Some places are just different — there’s a brightness to them, an energy, and they have the power to bring together people of all ages and all walks of life. They’re the lifeblood of our region, and over the year, we’ll be highlighting some of these special places across our service area. We’re calling them Hearts of the Hill Country — because when we’re there, we’re community.
The holidays are celebrated bigger, better and brighter every year in the Central Texas Hill Country, and for 28 years, the Lights Spectacular event in Johnson City has lit up the season, welcoming people of all ages to experience the magic of Christmas time in small-town Texas.
A 100 percent volunteer effort since its start in 1990, Lights Spectacular’s humble beginnings are rooted in an idea from the local garden club and in the spirit of a little competition with some fellow Texans. When the garden club caught word that a community in East Texas had lit up their local courthouse with string lights for Christmas, the club gathered several volunteers to do the same at the beautiful Blanco County Courthouse in Johnson City’s town square.
“Everyone thought it was great,” said Rhonda Stell, Johnson City Lights Spectacular chairwoman and retired PEC meter technician. “There was so much success and excitement the first time we lit the courthouse, but we weren’t just content to ‘bask in the glow.’ We were determined to make each subsequent year even better!”
Soon after, the name Lights Spectacular was adopted by the mayor, city council and volunteers. Business owners, townspeople and even PEC headquarters staff wanted in on the fun, too, and they started installing lights and decorating downtown in early November in anticipation of the first weekend of Lights Spectacular just after Thanksgiving.
And that first weekend of Lights Spectacular is nothing less than enchanting. An impressive 100,000 lights are turned on at the courthouse at 6:30 p.m., along with a firework display and the Clickety Cloggers parade. The stand of oak trees outside PEC’s headquarters building is also illuminated for the first time that weekend, glowing with more than 1 million LED lights.
“Opening weekend is huge,” said Frances Ann Giron, executive director of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce. “It’s so festive and amazing to me how thousands and thousands of people will join our little town on the weekends just because [Lights Spectacular] is so festive and entertaining to everyone.”
Many other holiday events take place in town throughout December, including the Living Story of Christmas performances at the First United Methodist Church, Christmas at LBJ’s boyhood home on Elm Street and horse-drawn carriage ride tours throughout downtown. Lights Spectacular’s wide range of entertainment appeals to young and old, which is why it has become a favorite holiday tradition among Central Texans.
“I’ve had families coming to see this for 10 to 15 years and want their children and grandchildren to experience this,” Giron said. “[Lights Spectacular] is magical, warm and embracing. And that’s what Christmas is really all about.”
Lights Spectacular remains lit through Jan. 1. For additional information, visit www.johnsoncitytexas.info.