Dragging children out after their bedtime on a weeknight to go downtown at peak traffic season, in order to participate in a trolley tourist attraction crammed with people sneezing the flu all over me? Great idea. 

I had that sarcastic thought five years ago. I was a skeptic about viewing The Nights of Lights amid all that busy activity downtown, and especially aboard one of the holiday trolleys that run nightly through the holiday season, but I’m not anymore.

When you live in a tourist town brilliantly aglow with Christmas lights for two months out of the year, it is only human nature to be a bit of a Grinch about the traffic and the fuss of it all. But we all have a choice: we can choose to be Grinches, or we can stop and think … maybe the tourists are doing this for a reason?

It was the latter thought that began my family’s annual holiday trolley tradition.

Long Nights Need Bright Lights

There is something weird about leaving the house after dark to go downtown with little kids in tow. It feels a bit like you are going against nature. All the birds and squirrels and daytime creatures are nestled into their beds. But really, doesn’t nighttime come just a bit too early this time of year? Were not Christmas lights invented to brighten the long nights as the holidays drew closer?

Without years of Christmas light gazing experience under their belts, children are in awe of them. The lights are awfully pretty when you look at them with a child’s eye. And I think the original purpose just might work—I always feel more cheerful after looking at those glowing lights during a black night. All the better when they are condensed in one place, like at The Tini Martini Bar, where trolleys and people alike stop and linger.

The Trolley Singing

Note that the above title does not say “The Music” as the reason to attend, but “The Singing.” There is undeniably something amusing about hearing a stranger try to hit the high notes of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You.

The beauty of being in the audience is that children don’t seem to recognize bad singing, and are pretty impressed to be at a live concert. And of course, you have the freedom to join in … because you just heard a truly horrendous rendition, and you know you can do better. Right? Right.

The Wind in Your Hair

Do you remember the first time you rode in a convertible as a kid? The wind was rushing through your hair and you felt the excitement of moving fast with the freedom of not being inside four walls. It must be something like the feeling a bird has when picked up by a gust of wind after taking flight.

Now fast forward to being a teenager, the first time you went for a ride with your friends and no adults were in the car. The music was blasting, your friends were shouting about this and that gleefully, and there was that feeling of being free again. You were a bird sailing across a blue sky on a cool breeze and it was fun.

I have this theory that for kids, riding a holiday trolley is a bit like that. First, there is the exciting energy in the air because of the crowd that is joining you on your ride. Second, there is the rush of wind as the trolley takes off, blowing your hair into wild tangles, but you don’t care. Then there is the Christmas music, which at some point in the season becomes abhorrent to me, but always sounds good when mixed with the night air and human activity. In short, it is a child-appropriate joyride.

Trolley Traditions are Fabulous

Every year my kids and I pick a night when my husband works late, and we jet off just the three of us. It is a special after bedtime adventure that we look forward to doing together. It has become an event that we tick off on our holiday to-do list, which adds to the growing excitement that surrounds Christmas and all of its magic.

No More Excuses

This holiday season don’t let the buzzing people and traffic of the oldest city turn you into a Grinch. After all, the Grinch learned that if you can’t beat them, join them. The trolleys and so many other activities downtown are a lot of fun this time of year for kids.

Besides, even adults need a joyride now and then.

The St. Augustine Nights of Lights will run from November 14, 2020, through January 31, 2021.