Folks in the Town of Fincastle take their holidays seriously. The just completed Halloween Parade for children is an example. It draws dozens of children each year.
The New Year’s Eve Ringing of the Bells has received widespread attention over the years and is now duplicated in countless other communities across Virginia and the country.
The Fincastle Christmas Parade is so popular it meets itself as it winds its way around a loop of streets coming from and returning to Breckinridge Elementary School.
The Fincastle Christmas Lights, though, provide more than a day or evening as a reminder of the season. Those strings of lights and accompanying lighted Yule decorations are as much a tradition as the parade and the church bells ringing in each new year.
The small town itself has never been equipped financially to provide all the funds needed to buy, replace, install and maintain the dozens of strings of lights and more than 40 featured decorations. The volunteers— yes, volunteers— who make up the loosely knit organization that does handle the lights see to all of that with assistance and encouragement from town officials.
That organization, The Society to Keep Fincastle Lit, evolved when it became apparent that it was going to take a concerted community effort to carry on a tradition that was resurrected more than three decades ago by Randall Cronise, who took charge of the Christmas lights pretty much on his own.
For the uninitiated, this is no gaudy display of modern Christmas decorations. The strings of lights are just updated strands that have hung for countless Christmases from one side of the town’s core streets to the other with lighted snowflakes, candles, wreaths and candy canes attached to light poles at appropriate intervals.
While they add a seasonal glow to the town— particularly on a snowy night— that’s not what’s most attractive about them one town observer, who asked not to be identified, noted. “Fincastle considers itself a historic community, and the lights have an old-fashioned appeal; but it’s the community’s insistence that the lights go up because they do bring joy to young and old alike that I see each night. The lights are a quiet and colorful way of reminding towns people and visitors about the season, about Christmas. Standing at the corner of Main and Roanoke Street on a cold, snowy December evening and seeing the lights in all directions should make anyone smile.”
So, it’s no wonder carrying on this tradition is a labor of love for the Society of Keep Fincastle Lit.
Mayor Mary Bess Smith has been one of the volunteers who has helped hang and maintain the lights for many years. “The volunteers enjoy the camaraderie and working together for a very visible and satisfying goal, but the process of reaching this goal involves many steps,” she noted.
Each year, in early November the group meets to start working on the lights. The members take the decorations and strands out of storage (the town is decorated with 60 strands of lights and the average strand has 30 bulbs).
Each light strand has been individually constructed to be put in a specific location, she notes, based on anchor points which include light poles, crossing wires, trees and even some residences.
Additionally, there are 45 hanging decorations of all shapes and sizes and includes snowflakes, snowmen, candy canes, bells and wreaths and others.
In more recent years, bucket trucks have become an important factor in keeping Fincastle lit. “Comcast/Xfinity staff have been working with the town over the last several years to take up and down the decorations,” Smith said. The town does not have its own bucket truck, although a few years ago the Society tried to keep one of its running, but eventually proved futile.
It typically takes a good nine-hour workday to hang all the lights— and this past Friday was no exception. The volunteers and four or five bucket crews from Comcast/Xfinity spent well into the afternoon hanging the lights and decorations.
“As anyone who decorates their home with holiday lights will know, even if all of the lights are tested before they go up, when the lights are turned on, some will still be out,” Smith said. “Others will burn out during the season. Several nights, volunteers will venture out to replace as many burned out bulbs as possible. “
Sometime after the start of the New Year, all of the strands of lights and all of the fixtures must be taken down. The bulbs are removed from the strands and put in storage with the other decorations.
Even with the volunteer help, it takes financial contributions from the community to keep having the Christmas lights.
“Keeping Fincastle Lit can only continue with financial contributions from the public,” Smith said. She noted the organization holds no fundraisers, so anyone who would like to help keep this holiday tradition alive can do so by sending contributions to: Keep Fincastle Lit, P.O. Box 250, Fincastle, 24090.