BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It was 1971 when a group of friends in the Mount Vernon neighborhood convinced the city they should throw a few lights on the Washington Monument and light it up for all to see.

Now, it’s one of the city’s most popular events.

Baltimore’s big holiday gathering isn’t around a tree, but the 200-foot tall monument in the center of the city.

While the lights come on Thursday, a system used Wednesday allows it to happen.

They spend millions rehabbing the monument. It’s hard to see, but there are hundreds of holes that have been repaired along the four walls.

Each year, the city used to just drill new holes into the limestone.

Now, there’s a system that does no damage.

“This system, you don’t have a bunch of holes where people have drilled lights in repetitively year after year using different holes. So this never marrs the building, never does any permanent damage to the building,” said George.

The lighting isn’t just about the lights, it’s about something bigger than that, the community believes.

“The monument lighting is one of those events, in the spirit of the holidays, everyone comes together. Class, race, neighborhood, it really doesn’t matter,” Mike said.

The crowd could top 15,000, and more parking is needed.

“As the event’s grown we’ve expanded,” Mike said. “We used to be just in this one park here. There are four parks surrounding the monument and now we’ve expanded it into the other two,”

Food and drink sales begin in the parks around the monument at 5 pm. Thursday and the switch flips at 8 p.m.

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