Until the Seabridge Square shopping center was upended for renovations and remodeling, one of St Johns County’s longest running holiday landmarks, Lightsey and Sons, was a sure sign that Thanksgiving and Christmas were right around the corner.
Historic City News visited the stand five-years ago, just to confirm that rumors of their retirement were unfounded. The following year and since, the Lightsey family has operated from arguably a better intersection; the Whetstone lot at King Street and Ponce de Leon Boulevard.
“I’ve been at this for over 40-years now,” St Augustine native Glenn Lightsey told Historic City News editor Michael Gold this week. “Vivian and I started right after high school and pumpkins and Christmas trees have been our seasonal business ever since.”
As she told us five-years ago, Vivian Lightsey, who some say is the brains behind the operation, said she wouldn’t know how to retire — even though the thought of not having to be open twelve hours a day, or more as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, is tempting.
Pumpkins and Christmas trees are a family affair. Glenn and Vivian started the business, their sons and daughter have all spent time on the lot, and Vivian’s brother, Mike Severt, has his own holiday tree business, started a year or so after Glenn and Vivian were married.
When we visited with him earlier this week, he was running in his usual wide-open mode. “We’re headed up to North Carolina to cut the Christmas tree for the City of St Augustine,” Glenn said. “We’ll drive it home in our truck and set it up in the Plaza like we’ve done for years.”
The Lightseys brought this year’s tree to the Gazebo on Monday morning. Using heavy equipment, they raised the magnificent tree and secured it in place, so the process of stringing lights and decorating with ornaments could begin. Although everything will be tested by Friday, the Christmas tree officially will be lighted as part of Saturday evening’s Light Up Night.
In today’s world of political correctness, no doubt there will be someone who will object to preserving the tradition of lighting a Christmas tree in the heart of our nation’s oldest city plaza. It will be conflated to represent the Christian holiday and a symbol that might cause some minority member of a non-Christian religion, or an atheist, to feel oppressed.
Gainesville pastor Ronald Rawls, Jr., has instigated members of the local AME church, and enlisted the help of sympathetic minority causes in Jacksonville and elsewhere, to march en masse to the Plaza and disrupt the scheduled holiday lighting ceremony, music, and family activities. Rawls is bitter that the St Augustine city commission followed the recommendation of City Manager John Regan and his staff to ignore Rawls’ demands to remove a memorial obelisk from the Plaza. First-term commissioner Todd Neville has shown tacit support for Rawls manifesto ultimatums to either remove the memorial — or face civil unrest.
The 150-year-old structure was built in remembrance of 40 local citizens who died or were killed during the Civil War and whose bodies were never returned to their families for burial. Some of St Augustine’s founding family names are listed among those remembered. Rawls says the memorial is “racist” and the community is rife with “white supremacists” who he claims are still controlling the town as they did in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement.