Whenever we have warm, balmy weather in early December like we’ve been having here in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, I always wonder how long it will last. It’s not unusual to have warm temperatures in December, but it isn’t “average” either, at least not up until now.
In trying to predict the weather, I’m hoping for semi-perfect to perfect weather for Victorian Candlelighting, a 37-year tradition in my neighborhood, Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood. Candlelighting involves each household setting out and lighting paper-bag luminaries along the sidewalks during the second weekend in December.
In addition to the thousand of luminaries, HHN hosts two evenings of rides in horse-drawn carriages, as well as home tours and entertainment and refreshments at the neighborhood condo, located in the center of the district.
This year the event will feature an opportunity for kids to talk to Santa Claus while they wait their turn for the carriages. If the weather is cooperating in a good way, those waits can be somewhat lengthy as hundreds turn out to take a ride.
Over the 37 years of this event, which was started to showcase the improvements taking place in this old historic district, the weather has ranged from warm and balmy to clear, crisp and cold to record low temperatures with freezing rain. The event has never been entirely called off, although there have been years candles were lighted just one of the two scheduled nights. One year a freezing rain fell on Saturday, soaking the bags that later froze stiff. Lighting them on Sunday was a hand-freezing ordeal, but light they did!
A lot hinges on how early or late Thanksgiving is and how early or late the second weekend in December falls. This year it’s early – Dec. 8 and 9 – and I predict that by the weekend after, the weather will have changed a good bit for the colder. In fact a front is coming from the northwest, but all the candlelight players have put up mind barriers to hold it back until Dec. 10.
HHNA’s Victorian Candlelighting is a well-known event in the region and even in Southeast United States, having been promoted and written up in many southeast regional publications. It was a Top 20 Southeast Tourism Event five years running. Thousands of visitors from the immediate area as well as several states have attended over the years. After all, seeing a display of 15,000 luminaries, riding a carriage through the glow of the candles and perhaps touring an historic house is not a run-of-the-mill event.
Of course, the event takes hours of planning and promotion, requiring help from all residents of the neighborhood: some decorate in advance or sell candles and bags, others bake the holiday goodies for refreshment. Some residents generously open their houses for the tours, while others sign-up to sell carriage ride tickets, refreshments or provide entertainment during the event.
District churches open their doors for tours and send carolers out onto the streets to circulate through the area. Businesses in the district participate by setting out dozens of candles around their properties.
We have lived in this neighborhood for 32 years, so we weren’t here for the very beginning years when just a few thousand candles were set out. I’ve volunteered for most of the required jobs and one year, while still renovating, we hosted a home tour to show a house during the renovation process. Most common question during a house tour: Was all this furniture here when you bought the house?
Having done all that, having set out candles in perfect or not-so-perfect conditions, HHNA’s Victorian Candlelighting still takes my breath away. When I stroll down the streets and see those long rows of luminaries glowing along the sidewalks, I basically melt, just like a warm, oozy candle, I melt. Nothing comes close to the sight of or the feelings created by that glow reflecting on Victorian era houses decked in garlands and bows.
You just have to experience it to understand.