PUNTA GORDA — In a normal year, about 1,000 people would be filling the walkways of Fishermen's Village in Punta Gorda tonight for the Festival of Lights annual lighting ceremony.
But this year's ceremony had to be canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
With weeks of work and months of planning, however, over a million Christmas lights and other decorations will be brightening up those walkways at 1200 W. Retta Esplanade starting Sunday, and they will stay on through the end of the year.
"It really does take a village," said Fishermen's Village Marketing Manager Kathy Burnam. "There are a lot of cords to check ... a lot of electrical outlets. All the time (it happens) where one light bulb takes out a whole strand so we have to check them all first. Before everything is all plugged in, you better check them first, twice and a third time and make sure everything is working."
The physical work for the annual project begins around the middle of September led by Maintenance Manager Jim Ruttman, who oversees a team of around 15 employees tasked with putting up the decorations.
"It usually takes around five weeks to put everything up," Ruttman said. "We try to add new things each year."
For this year's festival, they've added a few more thousand lights to the mix, moving the official count up from 1.3 million to 1.7 million.
"It’s a lot of lights to check," Burnam said.
Because there won't be a Santa Claus available at the Village this year, Burnam said, they've added more "photo op" areas for families and a few other additions.
"There are always some new little touches and features," Burnam said. "We always try to put a little twist on traditional Christmas decorations by having some fun elements such as candy canes, themes for kids ... and there will be some surprises that I don’t even know about that people will be seeing this year."
The Festival of Lights is the brainchild of General Manager Patti Allen, who regrets having to cancel this year's lighting ceremony.
"Over the years, the official Lighting of the Village has become the kick-off to the holiday season in Punta Gorda," Allen said. "This year (however) the love for the health of our community outweighs the joy of the lighting because of the inability to be able to social distance during the lighting. Our lights will be on and the joy and magic of the holiday season will be shining throughout the holiday season at the village."