No Snow? No Problem!
Despite--or perhaps thanks to--its mild December weather, the Lowcountry boasts its own unique twists on the usual holiday traditions. According to a recent report in GetCenturyLink.com, South Carolina regularly ranks in the top five states for Christmas spirit, and the Lowcountry's is over-the-top!
I Love a Parade
Like many places throughout the world, the Lowcountry kicks off the season with tree lightings and holiday parades. But when Beaufort and Bluffton host their annual street parades filled with floats and marching bands (Beaufort's features the Parris Island Marine Band, while Bluffton celebrates its 51st annual parade this year), that's just the beginning. In theme with the area's love of golf, Port Royal gets into the fun with a festive golf cart parade, in which locals adorn their own private carts with tinsel, lights, and ornaments of all kinds. If once and done isn't enough for you, Hilton Head's North Forest Beach neighborhood hosts a decorated golf cart and bicycle parade every Sunday in December. Just meet in the parking lot at "the Pig" (that's Southern-speak for the Piggly Wiggly supermarket) at 4:00 and promenade through the south-island area with dozens of friends, old and brand new.
And why limit our parades to land? Taking advantage of waterfront views, Hilton Head offers its "Deck the Hulls" lighted boat parade on Skull Creek (AKA the Intracoastal Waterway),not to be outdone by Beaufort's own "Light Up the Nights" boat parade on the Beaufort River (see photo below). Both feature dozens of boats, ranging from small fishing dinghies to luxurious yachts, all festooned in thousands of shimmering lights. Bonus: the beauty is doubled by its reflection in the nighttime waters.
Light Up the Night
If these events leave you wanting more lights, check out a one-of-a-kind drive-through display at Hilton Head's Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park. This site, once the first self-governed town of formerly enslaved people in the United States, includes replicas of the historic homes, churches, stores, and other structures that once filled this spot, all decorated to the nines for the holiday season.
With our mild December weather, though, the Lowcountry also offers numerous walk-through light displays. Enjoy a pleasant stroll through the Cadd family's spectacular winter wonderland on Lady's Island, which features tens of thousands of lights synchronized to Christmas music--plus nightly visits from Santa Claus himself. Back on Hilton Head, the Dove Street Light Festival has entranced gawkers for more than 30 years with its block-long tunnel of twinkling lights stretched between enormous live oak trees. This Lowcountry tradition eventually outgrew its space and has now spread to Shelter Cove Town Center, where you can walk through more dazzling lights while finishing that holiday shopping.
It's Show Time
What would the Christmas season be without a little song and dance? In addition to the more traditional holiday concerts and shows favored by our Northern neighbors, we Sea Islanders also like to throw in something a little different. Beaufort offers a Gullah-themed holiday show, celebrating the customs of those descended from slaves freed after the Civil War, while Bluffton features a "Swinging Little Christmas" concert with a jazzy twist.
Want to curl up and watch your favorite holiday films? Down here you can do that in a lawn chair in numerous city parks, where classics are shown on the big screen for neighbors to enjoy together. With food trucks, stalls offering hot and cold drinks, and marshmallows roasting over fire pits, these movie showings are community parties!
Only in the South
So we may not be wearing parkas and mittens at Christmas time, but our mild weather does have its advantages. Several Lowcountry communities host climatically comfortable outdoor races during the season, including Port Royal's Gingerbread 5K and its Christmas Classic Beer Mile, in which runners drink a beer before running each quarter mile. Hilton Head hosts its own Nutcracker 5K, as well as its Christmas Eve Jingle Jingle Bridge Run over the towering Cross Island Parkway bridge (beer optional). Need something quirkier? Try Beaufort's or Bluffton's holiday-themed escape rooms.
Feeling crafty? You can make one-of-a-kind gifts using items found in the Lowcountry. Beachcombers regularly create holiday decorations and adorn household items with the beautiful seashells found on area beaches. For something more complex, the Smithsonian-sponsored Coastal Discovery Museum on Hilton Head offers classes on weaving wreaths and tree ornaments using sweetgrass and pine needles (see photo above), instructed by true Gullah masters of the art.
If it just isn't Christmas for you without snow, never fear. Both Hilton Head's Winter Wonderland Festival and Bluffton's Cornerstone Church Christmas Festival will be hauling in truckloads of real snow for any transplanted Northerners who miss it. (Are there any of those?) Or you can always build a sandman on the beach, complete with sunglasses, seashell buttons, and driftwood arms. With or without the white stuff, the Lowcountry knows how to make the season merry and bright.