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Staunton’s Celebration of Lights carries on ‘joyful’ tradition

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

gypsy hill lights
Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi

STAUNTON — Area residents know what the week before Thanksgiving means at Gypsy Hill Park.

The community will begin to assemble the city’s Celebration of Lights and Field of Deer.

“It’s such a beautiful delight,” said Thelma A. Newman, who has lived in Staunton for 60 years.

Newman founded the Celebration of Lights at Gypsy Hill Park 16 years ago after taking a bus trip to Pennsylvania and seeing a holiday lights display.

Newman said after the trip, she woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if it were possible for Staunton to have its own light display.

She obtained permission from Staunton City Council, and, with the help of six-member committee, she has organized the celebration ever since.

Scott Eaton is the shepherd for the Field of Deer near the swimming pool, and is assisted by Boy Scout Troup 33.

Newman said the celebration’s success over the years would not have been possible without the support of the community and city council. Staunton Mayor Andrea Oakes attends committee meetings on behalf of city council.

The committee welcomes ideas and suggestions every year from the community for the celebration.

Newman said that after Staunton cancelled its annual Christmas parade this year, she was unsure if the holiday lights celebration would go up amidst the pandemic, but go up it did, just slower than in previous years.

She said that at the holiday season “people need something peaceful, something to be happy about.”

“I’m just pleased and happy and thankful that we were able to do this this year, because everyone needs something joyful,” Newman said.

Newman said that 120 displays, including the deer, are up this year. Much more than the only 20 displays in the celebration’s first year.

At least 20 displays this year are by new participants.

“These are all displays that are created by the people of Staunton,” Newton said.

She added that she thinks Gypsy Hill Park’s holiday lights are unique because of the creativity of community members.

The celebration has become what Newman envisioned it would, and grown beyond what she initially expected.

“I saw the uniqueness and creativity in Staunton,” she said.

Four more groups have yet to complete their displays around the park for this year’s celebration, which will be on display until January 1.

Santa’s visit this year to Gypsy Hill Park has been altered due to COVID-19, but he visited the last two Saturdays, and will visit one final Saturday this weekend from 6 to 8 p.m.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be in Santa’s house to the right of the bandstand at Gypsy Hill Park to wave to children as they ride by with their parents and see the holiday lights.

Santa’s elves will hand out candy canes to children, as well as collect letters to Santa.

“We want everyone to come and have a good time, and be safe,” Newman said.

Despite the celebration’s growing success and becoming a traditional part of Staunton’s holiday season, Newman is modest about how the tradition began.

“I’m just an ordinary person who God woke up in the middle of the night and told to do this,” Newman said.

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