Joy to The GSO

By Jodee Ruppel

Thanks, DGI, for the beautiful pictures from last year’s Festival.
After moving to Greensboro last year in a quest to find the balance between my rural farm upbringing and the over-worked city life, I kept hearing about the Festival of Lights. After living in Brooklyn for ten years, I was a little skeptical that this event could “wow” me—I had no idea I was in for such a magical time.

Four months after moving here, I attended the Festival of Lights for work. I was manning the stage as thousands (I’m not exaggerating—THOUSANDS) of people descended into City Center Park to sing Christmas Carols with help of the NC A&T Choir.  Perhaps it was my adopted New York attitude that still hadn’t worn off, but I was shocked at how people of all ages were singing and laughing and having a merry time.

Just as they do at the Rockefeller tree lighting, the mass of people counted down in unison, “3… 2… 1…” and a GIANT Christmas tree in the park was illuminated with beautiful multicolor bulbs.  I don’t know if you’ve ever attended the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting, but if you have you know two things:

  1. You will probably never get close enough to see the actual tree, and
  2. after they light it, it’s over. There is nothing to do but go home or get into packed subway and go to an overpriced restaurant.

In Greensboro, the show goes on, and in a BIG way. You can spread your Christmas cheer throughout the evening by walking down to LeBauer Park and ice skating; you can stay in Center City park and write letters to the troops or build crafts in the Kids Korner. My favorite activity is to stroll down Elm Street.  The City of Greensboro shuts down the entire “main” street of downtown for this spectacular event.  You can stroll from Center City Park all the way to Gate City Boulevard in a pedestrian-friendly environment.  While that’s cool (who doesn’t like to walk in the middle of the street?), what’s SUPER cool is that Elm Street is lined with over 20 different entertainers.  You can hear choirs, guitarists, carolers dressed in period garb and even stand in awe at the Silver Lady, a woman painted entirely in silver holding poses for what seems like forever.  You can wander to Hamburger Square and dance in the faux snow raining down or visit Santa as he listens to Christmas wish lists. Continue your stroll and you will find photo booths to capture your holiday moment with friends and family, a train ride perfect for the kiddos (and adults too!), hot chocolate stands, and of course you can visit all the local shops and businesses. Did I mention all of this was FREE???!!!!

Here I was, walking down Elm Street and observing the sights and sounds in a year that the country felt more divided and negative than ever, and I looked around and saw all ages, races and socio-economic classes coming together to sing, laugh, dance and stick their tongues out to catch the snow in the Hamburger Square.  Everyone was together, enjoying the festivities, but more importantly, enjoying each other and this city.  Even as I write this, I get goosebumps and wonder if my writing does the event justice.  This event is powerful, wondrous and magical.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful diversity and delight I saw around me.  And I still can’t get over the fact that Greensboro, a city of 300,000 puts this event on for FREE.  In other cities, they would charge for this, or at least for the entertainment (and definitely the hot chocolate). It was in this moment that I knew why I moved to Greensboro.  It’s a city that offers big-city activities surrounded by a warm, inviting community.  It’s the best of both worlds.

I hope you will come see what the magic is all about for yourself this Friday, December 1, and explore downtown at the Festival of Lights from 6-9pm.  Look for me in Hamburger Square dancing and catching snow on my tongue (and I’ll probably have hot chocolate on my face).

Happy Holidays!


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