been strung through about 150 Cathedral District trees. Myrick said the whole thing is sort of a throwback to an earlier era. "It reminds me of what you did back in the 1950s, with Mom and Dad in the front seat and two or three kiddos in the back."
The Cathedral District is home to about 1,500 residents, and Myrick said there are plans for more than 300 new apartments to open in the district in 2021. She said the holiday lights are a good way to show Jacksonville what's going on there.
The tour takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete, Myrick said.