December 21, 2006
Moultrie-- Santa Claus has a lot of helpers who sit in for him during these busy days right before Christmas. One of his favorites lives in "10 Country," a friend who happens to love local history.
Jack Bridwell loves history and built most of the exhibits at the Colquitt County Museum of History in the county's old health department building. He especially likes the role Christmas plays in local history, learning all he can about a tradition that goes back to WWII.
"Christmas is my favorite time of the year," says Jack as he sits in a chair next to the museum's Christmas tree. His hometown does something that few towns do. "I don't know anywhere in the southeast that does this," says Jack.
A tradition that goes back 60 years. Blackout conditions existed during the war, no outside lights on at all and that included Christmas lights. But it changed very quickly at the end of the war.
His hometown of Moultrie, with pent-up emotions, put on a light show repeated yearly. "In the research, we found that around '47 or '48 the first canopy of lights that Moultrie is famous for, now."
It's more than colorful lights. "We celebrate the end of the war and we celebrate Christmas itself," says Jack. A tradition started and people count on the light show like it has for decades-a celebration that never stopped once it got started. "The community gives 150%," says Jack.
City utility workers string nine-thousand colorful lights through downtown. "It's amazing," says Jack. All lights lead to the courthouse in mid-town Moultrie. Under them, a person thinks of the joy of Christmas. Everywhere, lights that took about two months to place like they have for decades. "You can come," says Jack to a young girl who had doubts about sitting with him. Besides a historian, Jack helps Santa Claus at Wild Adventures. "I'm as close as there will ever be," says Jack.
He's a different Santa who checks on their school grades. "I'm been making As and Bs," says a girl. "Fantastic," says Jack. Sometimes he might gently suggest waiting until next year for a particular gift. "Motor scooter," asks Jack. "When you're eight, about to be nine, we'll talk about it."
Some let him decide. "A lot of surprises, says another girl. Jack finds the young people want the same thing. "They want someone to understand how they feel," says Jack. Many of them are not as selfish as some might think.
"Every now and then, one will steal my heart. The little girl that came through the other day and said she wanted her daddy to come back from Iraq. I sit a tear up mostly," says Jack.
Why listen to thousands of kids with their endless wish lists? "I, too, have been away for Christmas. I spent a Christmas in Viet Nam," says Jack.
And once you miss a Christmas away from home, you never forget what you've missed, but don't worry Jack Bridwell and thousands of others in Moultrie will turn the Christmas lights on for you.
Jack's young granddaughter is an EIT, an elf-in-training, and plans to help her special grandfather during future Christmas seasons.