Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Spirits Still Bright from First Luminaria

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Spirits Still Bright from First Luminaria

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods

This is a long overdue thank-you to the residents of Riverside and Avondale for something that started more than 30 years ago and, by accident, became a staple of our family's holidays in 2001: the annual Luminaria.

That was our first Christmas in Jacksonville, our first Christmas as parents.

In early December, shortly before kickoff of a Jaguars Monday Night Football game against the Green Bay Packers, Toni went into labor. I went to the football game. (In my defense, the doctors also went to the game, saying the baby wasn't coming for quite a while. More important, my wife encouraged me to go to the game and write my column.)

We spent that December in that new-parent mix of exhilaration and sleep deprivation. We didn't get out much. We barely even got a Christmas tree. But one night shortly before Christmas we decided to put the baby in her car seat and go for a drive, maybe see some lights.

We lived on the Southside, near Goodbys Creek. But for some reason, we crossed the river and stumbled upon the scene on St. Johns Avenue. Sidewalks lined with glowing luminarias. A festive traffic jam. Horse-drawn carriages. Groups of cyclists. Live music on front lawns. A Nativity scene in front of a church. Little kids yelling over and over, "Merry Christmas!"

We had moved here that year from South Florida. While we enjoyed that part of the state more than we thought we would, it never felt like home, mainly because it rarely felt like a community.

To enter this scene felt like stepping into Norman Rockwell print come to life. And we needed that. Everyone did. Because this wasn't just our family's first Christmas in Jacksonville.

It was Jacksonville's first Christmas after Sept. 11.

That year an editor asked me to write a story for the Christmas Day paper. I tried to build it around envisioning how we would describe that Christmas years later. I said that after such a horrifyingly complex year we craved simple things, like that scene in Riverside-Avondale neighborhoods, so quaint you almost expected Jimmy Stewart to come running down the street, patting the hoods of cars, shouting, "Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan! …

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