Course of Camaraderie: Trail of Lights rallies Austin community

Erin Lungwitz, Our Voices Editor

Even from a quarter mile away, the Trail of Lights glows like Whoville at night. At Barton Springs and Robert E. Lee, floods of people flow towards the shimmering exhibit. Strollers teeter along uneven sidewalks, couples walk with laced fingers, and kids bounce towards the entrance.

As the trail gets nearer, the sheer number of lights become clear–overwhelming in a good way. Small children play around the entryway of the Trail, throwing glow-in-the-dark balls and sticks into the air. Techno-Christmas music plays in the background. The smell of beignets sold at the Zilker Holiday Tree fills the air. At the beginning of the Trail friends, families, and couples whip out their iPhones for the perfect photo opportunity. Kids continue to buzz and weave around adults’ legs, many children perch on fathers’ shoulders.  

Seton Hospital volunteers hover in the “tunnel of lights,” ready to take family portraits. The “Tunnel of Lights” is a cave of luminescence: thousands of  blue, green, and red lights run for about one hundred yards. As the diverse group of people stream through the tunnel of lights, it becomes clear that the Trail of Lights is an opportunity for the Austin community to come together.

“It is about reweaving the fabric of our community, because you see all types of people here. It doesn’t matter what level of society you come from, what language you speak, what country you come from–you see everyone here and everyone’s here for the same thing, which is to help make an experience for their families…,” Seton volunteer Geronimo says.

After the “Tunnel of Lights” ends, trail-goers gather to listen to a live band, “Hear Me Dragons.” The band is made of four trombone players, and many people ebb in and out of their area. One woman stands alone and watches the band, smiling to herself the whole time, entranced by the brass performance. After saying that she isn’t very good at speaking English, she says, “I feel like I’m in the hometown, yes, it’s awesome… I want to bring my family in this town… I really like it, I’m very surprised now.” This woman, Rebecca, is visiting from South Korea and the trail makes her feel at home. As Rebecca speaks, the rich brass performs “It Is Well With My Soul.”

“Trail Information” stations are set up along the path. A trail information volunteer, Moises, explains his oddest question,”Today someone asked where good restrooms were, and I asked why, and she was like, ‘Last time I tried to put my son in one he almost fell in the port-a-potties!'”

A semi-frazzled family approaches the booth and demands to know where “the dang tree” is. Moises’ response seems to calm them down enough, they regain their composure, and head towards the exit.  

Odd techno-Christmas music continues to play in the background as light exhibits depict Dr. Seuss, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sponge Bob, and Christmas trees. Members of the Akins Dance Team, the Diamond Dazzlers, wear elf apparel, standing outside the Candyland exhibit. They laugh, dance, and smile at each other as they corral people into the Candyland exhibit.

As one of the three girls, Abigail, jokes about her favorite part of the experience being the VIP bathrooms, (over the gnarly port-a-potties) another one of the Diamond Dazzlers yells, “Welcome to Candyland, free Candy!”

The path weaves passed the Candyland exhibit and loops towards one last light tunnel before the end of the trail: “The Bat Cave.” Hundreds of Santa and reindeer head apparel

grace the scene. There is constant chatter, children at hip level zip in and out of the main path, and couples, leaning on one another, finish the trail.

Geronimo’s words about community ring true: “It’s just about family and coming together.”