On Thursday, 1,000 luminaries will light the paths of downtown. Shops will extend their hours. Carolers will sing. Food will be available and Santa's elves will spreading his goodwill at this year's seventh annual Aiken Downtown Development Association's Night of 1,000 Lights.


“The whole event continues to grow, and without the help of volunteers, we wouldn't be able to have this special event,” Carla Cloud, ADDA executive director, said in a press release.


South Aiken High School and Aiken High School Serteens, Sunrise Rotary Club, Aiken County Robotics Team and several other individuals will work from 3:30 to 10 p.m. to make the night radiate for visitors.


“We used to set them out early the morning of the event, but we realized that the morning dampness was not kind to the bags,” Cloud said. “This year, we are trying yet another timetable.”


The plan is to put in the sand in the bags and then set them out and light them up with tea lights around 4:30 or 5 p.m., Cloud said. The volunteers then will gather them up between 9 and 10 p.m.


The Sunrise Rotary Club members have enjoyed volunteering for the event for years, said John Walker, club president.


“It's a great way to give back to Aiken and downtown,” he said.


When talking about his experiences at previous Night of 1,000 Lights events, he describes a pleasant scene of meeting different people – young and old – and mingling with curious bystanders and merchants.


“It's a great friendly gathering,” he said. “We stick around and enjoy the evening.”


At the end of every event, the ADDA extinguishes the luminaries and throws the trash away.


More than 20 businesses, such as 3 Monkeys, Aiken Antique Mall, Re-Fresh and Vinya's will extend their hours for the night. A map of these businesses will be at the locations and ADDA's office in the Alley on Thursday and a list of participating businesses can be viewed online at www.downtownaiken.com.


Jazz will be coming from the inside of the Willcox this year, as local band 4 Cats and a Doghouse will come out and play.


“It's a great place to come out after the Night of 1,000 Lights, for guests to come sit by the fire and listen to jazz,” Kellie Smith, the hotel's assistant general manager, said.


The Willcox has supported the event for the last couple of years and has enjoyed doing it every time, according to Smith.


An extra special treat is the Random Act of Kindness giveaway gift bags. When one of the elves sees a person with a shopping bag from The Curiosity Shop, Lionel Smith Ltd., Powercuts Salon and Spa & Gift Boutique, Tea Garden Gifts, True Value Hardware & Appliances or Vinya's, he or she will give the person a gift, Cloud said. ADDA also contributed to the gift bag.


Cloud said she finds carolers and entertainment with requests in the newspaper, in newsletters and on Facebook. While the process might seem discouraging at first since the holiday season is so busy, the night always ends up having music and entertainment.


“We are always very thankful for the Aiken Community Playhouse Youth Wing; they have been a staple for the event. And we are excited to add the Midland Valley High School Show Choir this year,” Cloud said. “As the event grows, we anticipate that more entertainers will be interested and willing to share their talents as a gift to the community during the event.”


Last Christmas, Midland Valley's choral and drama director Vanessa Cox decided to start a show choir, and after learning about the downtown event, Cox felt like it would be a good way for the new choir to shine.


“I heard about the event last year from a colleague, Kimberly Pruiett at Paul Knox Middle School, and was curious as to what it was and how one went about being a part of it,” she said. “I figured it would be a great opportunity to give my students a platform to showcase the hard work that they put forth in the classroom.”


Aiken Regional Medical Center, Atlantic Broadband, USC Aiken, WAGT Channel 26 and WKSX 92.7 FM are sponsoring the event.


For more information, call 649-2221.