Getting Into the Christmas Spirit on Wrightsville Beach

BY Stephanie Miller

We could all paint the perfect picture of a Currier and Ives Christmas: snow-covered yards families snuggled around a toasty fire lights reflecting off the frozen pond in the front yard as carolers stroll by bundled up in festive scarves hats and sweaters. And what would the perfect Christmas be without snow angels?

We couldn’t tell you.

The average December temperature on Wrightsville Beach is 60 degrees caroling is done in flip-flops and a light coat and around here we make sand angels.

But that doesn’t mean we’re short on holiday spirit. Christmas at the beach is wonderfully traditional even if it isn’t wintry.

Family Tradition

Many kinds of holiday traditions are happening throughout the community. A favorite for many and the first tradition of the season is the decorating of home dock business or condo in preparation for the Holiday Flotilla and the string of holiday guests that follow. At the Harbor Island home of Harry Stovall son-in-law Terry Horton is the mastermind behind the dock decorations. The family gathers for Thanksgiving at the Stovall home and dock preparations begin on Friday. “The girls go shopping on Friday and the guys start thinking up ideas of putting together a theme for the flotilla. We work on it Friday and Saturday. As it gets darker we are screwing in the last bulb and stapling the last staple ” laughs Horton. “Someone says ‘Here comes the flotilla!’ And we say ‘Okay.’ We do like Chevy Chase! We do the drumroll and plug it in!”

Last year the Stovall dock won the “Best Of” category in the contest sponsored by the Harbor Island Garden Club says President Linda Brown. All the participants leave the decorations up through December so everyone can enjoy them throughout the season.

Evening Splendor

One of the area’s newest and most exciting traditions is Enchanted Airlie a transformation of more than half of the garden’s 35 acres into a Christmas wonderland. For the kids there is Santa and the largest indoor model train display in coastal North Carolina as well as an outdoor garden railroad. Along with craft vendors there are cookies and hot chocolate. Carolers stroll throughout the gardens dressed in period costumes and are joined by bagpipe players and other musicians.

White egrets nestle in the twisted live oaks at Airlie Gardens. Guides make sure meandering guests catch a glimpse of the birds sitting immobile in the trees. The egrets are so still one could easily mistake them for large white Christmas ornaments.

And then there are the lights.

Everywhere 50-foot trees are decorated with strands of lights that have all been individually inspected for a chip that might ruin the perfection of the uniform color. There are decorated pine trees palm trees trees you can walk through and even trees made out of colored bottles inspired by Minnie Evans’ work. A local artisan welded together metal frames to make swans and covered them with lights. The swans light up the mystical looking lake on the property. Everything is handmade one of a kind and everywhere you walk is the magic of color light and sound above and beyond the natural beauty of the site itself.

This year’s Third Annual Enchanted Airlie is going for the gold setting up a 2 400-square-foot conservatory and filling it with fresh poinsettias pansies forced bulbs and lit evergreen trees.

“There’s nothing like this in this area ” says Katie Elzer-Peters assistant garden director.

This new tradition is popular and requires advanced reservations. The price is a modest $5 for adults and $4 for children so that the event can be accessible to families. “It’s really nice to have a family event like this ” says Elzer-Peters.

The Reason for the Season

Local tradition at St. Andrews on the Sound Episcopal Church includes hot apple cider and a minor celebration for the women and men of the Altar Guild at the Greening of the Church ceremony the last Sunday before Christmas where out comes the greenery the red bows red poinsettias candles and the swamp magnolia leaves. “Decorations follow the same pattern and have remained unchanged for years ” says the Rev. Richard G. Elliott III of St. Andrews.

The highlight of the season is the traditional Christmas Eve service. The reverend repeats the service three different times during the evening each service with its own special flavor. The early service is geared to families with young children. “It’s kind of like watching a pressure cooker. Steam is building up ” he laughs “but if you haven’t done your shopping by now it isn’t going to happen so just relax ” jests Elliott.

Music of the Night

Nothing speaks more to the heart than Christmas music and the Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church and the Wrightsville United Methodist Church each offer a service with lots of it.

The December 15 and 16 Everlasting Light service at Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church features a blend of different styles of music — new music traditional hymns and carols and contemporary Christian music — while the United Methodist Church takes its traditional carols on the road. After their December 16 Advent Vesper service young and old congregants and friends regale Harbor Island residents. “It’s fun to see parents pushing their little ones in strollers around the island ” says Donna Pinckney director of Christian education.

Finding Meaning

A new tradition to the Little Chapel on the Boardwalk Presbyterian Church is the Longest Night service on December 19. The service addresses the needs of people for whom Christmas is a difficult season because of the emphasis on family. For those who have lost family members the season can be particularly rough. “We invite folks to come and gather and remember the person who is missing — the empty chair at the table so to speak ” says the Rev. Todd Wright. “That’s been a real meaningful service for folks.”

For the members of St. Therese Catholic Church simple traditions become all-powerful in the Christmas Novena. The novena takes place in the evenings over the nine-day period leading up to Christmas Eve harking back to the nine-month gestation of the Baby Jesus. The novena helps the congregation “focus on what is truly important about Christmas ” says the Rev. Walter Ospina-Briceno. “It is a simple tool to help people focus. These simple practices these small traditions become powerful and help nourish us.”