Flagler Beach has launched its holiday season with its annual Starry Nights festival and the Holiday at the Beach parade on Dec. 2.
The Starry Nights Christmas lights were turned on in Veterans Park at 6 p.m. on Dec. 1. Despite a hiccup where the park's Christmas tree malfunctioned and did not turn on with the other lights, the opening night went on, with performances throughout the night from the local elementary, middle and high school bands.
On Dec. 2, Flagler Beach hosted a Christmas Market from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Wickline Park and a Kids Craft Market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Flagler Surf Art & Stuff at 211 South 3rd St. From 1-2 p.m., the city held its annual Holiday at the Beach Parade, with skydiving Santa Claus.
Starry Nights was held during Flagler Beach Radio's First Friday event.
DJ Vern Shank, owner of 97.3 FM Flagler Beach Radio, said the monthly music and food festival began in December 2021.
The 2023 Starry Nights opening night event marked the 24th First Friday, he said.
"First Fridays always draw a crowd, but Starry Nights always draws in extra people," Shank said.
Starry Nights' opening event featured a free photo opportunity with Santa Claus, courtesy of Salty Church of Flagler Beach, and free hot cocoa for residents.
Nine businesses also submitted entries for the "Deck the Chairs" lifeguard chair decoration competition: FIT Physical Fitness, WIN Mortgage, Intracoastal Bank, Flagler OARS, the Flagler Rotary Club, the Golden Lion Cafe, the Beach Front Grille, the Funky Pelican and Flagler Surf Art & Stuff.
John Lulgjuraj, co-owner of Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill and president of the Flagler Beach Business Bureau, co-created Starry Nights alongside other members of the Business Bureau.
Starry Nights was always intended to be a community event for locals and visitors to enjoy and support local businesses, Lulgjuraj said.
"During the summertime, obviously, everyone already comes to the beach anyways," Lulgjuraj said, "but during the slower months, we really rely on our locals to come through."
This year, not only does Starry Nights have its annual "Deck the Chairs" competition and caroling, but the festival will also host Santa Claus every Friday leading up to Christmas, he said.
Because of the upcoming construction projects with the pier reconstruction and the United States Army Corps of Engineers beach renourishment project, this could be the last time the Starry Nights could be hosted in Veterans Parks until the construction is completed.
Lulgjuraj said it almost breaks his heart to have lost the pier, and now the park for Starry Nights, too.
"Now we're trying to figure out what next year's plans are," he said. "The original goal for Starry Nights was never just to be one downtown location that we have this display, but really to light up A1A up and down the strip."
Losing Veteran's Park is an opportunity to be creative and push the bounds of the Starry Nights has been and could be, Lulgjuraj said.
"It's kind of going to force our evolution," he said. "So in one way, we're sad, and in one way we're looking forward to the evolution of it."