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Behind the scenes of Ashebrooke’s Night of Lights

For the last 12 years, the residents of Ashebrooke, a west Forsyth County subdivision, have decorated their homes with holiday lights, which are known as some of the best displays in the county. While visitors can drive through the subdivision at any time during the holiday season, one night – the Night of Lights – stands out in particular. On that night, the residents put on a “show” for the community, which includes various interactive stations and donation opportunities. We met with one of the organizers, who was preparing for this year’s Dec. 17 evening.

Susan Cox walks up the stairs from her basement, order forms and luminary bags balanced between her McDonald’s cup and open laptop.

Various rows on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet are highlighted in yellow, the papers clipped to her clipboard.

Cox, whose family has lived in west Forsyth County’s Ashebrooke subdivision for nearly 14 years, is preparing for the community’s Night of Lights event, an annual fundraiser put on by the subdivision to raise money for a person or people in need.

This holiday season will be Ashebrooke’s 12th year holding the event, which Cox has organized for the last several years.

The evening, which boasts a live nativity scene, several hot chocolate, apple cider, candy cane and North Pole stations, as well as at least one Santa, welcomes cars filled with children and blankets and pillows, all eager to gaze at the houses’ Christmas lights and fill their bellies with the warm beverages. 

The Night of Lights tradition started back in 2006 and has since grown every year. - photo by For the FCN
Cox estimates the subdivision saw about 2,000 cars come through over a four- or five-hour period last year and hopes for more this year.

“This year, [the money] is going to a woman in the neighborhood who I think is one of the original [homeowners,]” she said. “She [organized] the Night of Lights a few years back and she was part of our Ashebrooke Architect Committee, so she’s done a lot for our neighborhood. She has Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and she went into remission but it came back really aggressively earlier this year. She just had an autologous stem cell transplant and she spent 35 days in the hospital. She put it as, ‘I had every possible complication except death.’”

Laughing, Cox continues, “I said, ‘well if you’re going to skip one [complication,] that’s probably a good one to skip.’ Her daughter Elise is in high school and her husband is very supportive but she hasn’t been able to work in over a year, so there are finances that could be helped with. But it’s also kind of nice because we’re giving back to someone who has helped out in the [subdivision].”

The light tradition, which has proved a huge success over the years, started in 2006 for a little girl named Jade, who was born with a rare form of eye cancer.

“If you do an eye test at birth and you find it, you usually can deal with it,” Cox said. “But the eye test was not that common at the time that she was born, and she was born with it and had lost her one eye and the only place it gets treated —there are only 300 or 400 people who have it — is in Philadelphia. She went for her checkup in November and found out that her other eye had signs of cancer. [Her mother] Audrey came home to tell her husband Mark and Mark came home to tell her that he’d been laid off, because that was right during that housing market [crash], and one of the neighbors said we need to do something.”

That something turned into more than a decade of lights, which are still shining bright.

“We were surprised at how much money we made, so we just continued,” Cox said.

Aside from donation buckets that residents carry with them during the Night of Lights, the money comes from luminaries that are sold to homes both within and outside the subdivision.

Each set, which costs $10, contains eight bags, eight candles and eight cups of sand. The residents are asked to set out the candles on the designated night and are encouraged to participate, though there is no requirement to, Cox said.

“Everybody’s pretty good about it and we have a very good neighborhood,” she said. “We have a very supportive, very active neighborhood in the community and within the neighborhood, even though sometimes we do grumble, when we need to [get things done], we do. I think part of that is because we’ve always come together at one point in the year and [done] something. At the very least, all you have to do [during the Night of Lights] is not be on the road for four hours and maybe spend $10.”

Cox added it’s more than just the money, though.

“It’s not much,” she said, “but it’s more than it seems because we all stop and talk to each other that Saturday morning and it builds community, so we like it.”

View the December issue of 400 The Life here.