One Gainesville neighborhood has transformed itself into a beacon of cheer this holiday season — literally.
Those who drive along Green Street Circle this month will be hard-pressed not to notice the coordinated lights display and other Christmas-themed decorations like a child-sized igloo, Nativity scene and train.
Several community members have reported seeing the glow of the homes from Longstreet Cafe.
“It truly is magical,” Blythe Hammons, who lives on the street, said. “I cannot wait until it gets a little dark, and I can walk the dog and look at it. It feels like a Hallmark movie.”
Using giant pieces of cardboard, Emilie Cisco crafted a replica of the “Polar Express” and erected it in her front yard. Since it went up, she said kids in the neighborhood have enjoyed playing around the structure.
“We’re blessed to have such a close neighborhood,” Cisco said. “We’re all the closest of friends. Each had our own unique display, but we all worked together.”
Although the neighborhood typically decorates for Christmas, Callie Flack, who has lived on Green Street Circle since 2008, said they felt inspired to “go all out” this year with the launch of Light up the Town — an alternative to Christmas on Green Street.
To limit large gatherings, the city canceled its traditional event, instead offering a private parade on Sunday, Dec. 6, to businesses, homes and neighborhoods who won the Light up the Town contest.
Green Street Circle received first place for the best neighborhood group display and most consecutive illuminated homes. Flack’s home also won second place for “Best of Gainesville.”
Fire trucks, police vehicles, Gainesville trolleys, the Coca-Cola polar bear and even Santa and Mrs. Claus made their way through Green Street Circle on Dec. 6.
The neighborhood’s children watched the spectacle from their yards and driveways.
Light up the Town contest winners
String of Lights — Most consecutive illuminated homes in a row
First Prize: Green Street Circle neighborhood
Second Prize: Christopher Drive neighborhood
Homes for the Holidays — Best neighborhood group display
First Prize: Green Street Circle neighborhood
Second Prize: Historic Green Street, represented by Lazenby Law Group
Third Prize: Walker Street Neighborhood
Best Business — The best decorated storefront
First Prize: The Inked Pig, Main Street
Second Prize: Strong Gaddy Lee Wealth Management Group
Best of Gainesville — The best looking house in town
First Prize: Entry No. 1 on Facebook (address not provided)
Second Prize: 1038 Green St. Circle
People's Choice — The most “likes” on Facebook
5375 Grant Road
“There were tears down one kid’s face because he was so excited there was a fire truck,” Cisco said. “It really made us feel like we had a sense of Christmas and nothing had changed.”
Flack said many of the families on Green Street Circle enjoy walking to the Christmas on Green Street festivities and were disappointed by its cancellation this year. However, she said Light up the Town brought a bit of needed cheer to her neighborhood.
“I thought this was a great idea the city had,” Flack said. “It was fun, and it helped bring neighbors together to spread some holiday spirit.”
Flack describes her outdoor holiday decor as vintage-themed. Instead of placing inflatables in her yard and using modern-looking embellishments, she opted for old-fashioned, large multi-colored lights to border the home.
“That’s my favorite part because that’s what I had growing up,” Flack said. “It brings back those memories of decorating our house when I was little. Our (current) house was built in the 1930s, so we like to try and stay true to the older nature of our neighborhood and house.”
The Flacks also have a Nativity scene that stays in their sunroom’s window until early January.
“My in-laws have given us different pieces over the years,” Flack said. “And it has grown into a large display, and the boys (Patrick and Harrison) love moving the wise men closer and closer to baby Jesus until they finally arrive on Epiphany.”
Hammons, a mother of three, said she followed the Flacks’ lead and illuminated her bushes with pops of “gumdrop colors.” The family ended up erecting an 8-and-a-half-foot Santa and reindeer display to place on the porch, which Hammons said was chosen by her 4-year-old.
Although 2020 has brought its fair share of hardships, Hammons said she feels blessed to live among people who can lean on each other during tough times. They even find creative ways to entertain the street’s 20 children, including showing movies outside.
“It’s definitely the tightest knit group of neighbors I’ve ever lived around,” she said.People can view a map of the Light up the Town submissions by visiting gainesville.org/light-up-the-town. Those with decorated homes, who didn’t participate in the event, can still register their locations on Downtown Gainesville’s website.