Iconic Birmingham Tradition Celebrates 40th year

Updated: Dec. 7, 2018 at 5:00 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - It’s an iconic Birmingham sight that symbolizes the holidays are here.

The lighted Christmas trees, stocking and wreath in the windows of Regions Center in downtown.

It’s been 40 years this year since the first window displays were installed. While the building has changed ownership in that time- the tradition has not.

The man who makes it happen, hasn’t changed either.

“I started back in 1982. That was the first year I was involved with lighting up the building,” says Michael Ponsonby. He is a Senior Chief Engineer Cushman and Wakefield, the company that services the Regions Center.

“I have such a great pride in being part of it. It’s exciting,” says Ponsonby. “I am one the lucky people that wakes up every day and loves going to work.”

Michael Ponsonby, Sr. Chief Engineer Cushman and Wakefield, shows off the lights and gel...
Michael Ponsonby, Sr. Chief Engineer Cushman and Wakefield, shows off the lights and gel sleeves used for the iconic Christmas Display(Shilo Groover (custom credit))

So just how is it done?

The images are created by placing red and green gel sleeves over 4 foot white light tubes above each window. It takes 2,592 lights to create the images on all four sides! The process of installing the gel colors takes months.

“We have to go to each window and put the correct color in,” says Ponsonby. “We have grids to show what color needed in the window.”

Each night maintenance teams cross check those carefully crafted grids to make sure no bulbs are out.

Grid used to create Regions Center Holiday Display
Grid used to create Regions Center Holiday Display(Shilo Groover)

That grid, is based on the same design that was created the first year the display was lit, back in 1978. That was when the building was owned by First National Bank of Birmingham and Southern Natural Gas.

“One of the Executives went to Texas in 70s and saw another similar lighting in a building there and came back with the idea and discussed here with executives, and it grew from there,” says Emilio Cerice Senior VP of corporate real estate for Regions.

After Regions bought the building, they decided to keep the tradition alive.

“We pride ourselves in wanting to be a very active member of the community, in all the cities we are located in, and contribute to the enjoyment of living in that particular area and this is one unique way to be able to be a part of that and provide something that everyone enjoys,” says Cerice.

Cerice says the display has been iconic not just for those who live here, but visitors as well. It’s also now coming a tradition to pass between generations.

“I grew up here and I remember seeing it as a kid driving into town and always looking forward to it. Being very surprised the first time I saw it and after that it being something to look forward to and it still happens now,” says Cerice. “I have a son and he knows all about it and he loves coming down here to see the lighting. We are very happy to be able to provide this and maintain it.”

At first it was florescent bulbs with red or green covers. A few years ago they switched to LED bulbs to improve energy efficiency.

Over the years other images have been displayed too.

“During the years the images have changed, during the Iraq war they put up the Flag, during the Olympics we had the circles, the USA, the torch,” says Ponsonby.

Regions Center light display for the Summer Olympics 1996 when soccer was underway at Legion...
Regions Center light display for the Summer Olympics 1996 when soccer was underway at Legion Field. Source: Regions

In the summer the image of a golfer goes up to mark the Regions Tradition Golf Tournament.

But it’s the holiday display that moves the community most.

“This time of year with the season people of all ages really look forward to and enjoy,” says Cerice.

The holiday lights are turned on the day after Thanksgiving each year and remain on until midnight Dec. 31.

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