Luminaria tradition shines a light on domestic abuse

Friends and neighbor's Mickey O'Kane, left, and Kathryn Ringham have been organizing the King's Highway Luminaria, which helps raise money for the Domestic Abuse Project, for 20 years. File photo.
Friends and neighbor's Mickey O'Kane, left, and Kathryn Ringham have been organizing the King's Highway Luminaria, which helps raise money for the Domestic Abuse Project, for 20 years. File photo.

What began as a way to celebrate the end of the millennium by lighting up King’s Highway in East Harriet with rows of luminaria has evolved over the years into a neighborhood holiday tradition of giving and unity.

This Christmas Eve, when six blocks of Dupont Avenue South begin to glow at 5 p.m., it will mark the 20th anniversary of the King’s Highway Luminaria and signal another year of donating to support domestic violence prevention.

When Mickey O’Kane and longtime friend and neighbor Kathryn Ringham set out to ignite King’s Highway in 1999, the plan was ambitious.

“At the beginning we went whole hog,” Ringham said.

Friends and neighbor's Mickey O'Kane, left, and Kathryn Ringham have been organizing the King's Highway Luminaria, which helps raise money for the Domestic Abuse Project, for 20 years. File photo.
Friends and neighbor’s Mickey O’Kane, left, and Kathryn Ringham have been organizing the King’s Highway Luminaria, which helps raise money for the Domestic Abuse Project, for 20 years. File photo.

They initially did the luminaria for three nights, passing out bags with sand and candles to be placed along the sidewalk on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Years Day.

“It was about the fourth year when we came to our senses,” O’Kane said.

For the past 16 years, it’s just been one night. In addition to settling on a night, they settled on a cause. O’Kane became involved with the Domestic Abuse Project, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, in 2003. Since then, the luminaria has served as a way to raise money for DAP.

As of this year, neighbors are on pace to have raised more than $25,000 for the organization, according to DAP interim executive director Jackie Nelson.

“It’s been a wonderful thing for us,” Nelson said.

DAP, which recently moved from its Southwest home along Franklin Avenue to a new space in Northeast, is the only Twin Cities organization to do whole family, wrap around services for domestic violence, Nelson said.

That means the program works with victims, witnesses and perpetrators of domestic violence through individual and group therapy, case management and advocacy work. The organization serves about 3,000 individuals each year and is primarily funded through donations like those from the luminaria.

“We appreciate the outreach and consistency through that program,” Nelson said.

The luminaria charges participating neighbors $15 for supplies and requests a matching donation be made to DAP. Leftover supply funds are also donated.

These days, O’Kane and Ringham have it down to a science. They have eight block leaders who are in charge of their immediate neighbors. Each house receives several bags, fills the bottom with a cup of sand or kitty litter and a candle, and places them along the street about six feet apart.

Luminaries light up King's Highway on Christmas Eve in 2017. Submitted image.
Luminaries light up King’s Highway on Christmas Eve in 2017. Submitted image.

Last year, the event expended to include 46th and 47th streets into the celebration, and there’s always talk of expanding further down the street. On a clear Christmas Eve, it’s something to see.

“It can kind of be a magical experience,” Ringham said.

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