Christmas Lights & Tradition in the Time of COVID (Crane-Spotting Edition)

What if everyday was like Saturday morning?”

—Dive-By Truckers**


I walked a bitter cold block upriver Tuesday morning for my first-ever glimpse of the gingerbread houses display the RiverCenter always hosts during the holidays.

It was weird. And a lil’ bit sad.

This is not a knock on the city’s beautiful showcase performing-arts venue. Could’ve been just me and my mood. But this was a tough pill to swallow. One that went down not like egg nog but more like a box of screws.

For starters, this year the RiverCenter asked guests coming to stroll the free-admission Gingerbread Village to bring non-perishable food items to give to CSU music students. Among the pandemic’s myriad cruel consequences, college kids are starving. Many of them attend the renowned Schwob School of Music, housed in RiverCenter, from across the globe and by making big-time sacrifices. And now they’re going hungry.

Out front, the glass doors were covered in signs warning against COVID, promoting masks and social distancing, and listing symptoms sure to show that you’re about do die of the disease. However, the signs were NOT the ones paid for and distributed, presumably with taxpayer dollars, by Visit Columbus GA (aka the CVB) designed to provide all city attractions aesthetically pleasing, standard-issue signage that shows the place is safe but still open for visitors.

Security guard Billy Johnson let me inside. A warm, gentle-giant type, he instructed me to lean into the temperature reader—93 degrees, cold-blooded reptile!—and use the hand sanitizer before entering.

The first thing I thought of were the several friends laid off from their jobs here back in the spring. The first thing I noticed was the eerie quiet in a place where I’ve seen everything form Jerry Seinfeld stand-up to stellar bluegrass acts (Sam Bush, Del McCo\ry).

Johnson told me they usually have between 25-30 houses. This year about 15. Usually the hall is teeming with groups of schoolkids giddy for Santa and two weeks vacation. But no school so no crowds of cheerful children.

I followed the trail of candy-cane markers on the floor to see the gingerbread houses while staying six feet distance from no one. Over the PA, a hand-bell choir ding-dong’ed its way through a stodgy version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” I noticed the silver “Hark! The Herald Angles Sing.” sign outside the main concert hall, tribute to the generosity of a fine Southern gentleman but still a businessman who went bust.

On my way out, I threw the only business card I picked up from the various community organizations presenting a gingerbread house—some of the displays were fantastic and all were delightful, I must add—into the trash. I walked the brisk cold-brick block back to Electric City HQ with plans to stream the RiverCenter’s virtual Alanis Morrisette concert.

I had one hand in my pocket and the other one gave a peace sign.

A bright spot this holiday season is founds on the grounds of The Columbus Museum, with an artful display of LEDs that lights up the night sky in Midtown.

During an exclusive interview before a press event Dec. 10th, Museum Director Marianne Richter explained this decision to decorate for the first time in the institutions nearly 75-year history: To help spread cheer in such dark time

Richter noted that the Museum selected a prominent combo of blue and white lights in honor of Hanukkah. She added that the Museum, a part of the Muscogee County School District is better off in the pandemic that most local arts organizations and this was a way to invite them to take part as partners. Both the Columbus Ballet and Youth Symphony Orchestra performed amid the lights. Visitors can drive or walk through the lights at no cost.

This Scattershot report comes in honor of friend and colleague Patricia Butts, who retired from the Columbus Museum on December 18 after 41 years (!!!!) of service. Enjoy your well-deserved days of rest and relaxation ahead, Patricia!

Dancers with the Columbus Ballet perform under the holiday lights now on display at the Columbus Museum.


In places like Atlanta and Nashville, the call the ‘crane factor.’ Basically, you can see how the local economy is performing based on how many construction cranes you spot in the skyline. Well, right now Columbus has its third crane working to build the future home of Mercer Medical School’s campus in Columbus.

The medical school will sit adjacent to Columbus’ oldest mill, City Mills, that’s undergone a massive renovation. All together, this stretch along the Hooch north of TYSY booms with $90 million invested the last couple of years.

Big-time big-city stuff, y’all.

Now if they could hurry the hell up and give us our rides on the Riverwalk back. Going off road on a rainy Monday mornings is liable to send you tumbling down a mudslide smack into sticker bushes. Right there in front TSYYS, at a spot you snuck through on a path well worm by the local homeless population, for the amusement of white-collar workers at a water-cooler staring down from above.

Or so I hear.

Much ado about nothing from one man typing high above beautiful downtown Columbus, Georgia, at Electric City HQ of the 4th floor of the Heritage Tower, Scattershot is a weekly feature composed ECL Editor Frank Etheridge. It rambles on while reflecting on the week behind.

**Taken from lyrics in the song, “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” by the Dive-By Truckers. , a band that gifts infinite inspiration. Flannery O’Connor set to music, y’all.

About the author

Frank Etheridge

Native son and veteran journalist Frank Etheridge is Editor of Electric City, a digital media outlet dedicated to documenting the news and culture of Columbus, Georgia.

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By Frank Etheridge