Christmas Eve 1995.
That’s the night that the lights truly went out in Georgia. Or Valdosta and parts of Lowndes County at least.
And not just store lights.
All of the lights.
On Christmas Eve 1995, an electrical transformer was sabotaged, knocking out power throughout Valdosta and Lowndes County.
When I say it knocked out the power, we’re not talking lights flickering out in a subdivision here or there.
We’re talking no lights, nowhere.
No house lights.
No Christmas lights.
No electric heat.
No recordings of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” unless you had a battery-powered radio. And no light unless you had candles or flashlights. Some folks used batteries purchased for children’s toys to power flashlights and radios.
No power to run the refrigerators and keep all of the Christmas food chilled. No power for electric stoves to cook all of the Christmas birds.
And it was everywhere.
Street lights went dark. Traffic lights stopped working.
With the TVs off, some families gathered round candlelight and fireplaces.
Gathered by darkened Christmas trees, they shared stories of holidays past.
Maybe the radio played in the background, some old Christmas carols, everyone hushing to hear the latest news of why the lights were out.
Now, wise men and women stayed indoors that night but others had no choice. They left their families to help their communities.
Power company employees went to work. Police worked the scene of the crime. Every officer on the force was called into work that Christmas Eve. Police officers, firefighters, rescue personnel and volunteers manned intersections. They stood with flashlights marking intersections to keep folks from wrecking into one another.
With an early Christmas Eve deadline, The Valdosta Daily Times had already gone to press with the Christmas morning, Dec. 25, edition, but I was the next day’s on-duty Christmas Day reporter, so I began my research that night, driving to the Valdosta Police Department and the fire department.
I spoke with cops and volunteers directing traffic and visited people huddled in their houses worried if the power outage would last long enough to spoil their Christmas dinners.
These were the days before Internet and websites and social media, heck, even before cell phones, so there were no news posts, no tweets, no live streaming, no updates; anything I learned that night, Dec. 24, wouldn’t end up in print and available to the public until the morning of Dec. 26.
For some folks, the outage didn’t last long. The majority of the area had power restored within a few hours. For others, the power was out through Christmas and a few days longer, but, for most folks, it was a temporary black-out on a Christmas Eve.
But for a while on Christmas Eve 1995, Valdosta was as dark as the night the Savior was born.
Just fires in fireplaces and stars in the sky.
Some folks will tell you that was their worst Christmas Eve ever.
But others will tell you it was one of their best.
Dean Poling is former editor with The Valdosta Daily Times and The Tifton Gazette.
Christmas Eve 1995.