By Ann Cipperly
Over 1,500 flickering candles will line winding, sloping streets in the Collinwood neighborhood to symbolize the guiding of the Holy Family on their journey to the manger at the 54th annual Luminaries on Friday, Dec. 17, from 5 until 9 p.m. The free event is provided as a Christmas gift to the community from the 57 Collinwood residents.
Along the candlelit drive, homes are decorated for Christmas, signs display Bible verses and scenes throughout the neighborhood tell the Christmas story. Living scenes feature shepherds, wise men and angels and at the end of the path, a live nativity scene resonating the message of Christmas.
For 39 years, Rick Lane of the First United Methodist Church of Opelika has worked with youth at the church to participate in the live nativity scene, which often includes animals. Youth from the church are also featured in live scenes along the way.
Ruth Torbert is chairman of this year’s event and has served as chairman for several years.
“Since our family moved to Collinwood in 2004, I have viewed the Luminaries as our remembrance of the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Lord and Savior of the world,” Torbert said. “It is a joy to serve my neighbors and the community.”
Those driving through the luminaries will receive a program at the entrance with a QR code to scan with their phone camera that allows them to listen to the recording of the Bible’s Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-20. The chairman encourages everyone to drive through the neighborhood as many times as they would like to enjoy the scenes
“The neighborhood has always seen the luminaries as its gift to the community,” said Martha Hill, a Collinwood resident who has participated from the beginning when the first candles were lit. “It makes Christmas special for children.”
Hill, whose children grew up looking forward to the annual family event, served as chairman several times over the years, feels the event keeps the neighborhood close.
The preparation in setting up the candles involves the entire family. Yards are raked and neatly groomed. Children in the neighborhood assist older residents.
A few days before the event, sand is delivered to several locations around the neighborhood. Three to 4 inches of sand is placed into a plastic bag, then into a paper bag, with the top folded down two inches to add rigidity.
The day of the luminaries, bags are placed 20 inches from the curb and spaced evenly for uniformity.
City sanitation and power employees assist in getting ready for the event by cleaning streets and turning streetlights off.
The Collinwood tour is also supported by the Opelika mayor and city council, Public Works Department of Opelika (ESG), Opelika Power Services, Opelika Police Department and Boy Scout Troop 858. First United Methodist Church Youth group provides the characters for the live scenes along the way.
The first Collinwood Luminaries included only a few houses on East Collinwood. In 1966, Mrs. J.R. Fuller of the Twilight Garden Club suggested the idea to the club after seeing luminaries in Europe. The holiday tradition of luminaries originated over 400 years ago in Mexico.
The following year, with 15 families in the neighborhood at the time, the residents undertook the project. The late Aileen Samford and Lucy Salter were instrumental in organizing the event. Salter received information on the details of luminaries from friends in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
During the first few years, the residents of East Collinwood used an assortment of bags and candles. After West Collinwood Circle and Collinwood Street were added to the subdivision, the event became more organized. Paper bags and candles were ordered for consistency throughout the pathway.
Luminaries begin at 5 p.m. at the corner of North 10th Street and Collinwood Street. Motorists turn off headlights as they slowly drive one way through the neighborhood and end at McLure.
Collinwood residents invite everyone to come and enjoy the luminaries, as they “light the path” on the “journey to the manger.” The tour is free.