Known for bringing holiday cheer to the Capital City community, the Baton Rouge General Holiday Lights are a local tradition with an inspiring history. We spoke with Public Relations and Communications Manager, Katie Johnston, about the beginnings of this creative gift to the community and the exciting new displays for this year.
Visit Baton Rouge: What inspired BRG to first start doing the Holiday Lights?
Katie Johnston: We started Holiday Lights in 2017. It had been a conversation for a while about doing something for the holiday season on our campus because we have such a big, green space that's very visible right on the corner. So I think the idea really started with just having a big, giant Christmas tree as a nice message during the holiday season for patients or just people passing by. Then it kind of took on a life of its own. From the first year, there were thousands of people visiting—it was a hit right away.
VBR: Who came up with the overall idea for Holiday Lights?
KJ: I think it's fair to credit Barbara Ruiz, who is our Creative Services Manager, as the brainchild of Holiday Lights. She did a lot of investigating and found these huge metal structures, which make up the three big trees—some of the first big pieces we had. She's created the layout for where everything goes, she works with all the vendors. She was the one who envisioned what it could be beyond just a big Christmas tree.
VBR: What has the response been like from the Baton Rouge community, as well as from BRG patients and staff?
KJ: We've heard from countless people just through word of mouth or who reach out to us on our social media that they can see it from their hospital rooms. From them and our staff, we’ve heard them say it just makes them feel good to see the lights and it just gets you in the holiday spirit. There are people who are here waiting every day for when we go and flip on the lights—so that's awesome! I think it's definitely become a family tradition for a lot of people. And we've also had people get married or be proposed to under the lights. So I think that is what makes it special, it's kind of become a part of everyone’s traditions for the holidays.
VBR: Can you walk us through the process of planning, designing, and creating the light displays?
KJ: Barbara has been planning all the specifics for months, but the setup started on November 1st. We work with Latch-On Productions, who does all of our hospital signage. They're the ones that help with all the installation and a lot of behind-the-scenes work— there's a lot that goes into it. And then Barbara comes up with a plan and layout for the displays. We've kind of used the same layout for the past few years, but Barbara definitely keeps her eyes on other cities that have big light displays to see what's new or up-and-coming.
VBR: Are there any new displays that have been added this year?
KJ: There's a giant waving Santa and a huge “Merry Christmas” sign—those are the biggest pieces I've seen. And we've found that the walkthrough elements, like our ornaments, are the most popular, so we've added a new one this year— a walkthrough Santa hat. This year, a man named Jason Landry, who lives out in Ascension and had been doing this huge light display for nearly 30 years, decided after this past year, he wasn't going to continue doing it. He has donated all of those lights to the hospital for us to use.
VBR: Can you tell us about the Snow & Glow events that you provide for families?
KJ: The community events we hosted prior to introducing Snow & Glow were free and very well attended, but there were so many people. We wanted to give people a better experience, so we decided to introduce a smaller, ticketed event in order to limit capacity. We also added more elements, like real snow, a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, food trucks and music, to deliver a better all-around experience so we’re doing two of those this year— December 1st and December 15th.
VBR: Is there anything else you’d like Baton Rouge visitors and locals alike to know about the Holiday Lights?
KJ: We encourage people to post their photos and engage with us on social media. We use the hashtag, #BRGLights, and we have our own Facebook page and Instagram page for Holiday Lights separate from our main hospital account. We have a feed on the website with all of the photos that people tag us in, so we really encourage everyone to enjoy the lights and share their pictures We love seeing them!
The Baton Rouge General Holiday Lights display is open to the public every day from 5:30 pm - 11:30 pm until December 31st. For more information about hours of operation or Snow & Glow tickets and dates, visit https://www.brgeneral.org/holiday-lights/.