Save Old Cleburne’s annual Tour of Homes has — for this year at least — been renamed “Driving Tour of Lights.”
“It’s going to be totally different than anything we’ve ever done,” SOC President Trey Smith said. “And we’re excited about it because it’s all new for us and, we hope, something that’s going to get a lot more people involved in the Christmas spirit and Cleburne tradition.”
The Candlewalk Tour of Homes, whereby ticket holders toured historic Cleburne homes decked in Yuletide finery, had for years taken place on the first Saturday of each December.
The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled such plans this year.
“For the homeowners who participate it’s a big undertaking to begin with, getting their homes decorated and everything,” Smith said. “Because of the COVID situation, homeowners aren’t really wanting to have people walking through their houses right now, which we totally understand. That and the fact that the social distancing and other measures needed to ensure everyone’s safety right now just aren’t logistically feasible.”
Determined not to let Christmas pass without fanfare, however, SOC members brainstormed alternative ideas.
“So we came up with the idea of the Driving Tour of Lights,” Smith said. “We think we’re one of the first ones to come up with the idea. How it works is people will pick up a map, the maps are free. It’s sort of like the Hollywood map of movie star’s homes idea except this will list Cleburne homes on the Driving Tour of Lights. The maps will have the list of homes, the sponsor’s names and a big ballot in the middle so everyone can vote for their favorite homes.”
Participating homeowners will decorate and light their homes and yards a plus being this year’s edition of Candlewalk, instead of being a one-day event, will run for two weeks, actually longer.
“The voting period will run from Dec. 5-19,” Smith said. “Of course, the homes participating will most likely leave their lights and decorations up through Christmas.”
The hope is to have maps available by Nov. 20 if not sooner. Maps will be available at the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce, Layland Museum, Heritage Home and other locations to be determined. Ballots may be dropped off at the distributing locations and the homeowners receiving the top votes will win various prizes including a weekend stay at Liberty Hotel, a gift card to Garden of Eating Restaurant and more.
Six homeowners have agreed to participate so far but SOC is shooting for 12 or more. Homeowners interested in participating should call 817-437-8210 for details. The entry fee is $20, which basically offsets the cost of a yard sign provided by SOC.
“We’re not trying to focus on any one part of town or any one street so anywhere in town is fine,” Smith said. “Right now, the six homes we have confirmed are spread out through town. That’s great because it will get people driving through and seeing different parts of town.”
Smith said the driving tour concept reminds him of Christmas’ past.
“I know people in my age group remember driving around with our parents looking at Christmas lights when we were kids and how that was always a big deal,” Smith said. “And we think people will really enjoy this, get out, get something to eat then drive around with family or friends listening to Christmas music and looking at the beautiful lights and decorations especially for the kids, or those of us who are still kids at heart.”
“For those who have enjoyed Candlewalk in the past, this will be Cleburne Christmas from a different angle. For those who haven’t, this can be the start of a new Christmas tradition.”
Noting that Cleburne was recently listed among the top 10 towns for Christmas events, Smith said that the holiday is always important.
“But this year, like the song from “Mame,” “We Need A Little Christmas” probably even more,” Smith said. “With all the COVID stuff going on we need to get out of the house to enjoy the holidays. We need some good memories really badly right now.”
SOC Vice President Lynn Buker agreed.
“We wanted to keep our name out there but more important wanted to have a Christmas event that’s fun for the whole family,” Buker said. “And this is going to be a good one in part because it ties in with Whistle Stop at Hulen Park. People can drive around and look at the decorated houses around town then go by Hulen Park to see more Christmas lights.”
It’s also, Smith said, a prime opportunity for residents and visitors to experience Cleburne’s attributes.
“In a lot of cities many of their historic homes and buildings have long since been lost,” Smith said. “In that way Cleburne is unique in that we still have so many of our architectural treasures from the past and that’s part of what makes Cleburne Cleburne. We need to be careful and appreciative of that heritage.”
The Driving Tour of Lights, unlike the Candlewalk Tour of Homes events of previous years, is free.
“The Tour of Homes had been our biggest fund raiser each year,” Smith said. “Everything is free this year and we probably won’t make anything and that’s OK. Right now, we think it’s more important just to have a presence in the community, support the community and put something out that’s positive for the community this holiday season.”
Donations to SOC are always welcome, of course, and sponsorship opportunities remain available for the “Driving Tour of Lights.”
SOC members said they hope to see the Candlewalk Tour of Homes return next year.
“We do,” Smith said. “But we’ve also discussed maybe continuing the Driving Tour of Lights along with it. We’re going to see how things go with it this year, but that would be nice.”