MANATEE -- For 50 years, residents along Riverview Boulevard have staged a loosely organized Christmas glow for anyone traveling the riverfront road.
Bradenton's Riverview Boulevard residents light the streets with the glow of luminaries to enhance the glittering Christmas lights along the way.
The tradition of lighting luminaries, paper bags weighted with sand with candles inside, was started five decades ago by Buster and Eileen Griffith, who wanted a communal way for residents to celebrate Christmas.
The neighbors light the luminaries as it starts getting dark. They blow out their luminaries late the first night, but leave them burning all night Christmas Eve, sometimes even into morning.
Bob and Martha McCardle, who have lived on the street for 35 years, said they cannot imagine Christmas without it.
"It started out with few neighbors and built up from there," Bob McCardle said. "It's just a neighborhood function and everyone pitches in and helps out."
The luminaries draw families from around Bradenton. Children use the event as an opportunity to go caroling down the street.
The McCardles said most Riverview Boulevard residents have lived there for several decades.
Susan Wilcox set out her luminaries Monday night for a 28th consecutive Christmas season.
"Almost every year, there is a neighborhood potluck dinner in November and we are given the details for the luminaries," Wilcox said. "When new people move to street, the procedure for the luminaries is one of first things they learn. If someone is out of town, they arrange for neighbors to take care of their luminaries for them."
Wilcox said in the past, neighbors were even willing to pay her son, now 23,
to set up their luminaries when they were away.
On the first night of the luminaries, several residents hold open houses and take walks to admire the candles' glow.
"It is not an organized party, but a lot of people will host parties that night," Wilcox said. "People go out and walk, and we also get a lot of cars that drive by."
Martha said one of her best Christmas memories is the first year she and her husband lit their luminaries.
"The first year we put them out was extra special because we had never seen anyone do it before," Martha said. "So many people talk about it, and people come by constantly when they are lit. It's bumper to bumper sometimes."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.